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Roses Are Red

By James Bruno All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Romance


I have cancer. These three words are so easily said but not so easily provoked. I have a chance here in 1959. I have a shot to escape all the careful eyes and the tired inquires in regards to my health. In the present, in 2015, I am a girl with cancer. I am dying. I’m not in remission. None of the clinical trials succeeded. I’m just a victim, a flower surviving as best as it can before the start of winter. But here I have a chance to thrive, to flourish, to be a rose in the spring and grow without fearing death, whilst still knowing it’s waiting just around the corner. Here I am Rosie Bryar, seventeen-year-old cursed time traveler. Here I have a chance to make something of myself. To be happy. To feel real. To feel like cancer never came knocking at my door. Here I can start again. No one knows the truth. No one knows I might fall dead at any minute. Just me and the big guy upstairs. Here I might actually have the motivation to try. To fight. To win. Here I can start again.

Chapter 1



Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Without thinking, for the third time in the last hour I run my hands across my scalp, tracing my cold touch over the dull reminder that where there should be hair, there isn’t. In the small porcelain sink in the shadowed corner of the room, faint snippets still cling to the white, shiny basin, clumped sporadically around the tail-end of what’s left of my braid. I turn on the faucet and watch with burning eyes as a swirl of water washes my scarlet hair down the drain. Again.

I rinse off the pair of scissors resting on the edge of the bowl with shaking fingers, curls still caught between its two cutting-edges. Unplugging the buzzer from the wall, I wrap up the cord and rest it beside the scissors, the placement of each sadly familiar. Déjà vu forms a lump in my throat and I swallow it down. Like every pill. Like every word I’ve never let myself say. Down, down, down with my pride.

It’s not the first time I’ve ever had to cut off all my hair. Obviously. And life has a way of assuring me it won’t be the last. But something about this time is different—perhaps it’s knowing that I may never live to see it grown out ever again. I’m not quite sure anymore. Death doesn’t seem to have a hold on me after all this time, and yet my lungs seem to have a fondness for its touch, its feel, its essence.

I study myself in the mirror, initially expecting to see cancer staring back at me in the foggy glass. But this time I don’t. This time I see the sheen of the overhead flickering fluorescent lights glinting off my freshly shaven skull, the red-rims entrapping my baby-blue eyes, and the faint remnants of tears on my lashes like snow glittering in the vastness of twilight.

This time I see a corpse, breathing in, breathing out. I see the fear that’s drained the color from my lips. The repercussions of being sick. Which, you know, I have total control over. Cancer isn’t something you can just cure yourself of with some soup. Or by washing your hands extra hard in the sink. Or by getting a shot. Cancer is a nuisance that burrows in deep and only lets you go, so I’ve been told, if you’re bitter enough on the inside to repel it from your body.

I repel people. So it’s a wonder why cancer likes me so much.

I draw my eyes away from the glossy mirror and count back from one-hundred before moving even a muscle. Each number slides over my tongue, slipping through my teeth with so much ease that I nearly forget I have to hold onto the counter to support the weight of my thinning frame. The bag of bones I’m clearly destined to be.

I find that numbers are the easiest remedy for me in my moments of absolute weakness. The simplistic purview of infinity almost always draws me back to the present, where I spend my days counting each line on the hospital ceiling; counting each door to each corridor that opens and closes for only a few days before either closing forever or opening to nothing but empty air and the still fresh color residing within from the memories that had lingered inside its walls.

It’s not hard to lose myself in numbers. Because if I can’t count every breath I take, every hopeful glance I make, then I shouldn’t be allowed to count the days that I’ve been forced to suffer—

There’s a sudden knock at the door. It’s my nurse waiting to help me back to bed. But I don’t want help. I don’t want to be in this situation where I need help.

I want to go sneak into a movie. Or run a mile. I want to steal a car and smoke pot behind the liquor store. I want to fall asleep at sunset and wake up somewhere entirely new to me—actually, on second thought, none of these things sound appealing. But I want to do anything but remain within these walls for another minute.

I move for the light switch and flick it off, taking a seat on the back of the toilet, planting my feet down firmly on the seat. The only light comes in through the window, streaming through the curtains with the scent of the forthcoming winter permeating like smoke, the coolness numbing my body from head to toe.

I like not being able to feel anything. It takes the edge off.

A second knock comes but I don’t move a muscle.

I simply stare out at the painted world sitting like a canvas in the place of my window, unable to help but notice how nothing outside stops. Not for even a second. I stare unblinkingly, surprised to find that, from the coalescing clouds in the graying sky to the slight breeze in the air shifting everything out of order, stillness is something so scarce in such a world filled with people sitting still.

It’s weird to see the world still moving, still beating and breathing; still turning like the Earth never forgot how to spin on its own. I hug my knees to my chest and stare, my chin quivering as the echoes of my sobs begin to waver, the silence in the dark room slowly thinning out.

It’s stupid to cry. Stupid to even think of crying. Stupid to pretend like my hair was anything more than exactly what it was. Hair. Just hair. It’s plain stupid. But, in my defense, I guess I just liked it because it was proof that my body can actually do something right; that, despite the war waged beneath my flesh, deep down in the darkness beneath my heart, my body still had the strength to produce something as beautiful as it did.

In here, in my quarantine of white walls and needles, of hospital gowns and shivers that hold me for so long that the tectonic plates of my body tremble and shift even when my eyes drift shut, I can no longer see the streets of this city without noticing how different my life has become. How ugly it’s become.

How pointless it’s become.

It all seems so close and yet so far away, like the crooked star on the top of a Christmas tree, looming above the head of a person with short-person problems. Like me. It’s there, it’s taunting me, shifted and in need of a fixing, but it doesn’t change the fact that this world wants me right where I am. Right here. Quiet. Sarcastic. Cynical. And cancerous.

Its sense of humor is feeble, more so than myself.

Regardless of reality, of the natural order of things, I reach out to the canvas of brick and mortar, of dimly spun sunlight igniting the cobblestone streets below, still wet from the most recent rain, and my fingers are hindered, as they always are, by the cool touch of the window’s glass, restricting me, telling me without words that this is my life. This is my disease. This is my consequence, my punishment for ever being born.

This is my world. And I can’t make anything out of it.

A third knock sounds at the door, followed by a fourth. This time more urgent.

I don’t flinch. I don’t move, either. But after the fifth and the sixth knock pulls my gaze away from my desire, slowly and carefully as not to scare me away, I’m a little relieved to know that, even though it’s her job, there’s someone just outside my door waiting for me. Acknowledging my existence. Protecting me. Hoping for me.

The time passes like tears down my cheeks, and when I’ve fully engorged myself on the exterior world, on the scenery of the earth just waiting for me to come home, I open the door and allow my nurse to help me to my bed. But I don’t need help. I don’t need a shadow following my every move, drowning me in questions regarding my health. I’m dying. I’m going to be gone in a matter of time. Asking me if my pee is clear is unnecessary.

I stare up at the ceiling long after she’s gone, and long into the night after the lights have gone out. Just staring. Counting. Breathing. Wondering if there’s another dimension out there somewhere where someone just like me never has to worry about forgetting what it’s like to breathe. Where someone like me has a big house. With a big lawn. And a family. With family meetings and family dinners and family vacations.

If there is, I’m happy for her.

I drift away with that thought lingering in my head, and I’m able to sleep better knowing somewhere, beyond the black of the sky and the gleam of the stars that lay therein, someone might be happy because I’m not. Because I may never be.

People think I’m depressed. I think I’m living a nightmare. Either way, I make my own happiness. I just wish, more than anything in this world, even more so than I do for my cancer to be gone, that Mother would think my life important enough to take off of work to come see me.

But if wishes were fishes we’d all swim in riches, right?

Somehow I think I would still find a way to drown.

| | |

Okay. A little history lesson on my home, the City of Natchitoches, Louisiana. That’s NAK-E-TESH. I know, nothing like the spelling.

Our city, named after the Natchitoches Indians, was officially founded in 1714, though French traders happened upon it as early as 1699. Natchitoches is the oldest permanent settlement within the purview of the Louisiana Purchase, originally established as an outpost for the French along the Red River, constructed for the sole purpose of convenience in regards to trade with Mexico—controlled by the Spanish at the time.

Nearly a century later, following the Natchitoches outpost, several plantations were formed subsequent to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Population skyrocketed. Cotton became important. If you don’t know the rest go swallow a textbook.

All you really need to know is that our town is divided into two types of people. Those who think it’s pretty and those who think it’s not. Because, you know, after everything our country has been through, and after everything those self-less enough to give up their lives to protect us have fought for, all that really matters are appearances. If your city isn’t pretty enough to be in the backdrop of your selfie, then what’s the point? Right?

No. If you think this way then you have to get up. Pack your things. Call a cab. Go to the airport. And fly somewhere far, far away. Far enough that your stupidity can’t spread like the virus it’s become—people think the apocalypse will come with the rise of zombies. I say it will arise from stupidity. And the end, so it seems, has already begun.

I for one think Natchitoches is pretty in its own little way; though, to be fair, most great things aren’t known for their appearances. Kind of like scars. They can be long and ugly, but they can symbolize something so pure that to some people they look beautiful. I feel that way about our town. It’s old. It’s gray. But it has taken beating after beating and it has still managed to weather through to the end.

Our city is terminal. Our city has cancer.

I’ve always thought that if Natchitoches could survive all this time, maybe I can too.

And then I realize, as I often do, that I’m hiding beneath the sheets of my individual bedroom in this hospital because I’m too afraid of the sight of myself in the mirror, in the reflection of my glass of water, in the shininess of the floor tiles. Everywhere I go I see myself. I see my bald head. I see my rheumy red eyes. I see cancer and I don’t have the strength left in me to stare it down.

I’m too afraid. And I know now more than ever, breathing in the stale, medicinal air of the darkness beneath the sheets and exhaling shaky, shaky breaths, that if I can’t even bear the sight of cancer in its truest form, then there’s no way I’m going to be brave enough to fight it.

I gave in a long time ago.

I’ve never been an athlete. I’m not an academic. But I’ve always rewarded myself for living, for fighting, and no one will ever take that away from me. I will never let the people of this world see me fall apart—they may see me fall down a lot, but that’s a problem that can’t be fixed. Sadly.

That’s why I’m hiding. If I can save the world the trouble of watching me die, I will.

My name is Rosie Bryar. Welcome to my nightmare.

Part One

Kissed By A Rose

| | |

It’s better to be kissed by the prettiest of roses with the sharpest of thorns than the prettiest of roses with no thorns at all.


I have cancer.

These three words have gotten me out of four speeding tickets, three tests I never bothered to study for, two papers on the anatomy of the human body, and one entire empty lunchroom table to myself. Not to mention three dozen frozen lasagnas from next door neighbors and store clerks that hardly even know who I am.

I have cancer.

It’s impossible to say these words with enthusiasm. I’ve tried but it just sounds silly. I’m going to die. Before I’m ready. Without ever knowing when or how or by who or by what. So, if you think about it, we all have a type of cancer. We’re all dying. We’re all dying and we have no way of knowing when or how or by who or by what. What we have is terminal. Incurable.

I guess maybe that’s why I’ve never really cared that I’m sick. Because the three strongest words that rule my life are equal to the ones that rule over everyone else’s.

I have cancer = I am dying.

I’ve never met a person on this earth who wasn’t dying. So we all have cancer. We’re all heading down a fatal road as unpredictable as the world beyond a blind man’s eyes. It can be dark and it is scary, far scarier than anything I’ve ever known, but it’s not something that should be seen as anything but black and white. I’m going to die. Everyone else is going to die. Black. White.

Today I have cancer. Yesterday I had cancer. Tomorrow I could be dead.

Tomorrow is the monster hiding underneath my bed. But it wasn’t there yesterday and it wasn’t there the day before. So I dare this world to give me a reason to be afraid of tomorrow.

| | |

There are three reasons I haven’t escaped this lonesome town. One: I have nowhere else to go. Two: I’m afraid of being on my own. And three: River Bloome. Oh, and four: cancer. Four reasons. There are four reasons why my hands are chained down at my sides and I’m pretending to be happy in this ramshackle abode built by the clumsy hands of my long since deceased father. Supposedly.

River Bloome is my only saving grace in a mess of disaster.

They call it love but I call it comfort. Complacency. It’s possible I could do better; much better, actually, but why try when I’m content? When you wake up chasing fate the way the clouds chase the sky, there isn’t any room for love.

So let’s get this straight.

I’m seventeen. My name is Rosie Bryar. My father is dead. I have cancer. I’m not afraid. And I’m dating River Bloome.

Got it? Good.

| | |

The air smells of meat. Again.

Regardless, it’s a hundred times better than its alternative.

In the summer our dreadful next door neighbors, the Passerines take pity on us by loaning Mother their horse and pay her to give horse-drawn carriage rides to the locals and their families. It’s easy money, Mother has assured me, but each night she comes home smelling of horse and hay and sweat, and each night she falls asleep muttering to herself beyond the slim walls of her bedroom about the life she should have had.

Mother says she was cursed. That’s why we have no money. That’s why I don’t have a father. That’s why we’re forced to live in this town. I call it an excuse. Another reason not to go back and finish high school so she can get a job that pays more than $7.25 an hour. Another reason not to admit to herself that she’s the problem. She’s the antagonist in our lives, our story.

The rest of the year Mother works over at the place we like to call “The Restaurant,” or “the home of the meat pies”, where she serves up the regional delicacy of North Louisiana, each night returning to our home smelling of meat. After a while everything smells of meat. Even the vegetables. So it’s a good thing I’m not a vegetarian or else I might literally explode—but then again, I’d be a vegetarian, and I might explode for different reasons.

“So what do you think?” asks River, drawing me from the semi-inescapable reverie I keep finding myself lost in, day in and day out. This is the third time today. We’re sitting before the strait of stone that runs directly into the glittering water on the damp, grassy embankment of Cane River, three feet away from a metal bench warm and dry in the sunlight. But I’m lazy and the bench feels like it’s a million miles away so I try to make lemonade out of oranges.

It doesn’t work.

Bosco, River’s soaking wet, ugly, sloppy, flat-faced Bulldog snores happily in his lap, basking in the wintery sunlight streaming down through the trees of the garden at our backs. After a while a cold gust of wind presses me to stand, wipe the frigid wetness from my knees and move to the bench, where I slump down with a tired harrumph.

“I don’t know,” I finally admit, my voice no more than a whisper. I shake the cold from my fingers and pull my coat tightly around myself, staring up. Clouds coalesce darkly the way weeds grow around flowers, moving before the sun and hiding all its heat and glory, sending a shiver down my spine.

In the absence of warmth, cold and collected, River takes a seat beside me on the bench and stares into my eyes. The way he always does. It’s really quite annoying sometimes. Bosco, now awake, indignantly eyes me from where he sits on the cold grass, and it’s funny how I’m better able to hold his gaze than River’s.

Ha. Funny.

“It’ll just be a few weeks,” River says as if that makes things easier, his arm moving to wrap around my shoulder; I can see it in his face that even though he says it like he’s excited to leave Natchitoches behind for a little while, such a trip might actually be his downfall.

Several weeks alone with his father? It might be.

He squeezes me tight. I don’t shrug off his arm but make it near impossible for him to meet my eyes. I’m really good at hiding my face when I don’t want to be seen by the world. He persists. “The winter isn’t that long,” he tells me. “And I’ll be back at Christmas—”

“And by New Year’s you’ll be gone again,” I say, tired, crossing my arms over my chest for warmth. I stare down Bosco and after a moment or two he rolls onto his side and paws at the sky like he’s a vampire being burned to death.

A part of me would like to see that happen.

River doesn’t say anything. But he takes my hand which is weird because his skin is on my skin and his fingers are in my fingers and cancer is the only one who ever makes my heart beat the way that it is now.

My breath catches in my throat when he kisses me, soft and swiftly, leaving me to swim in utter disbelief. And then he does it again. And again. And I love every second of it.

Time is a hammer pounding away at the walls I’ve built around myself. And I hate this—the fact that something as simple as a kiss is all it takes to distract me long enough to shatter my walls.

“It won’t be forever,” River whispers against my lips, and I hate the taste of such heavy, heavy words.

And then cancer presses on my lungs.

I stand up so fast I feel light headed and dazed, the world swirling out of place before sucker punching me in the gut. It often does that.


“Go hunting,” I say, not turning to face him. I stare down at my rheumy reflection in the running water of the river, wondering exactly when I started looking so much like my mother; my red hair curls around my head kind of like flowers growing out of sync with the rest of the world, and freckles dot my face the way dead bugs speckle your car windshield in the summer time. My blue eyes are all right but they’re too big. And speaking of too big, my teeth don’t fit in my mouth and my lips are shaped weirdly so that it always looks like I’m scowling even when I try to grin. Though, to be fair, I do scowl a lot more than the average human being.

I’m not pretty. If pretty were a scale, I would probably trip and fall and break it because I break everything. And I’m fat—I think.

“I think your father would really like that—”

“But I don’t care what he likes,” River says, reaching forward to take my arm. “I care about you. I always have.” His words sound rehearsed but I know they’re not. After all he was the first person in the entire world other than Mother to know I was sick. And, if I know cancer the way I think I do, I’ve learned that, though it’s killing me, it’s also drawn me closer to River and the truth about this world: we’re all dying.

“I think it would be good for you,” I say, looking away. “You and your dad—” I stop myself. I start again. “It just hasn’t been the same between you since your mom died. I think it would be good for you two to reconnect.”

“We’re just going to argue the entire time,” River assures me.

“I know. But at least you’ll be speaking.”

River sighs. “Yeah, I guess. It’s not like it’s forever.”

And if you knew me at all you would know I think life is precious and hunting is stupid and leaving me here on my own in a town that exists like two hands suffocating the life from my lungs is going to destroy me. But I’m dramatic. And I’m afraid more than anything that I’m going to be dead by the time you return.

“And I think you should go,” I murmur, zipping my coat up to my chin, trembling in the cold. I like the cold. I prefer the cold. Sweater weather over sweating weather. But today is bitter. “I’ll be fine.” I don’t mean it, but who the hell ever means it when they say it, so I flash him a tight smile and try to meet his eyes without coming undone. “You’re right,” I mutter through my teeth. “It won’t be forever.”

I slowly spin away, holding my breath and counting back from ten like I do when the sheets of my bed are suffocating me and the walls are crushing me and gravity takes me by the hands and invites me to dance. It’s easy to hold your breath when you don’t have a choice. And then you just count back, ten . . . nine . . . eight . . . seven . . .

“Your butt is wet,” River says with a smile. “But you still look cute.”

“Oh yeah?” I pull out my phone and pretend to scroll through it to keep myself from meeting his eyes.

“What are you doing?” he asks me.

“I’m just searching through my schedule for a time that’s good for me to care what you think.” I shake my head and put my phone back into my pocket. “Damn. Booked all week.”

I can be the biggest bitch. Even I know that.

“Where are you going?” River asks me as I turn away, and I stop, astonished to find a twinge of fear in his voice. I look back at him and, though I tell myself I’m not going to die, I’m going to see him again, and everything’s going to be okay, I drink him in like I’m dying of thirst.

River has short blond hair that, despite how much product he puts into it to help flatten it down, always curls up toward the sky by the end of the day. Streaks of brown weave over his scalp in places, pronouncing his yellowy hair far more than the brown, causing him to appear as if he were kissed by the sun in his early years. But what gets me—what always gets me—is the underlying sharpness to those sea-green eyes of his. It’s like staring at the sunset at the end of a hard day to find the sky alive with streaks of heat lightning.

I don’t respond right away and River looks anxious, a single eyebrow skyrocketing beneath the puffy shade of his golden hair. He scratches at his cheek, where tufts of hair run down with the direction of his withering smile, moving along the strait of his jawline.

“Mother’s getting off work early today so we’re going to go have dinner,” I lie. I’m a good liar.

River nods, though it’s evident he doesn’t believe me. As well of a liar as I am, he’s twice as good at seeing through me. “All right. But I’m going to make it up to you, you know. Tomorrow, before I leave. I’ll plan a special day and remind you exactly why these weeks apart will be worth it.”

I smile and laugh, though I don’t mean it. Any of it. I just want to go to sleep. I always just want to go to sleep. It’s the cancer in me pushing all my other wants and needs out of my heart and into the shadows of my mind. “Okay,” I whisper. “But there better be waffles.”

I like waffles.

River pulls me in for one last kiss and I try to memorize the map of his lips and the places they’ve taken me before.

“And hot sauce. Just like you like it.”

| | |

River didn’t go home after Rosie left.

Natchitoches was pretty popular during the winter time. Cars lined the streets and filled the parking lots outside of restaurants, and unfamiliar faces pranced through the snowless prairies in a town that was anything but unfamiliar.

Natchitoches was swollen from the increase of out-of-towners who came to see the Christmas festivities which took place that week. The parade. The fireworks. The tours of pretty homes exuding Christmas spirit.

River wasn’t a huge fan. Of any of it.

Christmas was supposed to be a time of joy. And it had been for many years, up until his mother passed away a few years before. Now winter was just a cold reminder that River didn’t have a mother.

He only had a father. A father who despised him.

That was why River spent most of his time either with Rosie or walking Bosco. Because home wasn’t a home without either of them, and his father made sure of that.

“Hey, buddy,” River said, picking Bosco off the ground and setting him down in his lap despite his dog’s cold, wet, and muddy paws. “What do you want to do today?” he said in a baby-voice that always sparked the dog’s interest. “Want to go take a walk in the woods?”

Bosco heard the words “the woods” and his ears perked up.

“The woods it is,” said River. Bosco, now anxiously sitting up on his lap, his tail wagging away, licked River’s face from top to bottom as if he’d mistakenly shaved his face that morning with peanut butter instead of shaving cream.

“See, this is why everyone needs a dog,” he laughed.

River leaned in to plant a kiss on the roof of his dog’s head when Bosco reeled back and sent a big, juicy burp straight into River’s mouth, smiling gleefully back at him like nothing ever happened.

“Gross,” he coughed, spitting into the grass at his feet and wondering when he’d finally get it in his head that he had the gassiest dog in all of Natchitoches. Heck, all of Louisiana, for that matter.

River never really had many friends growing up.

He used to blame others for being too stupid not to hang out with him because he always thought himself pretty cool. But looking back on his life, River just never really held any interest when it came to other people, nor did he have the strength to hold onto anyone other than Rosie, and that was only because she wasn’t afraid to show who she really was—who cancer turned her into. If people wanted to come and sit with him in silence while he did what he wanted and they watched, they were free to. Only now, almost halfway through his senior year of high school did River finally understand that what he wanted wasn’t friendship at all. He just wanted something to convince himself he wasn’t as alone as he knew was.

But River had Rosie, and the two shared a bond that not even the laws of nature could disentangle. Rosie was everything to him, the sun in the sky and the shadows in the dark, and neither cancer, nor death could take that away. But other than Rosie and Bosco, all River had in the world was his best friend, Sunny Galen, the smartest person in Natchitoches. In Louisiana. In America. Though, as Sunny got smarter and River got more love-struck, he couldn’t help but feel like he didn’t really have any friends at all.

Rosie and Bosco and Sunny. That was it.

Maybe he didn’t need anymore. He supposed not.

When exactly did quality over quantity become quantity over quality?

Bosco nudged at his face, and River smiled down at his dog.

If River Bloome had one wish in the entire world, he would wish for things to rewind and start over; maybe, in another life, River wouldn’t choose Rosie—maybe they’d never even meet; maybe in another life River would care more about school and people, and maybe he wouldn’t pretend like he was perfectly all right when he closed his eyes at night, making friends with the shadows in the halls.

Maybe everything would be different. Save for Bosco. River never ever wanted Bosco to change.

“All right, you pain in my ass,” River joked, “Let’s go.”

With that, he chased Bosco back to the car and drove to the forest, far, far away from his home, his father, and the din of Christmas spirit that echoed all throughout the town of Natchitoches.

There were days where River wished he could trip and fall and get amnesia and forget everything about Natchitoches. Everything but Bosco. Sometimes he just longed to wash it all away and start anew.

But reality was never so kind as to take his demands into consideration. So, just like everyone else still tied to this town, River spent most of his days living inside his own head, dreaming.

Dreaming somewhere his father couldn’t reach him.

Dreaming somewhere he could get lost.

Dreaming somewhere he didn’t have to be found.

River spent the rest of the evening in the woods, dreading when he would have to return home. A part of him, similar to that in which held Rosie in the highest regard, wanted nothing more than to take her hand and run far away from this town. Far, far away. To a place no one would ever find them.

But, then again, running away from the problem was apparently a big character trait in the Bloome family.

| | |

I don’t think I’m pretty. Maybe I am. I don’t try to be, I guess.

Unless comfortable can be considered pretty, then I must be beautiful. My hair is red; scarlet really, which is funny because my name is Rosie. I lied, it’s actually not funny at all. I like to tie my hair back in a messy bun so that a few loose strands tumble down the side of my face, and I’m not skinny and I’m not fat, but I wear clothes two sizes too big because when I’m bored I like knowing I can fold up on myself and hide in the soft fabric of my clothing.

I feel content because I never have to struggle to look beautiful or exceptional. I’ve never even worn makeup before. Or a dress. Or anything you could possibly relate to looking beautiful. I’m just me. And I like to be comfortable. That’s why sometimes I wear a bathrobe to cooking class and slippers to gym. Having cancer has its perks, I suppose. Like never being asked to change who I am because life and my lack of health is doing enough of that already.

I like feeling happy. But I always take a beating every time I walk by the Passerine’s place, where the Mrs. watches me the entire time it takes me to leave my car or the bus and walk to our front door, eyeing me through the ugly green tinted windows of their house. Toilet paper still streams from the trees shading their front lawn from the last time somebody teepeed their home, and their ugly purple shudders appear glued to the house simply by dried egg. It happens quite often, sometimes by me—if I think about it, every single egg stain was supplied by me.

We need to plant a hedge. Or put up a fence. Or sell our house, move into an R.V. and park it on the Passerine’s lawn. That would scare them out of town for sure. Or we could just set their house on fire but that would be considered a felony.

Before entering our poorresidence, I turn to the side and stare long and hard at Mrs. Passerine, willing the clouds to gather and for lightning to strike like the words from my mind, from my lips, and from my heart.

Mother’s still at work so I grab a bag of animal crackers from our pantry and go to my room and shut out the world because life is exhausting and animal crackers feed the child in me. I flip on the air conditioner because even in winter the coolness calms me down, and I slump down onto my bed, my face mashed against the pillow as I prepare to binge watch meaningless TV that will only get canceled within the next few months. All the good shows die too soon—though, if I had it my way shows would have at least eleven seasons before getting canceled or completed. And that just isn’t how this world turns.

Cancer is like TV. Fans root for you to win, to fight and succeed. Fans tune in each week and jump into your life and bake you food that starts to taste like mulch after so many episodes. And then life swoops in and says “No, no, no, your time is up. Your ratings are down. No one cares about you anymore.” Or sometimes it says, “Woops, we have to pull the plug because we’re tired and life is life and everyone will suffer but oh well.”

Cancer is my life. But if my life was a TV show it would never launch. Just like if it were a novel it would never sell.

There’s no one out there rooting for me. No one hoping I survive. There’s Mother who’s praying for it all to be over so the medical bills will stop their flood. And then there are the neighbors—neighbors other than the Passerines who feel bad for my working mother and send us dinner after dinner.

People don’t know that I know how to cook; that our lives aren’t that hard; that my life isn’t so bad that I have to grovel for my next meal.

Cancer is cancer. I am who I am. But there’s a difference between me and fear.

I try to decide what to watch while I stare at my backpack filled to the brim with take-home homework and grin to myself, suddenly imbued with an idea. Cancer likes to take me for walks down to the hospital every once in a while so I miss a lot of school. And when I’m there I usually just sit on the bathroom counter by the sink and play games on the phone that I stole from the lost and found a while back because I can’t afford my own.

I accidentally fall asleep for about three hours, waking up to a mess of crushed crackers and marks all over my skin from sleeping on my face. And on the TV remote. But after a few minutes of groggily wondering where the hell I am, I push myself up onto my shaking feet and I call River.

“Hey,” I say the moment I hear him pick up the phone. “Grab some firewood and meet me at my house. If I have to say goodbye I want to say goodbye right.”

I hang-up the phone and trudge from the room, my backpack slung over my shoulder; before heading out to the backyard, I pull six frozen lasagnas and two casseroles from the fridge, each stacked on top of each other, and I throw them into the empty fire pit just outside the house.

| | |

I don’t trust anyone.

You could be nice. You could be smiling. You could hold up your hands in surrender and I’ll still be searching for the knife I expect you to use to stab me in the back. Maybe it’s a sick-girl thing. Maybe I was just born closed-off, guarded, self-reliant. Stupid. Afraid for absolutely no reason.

I’ve never trusted anyone I’ve ever met. Not even Mother, especially in such a weary state as she is these days. The one person I’ve ever let in even the slightest bit is leaving me tomorrow.

I guess I’ll have to learn to drown on my own.

But he’s here with me now and I hold onto every single second running down my body like the ash from the fire.

Flames crackle in the darkness of the night. Beautiful, crisp, crackling flames. The smell of melted cheese and week old lasagna fills the air, ten times better than the usual smell of meat pies—even though meat pies taste a billion times better.

We sit in threadbare lawn chairs with holes in the cup holders and rips in the seats, but with River’s fingers twined through mine, his flesh warmer than the fire, I can finally breathe peacefully. For now.

“Your mother’s going to kill you,” River assures me, unable to speak without a smile.

“I have no doubts about that,” I say, passing him over a beer from our cooler. I raise one to my own lips and take a small sip, wincing at the bitter taste. I never did like beer—I’m more of a soda girl, or, on occasion, I’ll happily accept some fruit punch from a juice pouch. But drinking beer seems to be the biggest teenage act of rebellion, saying “F*#$ you, society,” when really all I mean to say is “F*#$ you, cancer and life and everything threatening to pull me apart”.

“You know if I had it my way I’d just drop out,” I say, glaring daggers down at the fire; I watch with hungry eyes as the flames take every piece of paper that supposedly determines who I am and who I am meant to be and I watch it all turn to dust. “Or get my GED.”

River shakes his blond head of hair, setting his beer down beside his chair, untouched. “You have been labeled as an over achiever ever since first grade when you brought your own box of crayons to school every day with the little sharpener attached to the pack. Ever since, Rosie, there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t seen you without a book in your hands.”

I smile at the thought of my crayon sharpener.

“That’s because reading is the only way I can really block people out,” I whisper, thinking back to the words that stir deep within the shadows of my soul; the same words that would spill from my body if someone were to cut me open. “School is . . .” I sigh, taking a long swig of beer and fighting the urge not to spit it back out, speaking with it still in my mouth. “School is like a rumble.”

“A rumble?” River asks, his easy smile quirked to perfection. “This coming from the girl who used to think a rumble was the same thing as a flash mob—”

“That was an honest mistake,” I laugh, shaking my head from side to side. “But really, River, you enter knowing that no matter what happens you’re screwed in the end. You can try to escape it, to walk away and surrender into silence, but God, we weren’t given voices to be silent.” I sit still, silent, contemplating this. Then, “I totally just sounded like a stupid gothic band fangirl, bitching about reality again, didn’t I?”

“Don’t fret. Fangirls run the world.” River can’t help but laugh, his oceanic gaze seizing me up and holding me tight. “And no, Rosie, we were given voices to scream our heads off in instances such as when your mother comes home to see that you’ve burned all of your food and all the schoolwork you need to complete in order to graduate.” He pops open his beer and sips it slowly, sighing in both relief and displeasure at the astringent taste.

I shake my head, downing my disgruntle with my beer, flinching at the taste of both. “So long as I’ve got my Fanmanto get me through it, I’ll survive,” I say. “And Mother will get over it. I know I have.” Another swig of beer. Another grimace. Another headache. Another reason to close my eyes and go to sleep. “I’ve tried every single day of my life. But now—now trying is just something in the distance and I’m here and I’m not moving. I’m not moving and I don’t care.”

I hate how feeble my voice sounds. How shaky it is.

“Because if trying didn’t get you where you wanted, maybe letting go might?”

“I let go a long time ago,” I murmur mostly to myself, thinking back to the moment I first found out I had Leukemia. Almost a decade ago. “Now I’m just learning to accept that tomorrow I could be dead. Tomorrow I could be dust.” I close my eyes and blink back the fury in my eyes. “I just want to be comfortable.” I want to feel complacent with this life. “Why waste my time shooting for first place when I can be happy with second or third?”

River squeezes my hand, and when I expect him to let me go, he doesn’t. He doesn’t even think of it. “Then tell me to stay,” he breathes. Every word that leaves his lips is a different crack that breaks the surface of my skin. “Tell me not to go.”

Don’t go.



“I want to be comfortable,” I say again, closing my eyes against the weight of my own words. “Which means I have to learn to be comfortable on my own.”

River laughs, squeezing my hand tighter—the way that he always does when he thinks he’s losing me. “You think you’re alone?” He shakes his head and smiles. “A flower as pretty as yourself grows brighter than all the rest, that I know for sure,” River says. “But where there is a rose there is a garden.”

And here I am, wilting.

His words are my sunlight, my heartbeat, and the absence of air in my lungs. But I can’t find it in me to convince myself not to search for the blade of betrayal in his grasp, and trust that simply because he’s only now decided to take a full sip of his beer, doesn’t mean that his words aren’t true.

River’s words are pretty.

But even some of the best lies are beautiful.

Mother’s words come back to me now: ‘A proper girl should learn first to see through the letters of deceit in the voice of an angel before excelling in the art of beauty, music, knowledge and acceptance. I know I would have been better off had someone told me such a thing at an early age.’

“I’m not afraid of being on my own,” I say, not completely sure that it’s true. “I’m afraid of dying knowing that I was.”

“And you’re not,” River tells me, kissing me and stealing every broken word from every broken sentence that has ever left my shattered smile. “You’re never alone.”

I just wish I could believe him the way I believe cancer when it assures me that I’m going to die.

I don’t trust anyone. But I trust cancer.

And that scares me more than anything.


River Bloome is the type of person who looks like he would belong on a monster hunter team. Or a demon slayer squad. Or just someone you’d expect to find lurking in the pages of a book. Instead he’s sitting right beside me, real, alive, breathing the same cheesy air as me, and I wonder, not for the first time in my life, why he’s mine. Why, after every cancerous scare and every headache I’ve put him through, he’s still here.

I’ve asked him. I always do.

“Why are you with me, River?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” he tells me. “What is the sky if not blue?”

“Blue,” I say, shaking my head. “Because of all the gasses and particles up in the air and how the sunlight is scattered when it breaches Earth’s atmosphere,” I tell him. “It’s just blue.”

River smiles at me and a shiver courses down my spine.

“Why are you still with me?” I ask him again, almost pleading for an answer. I don’t know why. It’s like I’m setting myself up to fall.

“What is a mystery without a clue?”

“A closed case,” I say with a sigh, narrowing my eyes and pinching the bridge of my nose. “We can do this all night, River.” Why won’t he answer me? Why is he doing everything in his power to avoid this simple question.

Is it because he feels bad for me? Does he pity me?

River smiles at me, lowering his head. “That we could.”

“River,” I whisper, reaching out and taking his hand in mine, letting the warmth of his skin invade the battlefield of gooseflesh traveling up and down my arms. “Really. Why are you still here? With me? When you could be with anyone else. When you could be happy—”

“Because what am I without you?”

I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I hope I never find out.

They say love is like a match. If it is real it will light. If it is trueit will ignite. If it is strong it will burn forever. If it is patient, if it is hopeful and calm then there’s no telling what will become of such a flame. But every day I feel like our flame is going out. Because of me. Because I’m tired. Tired of existing in a world where lying in bed all day is not acceptable, or where such a thing as cancer forces me to feel that way.

Love isn’t like a match at all. It can’t be. A match is a tool far too fragile to be able to accurately describe and measure love. Love is love and cancer is cancer and drowning is drowning and yet I can’t seem to stop choking on this air—this cool, wonderful evening air.

I don’t know what love is. Love is stupid because it makes you think. If anything, love is a puzzle. It’s just too bad I’ve never stayed interested enough to stick it out to the end, to find every piece of success and nuzzle into the joy that follows in its wake.

Maybe that’s why this works. This isn’t love, this is comfort.

I’m fighting for my life and I’m fighting to stay above the surface and I’m fighting to stay warm in the cold and dry in the rain and awake in the dark and found when all else are lost. I’m not searching for love, for a perfect companion, even if I’ve already found it. I’m searching to be happy.

Life is just a really, really long sentence, but even that must come to an end. It’s up to us to determine how it shall come to a close, excitingly with an exclamation point to top it all off, or incomprehensively with a question mark to leave it to peter off as lonely as it began. It never occurred to me to wonder what my life will end like because I’ve spent my entire life knowing every obituary ends with a period. A statement saying: “This person lived. Then they stopped.”

I don’t want mine to say that.

I want mine to read: “She was happy.”

She was happy on her own.


Mother’s car pulls up the drive.

17.3 seconds pass before she sees me.

I’m surprised to find her look of absolute horror directed, not at the stacks of my schoolwork burning in the fire pit or the food we need to survive going up in flames, sending plumes of cheese-scented smoke to the heavens, or even the beers lined up beside our chairs, but at my hand in River’s. At the closeness of our chairs. At the way River rubs his thumb over my knuckles, his arm slung over my shoulders.

Oh. Yeah. I’m not allowed to date.

Something about a curse?

“Get away from my daughter,” she hisses, her voice slicker than ice as it stabs me in the heart. It’s weird. I can’t remember the last time she spoke to me in anything other than a whisper—her voice is nothing like I remember. Stern, yes, but much more psychotic than protective.

When River doesn’t move, Mother grabs him by the shirt and wrist and pulls him to his feet, and she nearly falls over with the effort it takes to overtake him, pushing him away from me with all her strength. “Get out of here,” she says, eyes like fire, words like rain in my throat, keeping me from breathing. “Go! And if I ever see your face around here again I’ll call the cops.” This is an empty threat, for Mother says this to most people. But still, River’s face goes gray as he backs toward the driveway, his eyes flitting between Mother and I.

“River,” I whisper at last, breathing shallow breaths. I stand but my legs are weaker than they were before, and even if I had the strength to argue with Mother, to defend River, to stand up for myself, I don’t think I could.

“Mother—” I try but there’s no point.

“Not a word,” she hisses at me, and I find it hard not to compare her with a snake every single time she opens her mouth. “I warned you about the consequences of your actions—I warned you what would happen if you fell in love.” Her fingers tighten into fists down at her sides and I think she might punch River in the face; when she turns to look at me, all the tension in her face builds to seething rage. “The curse, you silly, stupid girl. How can you be so reckless?”

Before I can even think of a one-word answer that will both save me the effort of wasting my breath and freezing Mother in her tracks, she walks up to me and grabs me by my hair, forcing my head back. She stares long and hard into my face and I can’t see her from where I stand, I can only see the sky and the smoke creating ripples in the atmosphere above the darkness of the yard.

“I won’t lose you like I lost him,” Mother says through clenched teeth, starting for the house, dragging me in her wake. I try to struggle but there’s no point. She has a firm grip on me and I’ve never been able to tolerate pain. Only the burning in my throat. The fear in my chest. But not this—not this searing tear of my scalp.

“L-let go,” I say. But the sound of Mother’s feet on the gravely earth before the stoop of our ramshackle home drowns it out. She pulls me inside and the last thing I see of River before the door is thrown shut is the absence of light in his eyes; his frozen hand, reaching out to me the way a statue reaches out to nothing—but not before I see him dart for his car.

I hope he’s going for his charging cell phone to call the police. To call anyone. To save the day like he always does.

In agony, my heart stretched and torn into a dozen fragments, I stare at the door. Mother locks it and shoves a chair beneath its handle, freeing me of the pain of her fingers tangled through my scarlet curls. Her hands are shaking. Trembling worse than anything I’ve ever seen.

If I were normal I would be able to fight her. To demand an answer for this madness. To run away. But all I can manage is a horrified look, and even the horror of my gaze is muddled by the exhaustion flowing through my head.

“He mustn’t enter,” Mother quietly tells me, though her voice rips through me like thunder, tearing me apart.

I need to sit. I can hardly catch my breath. Once again the room is spinning and the world is a mess of colors intervening like the passageways of a runaway labyrinth, pulling my gaze this way and that until I’m too dizzy to keep still. Vertigo plays with gravity and I start to crumble to my knees when Mother catches me and helps me to the nearest seat.

My arms go limp. Relief floods my veins and I can breathe again, but I’m not certain whether or not Mother is an ally or a foe in this game I’ve woken up to.

“What the hell . . . is wrong . . . with you?!” I would scream if I could, glaring daggers. “We weren’t . . . even . . . doing anything! Have you . . . lost your . . . your mind?”

Mother’s hands are around me before I can even focus on her, reaching for my throat, choking me without meaning to, ushering me to my feet and leading me through the house. She shoves me into my bedroom, all the while muttering to herself about the curse, the curse, the curse. Insanity colors the darkness of her gaze and I hate how trapped I feel by it.

Mother slams the door shut and when I fight her she pins my arms behind my back, overpowering me. Her hand is in my hair, ripping, pulling, using it to guide me across the room to my bed, still covered in animal crackers.

My screams bounce back at me from the darkened silence. They always do. That’s what echoes are there for. To remind us how alone we are—I’ve never known a person the way I know the refracted resonance of my own breathless lips. The walls inside my head that shout my thoughts back at me. The darkness that convinces me that so long as cancer is with me I will never be alone.

“I won’t lose you like I lost him!” Mother shouts again,and I have absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. She pulls me in close, her lips before my ears, a primal rage lingering in her crazed eyes. “Love is our biggest downfall, Rosie, and it’s turning you into a disaster,” she hisses, sorrow in her eyes.

And then she throws me forward.

For a moment I’m freefalling.

I crash onto my bed, slamming my forehead on the wooden frame, causing the world to slip and slur and blur unbelievably fast, more so than it already was. Reaching up, feeling a stream of blood run down over my face, I press to see Mother where she stands by the window. But I’m seeing red.

“I’ve spent seventeen years dreading this day,” she says, throwing open the supply closet just outside my room and taking three wooden boards and a tool box beneath her arms. I try to stand but she shoves me back down, evidently high on adrenaline, moving to board up the window. “If I’d known you and Mr. Bloome were more than just friends, I could have begun to prepare you a long time ago. But if you’re going to fight me on this than you have to know what you’re getting yourself into!”

Her words shoot me. And these bullets don’t ricochet.

Mother pauses, the boards spilling from her grip, clattering to the ground at her feet. “Everything I’m doing—everything I’ve ever done—has been for us.” She arches her back and takes up one board, her fingers trembling even worse now than before. “I lost your father to it and I swore I would never let it take you from me!”

I’m on my feet, pressing to see through tears and blood; my head, generally overflowing with the chaos of cancer, is now brimming with the apprehension pumping through my bloodstream. I’m on my feet but there’s no point. I stumble forward, weak, tired. Breathless. “You—you bitch!” It’s all I can think to say.

Mother effortlessly shoves me back down, where I flop off the bed and crumple to the hardwood floor, counting every crack that fissures through my skin; she breaks me further and shoves me one step closer to oblivion.

Oblivion haunts me. Oblivion tempts me.

Mother waves a hammer above my head, keeping a boot planted on my chest, overpowering me.

She’s snapped. She’s finally, truly snapped.

“You can kick and you can scream but I am just trying to save your life,” Mother tells me. But I’m not sure which one to listen to. I see three. Four. Seven? The horror of her threats grow in number.

I role onto my side and I punch and I kick and I scream at her until suddenly a surge goes through me and I see everything laid out before me; I see every scar and every memory Mother has ever scrawled into my flesh, and they hold me—they hold me and they pull me to my feet and they wrap around me until I’m bleeding small snippets of the past.

I’m on my feet and the world is at my knees and I’m standing above Mother, breathless and firm. I’m standing like I’m actually capable of doing something unforgettable.

I wrap my hand around the hammer and bend it back until Mother loosens her grip enough for me to snatch it away, her hands fighting me, straining against the adrenaline beat-beat-beating with my tired heart.

The hammer is in my hand and I could do it. I could save myself. I could run away. But something keeps me firmly planted where I stand. Frozen solid. Still.

Cancer? Fear? Wonder?

“If you run away—if you leave,” Mother says, sweat dripping from her face, “you’ll ruin everything I’ve ever worked for. Everything you’ve ever worked towards. School and life,” she pants. “Tomorrow won’t matter because—”

I stop listening. I stop breathing.

I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care.

Her words hit me and they strike me but they’re not real and they’re not sharp and they’re not deadly, they’re only words. They hold me and they take me and they drag me down and I’m alone with the gyrating gears and the darkness, churning in the shadows, swimming in the droning echoes of my head.


I don’t care.


She thinks I care.


She doesn’t think I know how important this life is.

Life is a path and we all must follow down it but I’m too cautious and I’m too tired and I’m too in the mood to think away the time that runs like water down my throat. I hate the sound of her voice. She thinks and she speaks and she demands and I’m a breath, a single breath, a single glorious breath and I’ve wasted it on seventeen years of glass walls and low ceilings and doors that only open when they tell me they want to open.

I don’t have the strength in me to pretend like I’m braver than I really am. So I let the hammer slip from my hand and clatter to the floor.

And I move.

I run as fast as a girl with Leukemia can run, and I’m perfectly okay with running into the ground.I’m running and—

Mother catches at my shirt collar from behind and shoves me up against the wall, her voice tight in her throat, sounding strained. “I’m not losing you! I will never let you go! This curse will destroy you—!”

I can’t breathe.

Her hand is at my throat again.

I can’t breathe.

The light is drawing thin.

I can’t breathe.

I’ve stopped breathing.

n OtHi N g MaTtErSaNyMoRe—

Something hits Mother from behind and she crashes to the ground, doubling over in pain. River, his eyes wide and beautiful and strange and glimmering from the dark, wraps me in his embrace and pulls me from the room. I can’t quite see what’s happening but he’s leading me down the short hallway to our living room, where shards of glass splinter the wooden flooring of our dilapidated home beneath a now empty windowsill.

“Rosie,” River calmly says into my ear, squeezing my hand in his and pulling me so close that I think he’s going to kiss me before I realize that he’s staring into my eyes, worried and scared, horrified. “Everything’s going to be all right.” No, it’s not. “I’m here now.” Don’t leave me. “I’m gonna get you out of here.” Take me far, far away from this place and never ever bring me back.

For a moment, my breath stalling in my throat, I stare into River’s eyes and I see the exact light I require to dispel the darkness from my blood—the light that I’ve spent seventeen-years of my life convincing myself doesn’t exist.

“Come on,” River says, throwing a handful of words into the space that divides us, only tempting me to get closer. “Can you make it to the car? The police are on their way.”


“I can do it,” I say through my teeth, fighting the urge to collapse and fall into his arms; his hands steady me, his sturdy fingers wrapping through mine. And he squeezes—he squeezes so tight I almost gasp out, but I don’t. I just hold his gaze.

“Then let’s move,” River tells me, never taking his eyes off of me. Just how I like it.

Without another thought, I tear from his grip, breathing, breathing, breathing air and choking, choking, choking on life, forcing myself out the window and onto the front lawn. Mrs. Passerine stands at the end of our drive, her trembling fingers clasped around a phone. She calls my name but I don’t listen.

With River at my heels, like the echo to my heartbeat, I try to slide over the hood of River’s car and scramble into the passenger seat like I’ve seen people do in action movies—but I have cancer. And I don’t possess an ounce of grace in my entire body. And I’m skilled at falling down. So, basically, I just run straight into the car and fall back down. But River picks me back up and helps me into the passenger seat, all the while buzzing with an energy I’ve never seen from him.

“Hold onto something,” he tells me, running around the car and slipping into his seat. And I do. I hold onto him.

River turns the key in the ignition and stomps his foot on the gas, sending his car over the clean stretch of grass, the stone sidewalk that seems to boarder this town, and onto the street.

I can’t help but flip Mrs. Passerine off as we go, even if she was the one to call the police. And looking back, wiping away the tears, blood, and sweat from my warped vision, I think I catch sight of Mother hobbling out onto the front lawn.

But we’re already gone.

Gone. Gone. Gone.

“What the hell just happened?” River asks, staring hard at me as we drive away, like a superhero and a victim, side by side, running from the danger that awaits us in the rearview mirror.

I don’t speak. I can’t speak. I can hardly catch my breath.

“She’s snapped!” I manage after a few moments, staring at nothing in particular, afraid of the emotion in River’s eyes. “She’s finally lost it!” We pass two town police cars on our way through, their lights blazing from the dark. I follow them with my eyes until they disappear into the shadows, delving deep like smoke.

My heart has been struck by lightning and it won’t stop. My stomach, on the other hand, is pleading for peace.

“I think I’m going to vomit,” I whisper.

I don’t.

“What happened between you two?” River murmurs. “Did she hurt you—?” River stops when he catches sight of the short stream of blood making its way from a shallow cut in my head. “Rosie—”

Sympathy. More sympathy.

“I’m fine,” I lie, leaning back in my seat. Then, thinking back, I glance at River. “She thought she was protecting me.” I hate that I’m justifying her actions. I hate that I have to. But I can’t pretend like Mother has just gone insane without reason. I can’t. I won’t. I don’t know how. Do I?

“What are you talking about?” River asks, wild eyes flitting between me and the road.

The light of the streetlamps ignites the glimmer of sweat on his brow, and I stare at the outline of his face and try to memorize it’s features because I’ve never felt so dead inside. I’ve never felt so defeated. Like this is it. Like this is the end. Of me. Of everything.

“Mother,” I say, staring into the darkness of the night, breathing heavy, raspy breaths. “She went as far as to hurt me just to make sure I didn’t—” I stop myself. “Just so that I—” I shake my head, trying to make sense of what’s happening, shivering despite the warmth of the car and the heated seats beneath my buttocks.

“From someone?” River murmurs, his voice torn, both in fear and in horror. He grips the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles turn white.

“From the curse.”

I sound so unbelievably stupid.

River remains silent for a moment too long, an air of disquiet tethering him to me, and something about it chills my boiling blood beneath my skin. “The curse?”

“The curse,” I repeat.

So, so stupid.

“It’s a story Mother told me as a child,” I take my time to explain. “Every time someone in our family falls in love, one kiss sends them shooting through time. It’s stupid. It’s so stupid. To think Mother could be from the future. The past. To think that my father isn’t really dead, and that he just hasn’t been born yet or something.” I bite my lip, trying to hold myself together and failing. My voice quivers when I speak. “It’s so stupid to think that the only excuse for her craziness is a fictional story—”

I speak my way right into a pair of lips.

River is kissing me and I have no idea what to do. He holds me tight and draws me in like he’s inhaling me, like the world isn’t real and I’m just smoke and he’s desperate for a level of intoxication only I can provide. His fingers twine through my hair and his touch is the fire that my freezing flesh desires to stay alive, coveting more, more, more—

The car drives off the road and crashes into a fire hydrant and we die. But not before exploding in a fiery display of flames and chaos and destruction. Oh, and we’re thrown like missiles into the night sky. Where we detonate like fireworks.

We die. We’re dead.

Or at least that would be much better than what really happens.

River pulls away and catches at the wheel, throwing it hard so that the back end of the car sways and swerves, fishtailing to a stop. I’m flung from my seat and thrown into River’s lap, his arms catching me the way that a prisoner catches the key to their cell.

The car pulls to a stop but I’m still in hyperdrive, speeding several light-years into the brightness of his alluring gaze; his eyes sweep over me without hesitation, without cause to stop, pressing in and lifting me up like an ancient artifact on a pedestal.

“Are you all right?” he asks me, he pleads to me, he prays for me.

I simply nod, knowing perfectly well that I’m perfectly not.

“See,” River says to me, his cheeks filled with color. “Nothing. No curse. No time travel. Nothing—”

“Don’t let me go,” I hear myself whisper, unsure why, unsure how. Then again, “Don’t let me go,”I say, my inner voice calling out to the open. “Please, don’t let go.”

River wraps me in his arms, his skin taught with gooseflesh. “No matter what happens,” he whispers down to me the way a boy does in a romance novel, making my stomach churn even worse. “I will never let you go.” Though, as corny as it sounds, it’s more comforting than I expect.

I actually believe him. One hundred percent. I trust him.

But I don’t trust people. I never trust people.

Trust is for the helpless.

“I love you,” I whisper up to him, astonishing myself by my abruptness. “I love you more than I’ll ever love myself.” Which is true. I don’t think I’ll ever quite be happy with myself the way I am with River.

But is it love? Should I really be second-guessing myself?

River is a fire and he’s spreading, catching and burning, licking up my body and burning me unlike anything else in this world. He reaches out, his body set aflame, his flesh molten lava, his blood gasoline.

“I will never love anyone on this earth the way I love you,” River whispers down to me, and for the first time my name makes sense to me. I’m a rose and he’s my sunlight, lifting me from the dark and igniting me, giving me cause to flourish. For the better part of my life I’ve been wilting, but here, now, lost and confused, I am beautiful and alive and youthful and all right and okay and awake and powerful.

I actually feel powerful. Like I can lift a car. Or a freight train. Though, in all reality, probably no more than an empty styrofoam cup.

“I love you,” I breathe, the revelation hot against his lips. “I love you,” I say again, weighing such powerful words on my tongue and balancing his heart in my hands, trying to match it to the one on my sleeve. “I love you.”

I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you.

Like thirsty lips searching for water, I lean in and—

I think we get run over by a bus.

That’s the only reasonable explanation. Because suddenly there’s a shot like that from a gun and a whoosh of air, followed by a sudden weightlessness like I’m falling. I’m falling and I’m falling and I’m slipping and I’m drowning, stumbling and tumbling down a hole in the earth, hitting every nook and cranny on my way down to a land of wonders.

A bus. We are hit by a bus.

Or I’m having a heart attack.

Nothing else can possibly explain this explosion in my chest.


River threw his hands up, catching at nothing. The burst of light surrounded him, twining through every shadow of the night, searing his eyes within the tight space of his father’s car. The weight of warmth and beauty fled his hands, fled his touch, gone like the coolness in the wind come spring, leaving him to gasp, breathlessly staring at nothing but his empty grasp.

His fingers reached out as his mind, incredulously assessing the emptiness before him, recoiled in fear. Where his heart hoped he would find Rosie sitting where she was, just lost, just gone, just invisible but still there, still real, still his, River’s trembling touch found nothing. Nothing but air. And yet he remained breathless. Airless. Hopeless.

“The curse,” River whispered to himself, for the first time in his entire life completely sure of something; completely sure that he knew nothing about this cruel, cruel world he lived in. “It was the curse.” His eyes, hard and observant, grew wet and foggy as he began to shake from head to toe.

Slowly, tiredly, River grabbed the steering wheel and pulled the car off to the side of the road. It had begun to rain, the sky opening as if child-like hands cupping buckets upon buckets of water suddenly let go of all that was true and decent and pure.

He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t be when there was nothing for him to be without Rosie.

River climbed from his car and fell to his knees, the rain washing away the color of the world he thought he knew. He looked up and around but he couldn’t focus on anything, and when he stared down at the pavement, his clothes soaked through and his entire body wet with rain, he found the reflections of the roadside lamps dancing before his lips, drawing him into their embrace.

It took ten minutes for River to climb to his feet. When he did, he hobbled through the trees that lined the road and continued to vomit for the next half-hour.

Rosie was gone.

Gone. Gone. Gone.

| | |

I like the smell of rain. And freshly cut grass. And sometimes even subtle hints of gasoline.

Mother always said my father did too. I never believed her. How could I? You can’t trust someone who lives to lie and lies to stay alive. You can’t trust a ghost, the reflection of what should be. I see that now. I think I’ve always seen it. It’s kind of like when you’re a child and someone steals your box of crayons. That person could be your best friend. You could put all your faith in that person, prepare to trust them for all eternity. But those are your crayons, damn it, not theirs. And now that person is enemy number one. The villain. Your arch nemesis. And everything you believed in, every truth and every lie and every faithful word you were ready to fill your friend with just dissolves in your heart and all you want are your crayons. But more than that, more than anything in the world, you want that person to be who you thought they were.

That’s how I am with Mother.

My father was my box of crayons.

I had my idea of my father in my head but she’s tampered with it so much that it no longer resembles anything close to what it used to. Sort of like when you read a book and lose yourself in its pages and the world it opens up for you. You nearly drown in your own excitement when you discover there will be a movie in its honor. And then everything, from the buttons on the protagonist’s shirt, to the curtains of the antagonist’s lair is wrong. Everything is misinterpreted and you want to show everyone how you saw it, how you witnessed the events of this new world.

That’s how I am with my father.

I read the book and watched the movie. I lost myself in the pages, drowned in my excitement, and floundered until I died because nothing is as it should be. Nothing will ever be the same. But, and I thank God—or whoever’s watching over this sad, sad life of mine—that I never allowed myself to see the movie first.

Mother once told me that ‘liars are just painters that have run out of canvas, so they color the truth instead, painting over it until it’s unrecognizable’. And one day, like a shift in tides, her words painted over my hope and my happiness until there was nothing left of it.

Mother’s words muddled my thoughts and numbed my heart.

Sometimes I think words are what will destroy me.

| | |

Drowning is like kicking a puppy. Or a lot of puppies.

You never want to think about doing it. You flinch at such a thought. And it sends a shiver down your spine because each are equally horrifying, drowning and puppy-kicking. When you drown you painfully lose your life and every happy memory and every moment you’ve ever lived wraps around your throat and chokes you until there’s nothing left in your eyes and in your soul but water and darkness and pain. This is sad, of course, but can’t the same thing be said about the evil of kicking a puppy? Several puppies? A dozen puppies? You should be forced to drown for kicking a puppy. And even if it’s an accident, you’re walking home and a puppy tackles your feet. You still feel like you want to die. Because puppies are life.

I must have forgotten and wore my clown shoes and stumbled upon a pet story and kicked every animal I could find. Because I’m underwater and I’ve never felt so empty, so lost for words and thoughts, save for: YOU ARE DROWNING AND YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT PUPPIES, GOD DAMN IT!

I lift my hands and try to find a hand, his hand, River’s hand. But I’m flying in such an unbelievable darkness that I can’t even see myself and maybe there’s nothing to see. Maybe my karma from all those puppies has caught up with me and I’m nothing anymore.

One of the worst parts about drowning, for me, is knowing I’ll never get to eat meat pies ever again. Or go bowling. Or eat waffles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Or eat a snow cone. Or eat—well, anything ever again. I’ll never even get to stress about school or people or—oh, wait. Well, never getting to eat meat pies and never bowling again is almost as horrifying as kicking a puppy or a baby.

I should try to find a way to escape. Maybe I should fight for freedom. But I’m not a story book character. I’m a girl with cancer and I don’t feel so good. I never really do, to be fair. But I’ve felt better than I do in this moment, that’s for sure. I deserve a day where fighting isn’t in my vocabulary. Where striving to exist isn’t a part of who I am.

I lift my hands out one last time. If I find a hand, a way out, great. If I don’t, I’ve come to terms with dying underwater. It’s a better death than having your body shut down on you, no doubt about it. I would have preferred falling from, like, a Ferris wheel or getting the chance to see the inside of a shark or stumble upon a hoard of zombies after the apocalypse smelling like bacon and flesh. Anything would have been better, really.

Oh well.Who cares?

Blub, blub. Blub, blub. Blub, blub.

My eyes close, if they were even open in the first place, and I slowly drift down.

People always thought my cancer is what would destroy me in the end. But really I’m just stupid. And stairs seem to have been invented for the sole purpose of having me fall down them. The same goes for flat surfaces, I suppose. And now it ultimately comes down to me drowning all because I was too naive to heed Mother’s warning.

She wasn’t crazy. She wasn’t a monster, was she?

I was just stupid.

Mother knew I was going to kiss River.

“The curse,” I would have said if I were not underwater. “The curse is real.”

Or I’ve been abducted by aliens and they didn’t like me so they spit me back out. I can see that happening. I mean, it’s not totally impossible. I’m not a very nice person, I’ll admit. I’ve had bees who’ve been so disappointed by my effort not to fight them that they stung me just because. Birds don’t like me either. Maybe it’s my personality. Maybe my sarcasm isn’t as appealing as I think it is. But that can’t be. I’m wonderful.

I pass out. I think that’s what happens.

My only regret is not holding on tighter. And going without a box or two of cookies.

| | |

I remember things sometimes. I have a good memory.

I remember when I went on a one-day vacation to my grandmother’s house in the next town over. I returned to find that River had snuck in through my window and wrapped everything I owned in aluminum foil. I remember when he glued a hundred mini googly eyes to his face just to make me laugh and got one stuck up his nose and had to go to the emergency room. I remember when he shoveled a pile of snow just high enough for us to go sledding on his father’s old toboggan and we hit a tree so hard that we thought we were going to die. I remember when he paid his cousin to dress up just like me and pretend to be me and make it seem like I was going crazy—I remember that it almost worked.

I remember a time when cancer and drowning for no reason wasn’t a problem. A time when River was my world and nothing else mattered.

Now I’m swimming with the fishes. Dreaming of a time when I was happy. Leaving time just to embrace another, holding onto the past when the future’s all that my life holds dear.

Time can’t destroy me. Time can only change me, so it seems. And yet it’s funny, actually, how destroyed I feel. Maybe that’s just the cancer speaking.

Even as I fall apart and each piece of me—beautiful or not, happy or not, peaceful or not—drifts away, I hold onto every single time River Bloome made me feel like my life was worth living. Because even if everything Mother’s ever told me about the curse is true, and even if I wake up and I’m in a different time, a different life, a different world—even if everything is altered—I will hold onto River and I will fall back up the rabbit hole and into his arms.

This life has a way of returning us to where we’ve been before. Perhaps fighting, fighting cancer and fighting destiny will be the only way to make sure I’m happy in the end. Because, you know, every logical person talks about fighting destiny like it’s just a sack of potatoes out in their backyard. My only other option is to drown right now and be happy knowing I’ve lived at all.

I’m not quite sure about that one, though the alternative doesn’t sound perfect either. But who knows? Maybe I’ll catch a break and I can think on it for a little while.

But then I stop. Stop living or stop breathing or just stop existing altogether, I will never be completely sure. One thing I do know; one thing I’ve always known: I’ve never been much of a fighter.

Then again, dying doesn’t really fit into my schedule.

So I bite the bullet and I clench my hands and my teeth and my eyes and I will myself to simply be when this world seems to be doing its best to tear me into a million pieces.

I remember when I planned my own funeral.

I remember when I wrote my own dirges.

I remember when I envisioned it all.

But what I remember most is when no one showed up.

The darkness of oblivion tightens its hold on me like velvet curtains quickly closing before the stage of the perfect tragedy that my life has so unexpectedly become. Only, this is not the intermission of my life. I don’t need a break even though I tell myself I do. Even though I always tell myself I do.

This show will go on.

I refuse to let go of the stage running beneath my feet.

Not until I learn to fly.


I’m cut free of the darkness like a corpse tethered to the hanging post, left to plummet back down to life. I wake with a start, gasping, catching at air that isn’t there, fighting to breathe in a place where silence is thin and voices are raised and the temperature is warmer than my heart. Light filters down into a room and colors sprout like flowers across my vision, blurred and slurred like the muffled words in my ears, unable to be translated in my state of delirium.

“P-please,” I stutter, I splutter, I gasp, pleading. “Please, help me!” But these words aren’t real, just thoughts in my head left to linger on my lips. Just echoes from my heart, reverberating in the stillness.

I’m held, not by hands, not by River, not by people, but by a graceful beam of light that floods the room, swimming in the fog and bleariness, beautifully sweeping. A part of me reaches for it, my splayed fingers wistfully tethered to its glow, lacking the strength and the perseverance needed to capture something so wonderful.

You can’t tie a rope around the moon. You can’t hold something as beautiful as light. So I do the next best thing and I curl into its warmth, comforted by the fact that though I may be alone, despite the strings of distant voices that tell me I’m not, I’m securely fastened to the idea that I could be happy in this state.

“Please,” I try one more time, not knowing if I’m speaking, if I’m only thinking, if any of this is real, and if I can still be saved. I’m not sure I should be. But that’s just my take on things. “Please don’t let me go.”

Don’t let me go.

I’m not holding on.

So don’t you dare let me go.

| | |

“Good mornin.”

I’m awake. I’m sitting up.

Someone has turned the lights back on.

And it smells like—like eggs?

My body is half submerged beneath white silken bed sheets and my scarlet hair is in disarray around my tired face. I’m in a fairly large room with a fireplace in one wall and a marvelous hand-carved bureau against another. Two large windows illuminate the grand chamber, each sill adorned with unlit candles and drops of wax.

A large rug covers the wooden flooring and great, confusing, out of place tapestries ignite one sunlit wall with color that make me want to stare forever. Beside the bed, between the two windows, sits a piano, grand and dark and beautifully fitting in such a well-furnished room.

At the foot of the bed, the cool, easy smile of a boy tailored head to toe in wool sends a shiver down my spine while the darkness of his gaze draws color to my cheeks. I flush faster than I can remember how to breathe, pulling the sheets up over my body to cover my skin. Everything but my head.

He sits ramrod straight, staring over at me.

“Forget how to swim?” he asks in a thin southern drawl, removing the hat from his head. He looks about seventeen, my age, though with eyes like those and a smile as brilliant as that I wouldn’t be surprised if he were older. His smile broadens and I can’t help but stare, noticing how the entire room smells of breakfast.

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day.

Did I die and go to heaven?

I don’t respond right away but glance around again, sitting up straighter to see if I can grasp a view from outside the windows. I catch sight of the tops of two large trees, their leaves a bright green in the graceful glow of dawn, and the top of what appears to be the fraying rope of a tire swing, gently swaying in the breeze.

“Excuse me?” I whisper, drawing myself up and rising to my feet, too curious to be bothered to hide myself from view. I forget to shiver as my toes touch the cold floor just beside the scarlet rug, and I move to the window without paying much attention to the boy. Though his eyes never leave me. That’s for sure.

Outside is green. A pasture of straw and long grass guides forth into the distance, and a river, sparkling a bright azure in response to the beautified atmosphere above, twines about the plain like a threaded rope, pulled taught with the potential of a beautiful noose. In the distance the earth is jagged and crisp, almost appearing flattened out by years of change, the day illuminated by what appears to be the glow of daybreak on a late spring morning.

There’s no snow—not that Natchitoches gets much anyway. The air is much warmer. So either I’ve been in a comma for several weeks or what Mother said is true and I time traveled. I’m not sure which is easier to believe at this moment, but either way I suppose I’m just happy for the respite from living. Everyone could use a break every once and a while.

Where the hell am I? What the hell have I done? Who did this to me? Is this another repercussion of being alive? Fricking time traveling? Am I cursed? Can I get home? Am I going to die? Am I asleep? Is this a dream? Is this boy going to murder me and eat my face? Or eat my face and then murder me?

“Miss?” the boy asks, and I jump. One of his eyebrows lifts heavenward in response.“You all right? Yer goin green.”

I might vomit. I hope I don’t. I shouldn’t know the taste of my stomach the way I know the back of my hand.

I raise my fingers to my face and trace the small gash in my forehead, wincing at the pain.

Am I alone? Can I undo this? Is River waiting for me?

I turn around and I think I’m going to collapse so I steady myself on the bed post and keep my eyes plastered to the window to calm myself. It doesn’t help much. So I also count. I like to count. I also like chowder. And meatballs. And salsa. And pancakes. And waffles. And hot sauce. And waffles with hot sauce. And—

What am I doing again?



The panic hits again, stronger this time.

“Where’s River?” I ask, my voice as hard as stone.

I frantically look around, my eyes bitingly cold. The room is small, just four walls. But we’re the only ones here.

“I’m afraid I don’t know, miss,” says the boy.

I glare. “River? River!” I call out but my voice only raises so high before breaking on the air.

I glance back at the boy. He stares at me from his spot on the edge of the bed. Then, staring past him, I find a door in one wall and quickly make my way over to it, expecting to find it locked. But it swings right open.

It’s open, I think to myself.

A hallway sits before me, adorned with a few more doors and sparse rays of light shining down through a window above a stairwell leading down. Shadows swim, bleak and grim, wending their away about the light and descending the steps, but nothing about it seems out of the ordinary, much less daunting.

I shut the door, hesitating.

Why would they leave the door unlocked if they’re holding me captive?

I spin back around to study the boy and do my best to reign in my obvious terror; golden light comes through the glass windows, glorious brilliance that ignites the room, and I shrink back into its warmth, wiggling my toes over the weathered floorboards beneath me.

“Where’s River?” I repeat one last time, relatively reserved; I’m careful to keep my voice low in case anyone else is inside the house—if I have to fight my way out of this situation, I at least know I can take this boy on his own. But with more . . .

“We ain’t holdin ya captive,” he tells me, grinning, almost as if he’s read my thoughts. “Yer free to leave at any time.” He waves a hand to the door, flashing a beatific smile with which I brandish a scowl in return, my eyes like ice. “Fix yerselfsomethin to eat before ya go, if ya like. Th’ kitchen’s jest down stairs.” He pauses. “I made ya breakfast, if ya want it.”

I’m so confused that I don’t speak for many moments, spending the entire time glancing between him and the door, contemplating whether or not I should run while I still have the chance. But I don’t. I stay. And not because I hardly know how to run.

I look into his careful eyes, a subtle shade of jade in this light, flecked with spots of electric blue, and where I expect to find shadows of considerable malice skulking therein, heavy and dark in his gaze, I discover authentic geniality.

It could all be a façade, I remind myself.

I locate my voice in the steady silence, breaking free from the arms of taciturnity. “What happened to me?” My fingers curl at my sides, balling into fists. “Last I remember I was with—” I pause, my heart swelling. “River,” I breathe, wincing. “W-what happened to m-me?”

I scan the room once more, assessing the placement of everything in reach. If this boy were to attack, I could defend myself with one of the bronze candle sticks atop the dresser, or fend him off with the wooden broom leaning against one corner of the room. I could strike him with a curtain rod, but there’s a chance he would reach me first—still, I keep the idea at the forefront of my mind.

I glance to the seat of the grand piano where asilver tray of various breakfast foods sit—flapjacks and waffles, sausage and bacon, all smothered by a great heaping of scrambled eggs, doused in maple syrup. The heavenly scent floats to my nose and weakens my knees; my stomach says yes but my mind forgot the question.


Neatly placed upon the tray.

Is a knife.

I suddenly lurch forward, all thoughts of hesitance gone from by mind as I fumble for the blade; the tray goes tumbling and clatters to the floor, and the eggs splatter on my toes—but my focus is on the knife. The knife.I defensively draw it up as I spin on my heels. I see through the scarlet strands of my unkempt hair, the gleam of the blade caught in a burst of sunlight streaming through the window, and I can’t help but marvel at my warped reflection in the silver, as uncouth and unceremonious as a wild animal.

I’m surprised to find that the boy hasn’t even moved.

Maybe he doesn’t see me as a threat—maybe he shouldn’t.

“How did I get here?!” I nearly shout.

I try to stifle my anxiety but it doesn’t work; my hands are tremulous and numb, and the butter knife quivers on the air as I slowly inch forward, taking precise, calculated steps.

“We found ya out anabout in th’ crick down behind th’ house,” says the boy, no sign of reluctance or hesitation to his tone. His accent is my key that I haven’t left Louisiana, and if I have, I haven’t gone far.

I shake my head. “But how did I get there?” My wild eyes flit back and forth; I expect him to rise, to defend himself, but he doesn’t move. When he doesn’t respond, his smile getting on my nerves, I make my move and press the blade to his throat.

His smile only brightens.“I’m not your captor—”

“Then who is?!” My voice begins to steady.

“We jest wanna help ya, miss—”

We—so he’s not alone.

Who else is in this house?

“Ya could of drowned, miss.”

“Who put me there? In the crick. Who put me there?”

The boy doesn’t smile at this, but rather lists his head to the side like a lost puppy—and that’s when I see that jovial glint in his eyes make a resurgence, and I sense a convivial air about him, an unperturbed innocence.

“Well, now that’s th’ weird part, miss.”

He’s telling the truth. He’s not my enemy—so who is?

“Weird? Why?” My eyes narrow. I tighten my grip on the blade, and when the boy doesn’t say anything, I dig the knife into the flesh just beneath his Adam’s apple. I darken the already dark expression on my face and growl, “What was so weird about it?”

“Ya jest kinda . . . appeared.” This snags my attention.

I scowl at the boy. “Appeared?”

“Yeah,” he says, nodding. “Appeared.”

“One doesn’t just appear,” I whisper.

“Right ya are, miss. But ya did.”

“I couldn’t have.” Panic is a nuisance tugging at my sleeve. “That would—that would be impossible,” I quietly say, listing my head to the side. I stand my ground.

I purse my lips.

I glance down and notice the markings on my arms from where I slept on them, the fabric of my clothing imprinted on my flesh—my new clothing, I’m slow to realize. I wear a too-tight lace night gown, beautiful and airy against my flesh; the skirt reaches down to my ankles, and around the hem a design of interlocking thorns dances about the fabric.

“Did you . . . uh, did you change my clothes?”

“No,” the boy says, shaking his head from side to side. “Ma an Mary helped ya there. I was jest th’ one who found ya.”

Ma and Mary.

“How long was I asleep?”

“Couple hours at the most,” he quietly intones, as if bored by my questions. “I went for an early mornin stroll with Esther amongst the oaks, an suddenly there ya were. Appeared with a burst of light, ya did. Magical, I told Ma. Jest magical.”


“There’s no such thing as magic,” I hastily reply.

The boy winks. “Ya got a lot to lurn, miss.”

This doesn’t faze me. Crazy people say crazy things. What worries me—what stills the blood beneath my skin—is the fact that I know he’s not lying to me.

Incredulously, my dark-blue gaze brimming with the darkest of squirming shadows, I stare down at him and hesitantly abandon my fear of an attack; I loosen my hold on the knife, the color returning to my white knuckles, and the boy must see the sudden change in my character because, slower than a leaf floating on the breeze, with just as much grace, he raises his hand to mine and gently nudges it away.

Like some enemy force working against me, I lower my arm in one defeated motion, the volition gone from my being, and the blade clatters to the floor at my feet.

Like magic.

My heart remains a ticking time bomb inside my vacant chest, restlessly thrumming along, counting down the empty seconds until my detonation. I take a step back and spin, moving to the windows, compelled to gaze out like whatever it was that made me drop the knife wants me here, right here, staring out the window.

Nearly two minutes of silence passes between us—in which time I try to wrap my mind around this new information while staring down at the world below—before his voice breaks the void of silence that swirls between us, meticulous in its journey to my ears.

“Beautiful.” But he’s not looking at the window.

Yes, yes it is. It’s more than beautiful—it’s indescribable, I don’t say. It’s almost like I’ve been here in a dream, I don’t say. It’s like a fairytale I just want to stare at until I grow up and forget what matters most, I don’t tell him.

The light sheds its glow across the running plains and distant tree-speckled knolls in a way that’s so enchanting, so mesmerizing that I expect a court of faeries to rise from the gilded shadows and come to my aid. But they don’t. And I stand here alone—maybe that’s because I don’t need any help; maybe, for once, I can handle something on my own.

My cancer tells me I can’t. My cancer tells me I never will.

“Ain’t it?”

I don’t respond. Instead, my hands fisted down at my sides, I grit my teeth and try to fight whatever’s keeping me here: my own indecision, my own hopeless curiosity, or something else? Regardless, I’m helpless in its hold.

I release a shaky breath.

“I should go,” I whisper into the waiting silence. “I need to find River—”

“I’m gonna go out on a limb, love,” he slowly says, “an guess that yer a Bryar, ain’t ya, sugar?”

I’m so focused on the outside world that I don’t initially acknowledge what is said, but when the words meet my heart and spin me back around, I can’t help but smile, somewhat astonished by this turn of events.


He knows my last name—which means I can’t have been the first girl to appear in his backyard. So does that mean he knew Mother? Was she here? Is this where she’s from?

Is this really real?

I stare at him for a long moment, trying to get a read on this stranger the way I used to do from the window of my hospital room, studying faces and tracing illusory paths into the distance until I had handfuls of lives dangling from my fingers, and memories and truths and lies and secrets that were never mine to hold, all dribbling from my mouth.

But his face—his oh so familiar face—is entirely blank save for a brushstroke of composure painted in those devilish-blue eyes of his, as well as a blotting of pink in his cheeks.

He looks like a painting.

His porcelain skin and his crisp, dusky suit. His dark-russet hair, tucked up into a hat that’s tipped down to shade most of his face. His eyes, bluer than the ocean at sunset. And the effortless curve of his lips, lifted heavenward as if stuck that way—his jawline is a freshly shaven strait that runs beneath the shadowed hollows of his mirrored dimples, like faint craters in the surface of a crescent moon.

Every inch of him looks too good to be true.

I intently trail his grandiloquent suit with careful eyes, following the opulent, burnished gold painted buttons down his chest, and I trace the length of his slender body until I catch the unmistakable gleam of an oddly beautiful white-gold ring upon his finger; the lavish adornment, crafted from intricately woven patters of filigree, peculiarly contrasts with the darkness of his clothes—I wonder the importance of something so out of place.

The closer I look at the silvery band, the more I realize that the convoluted tracery offers up a series of entangled shapes initially concealed to the naked eye—a series of . . . flowers?

“And I’m going to go out on a limb”—I uptilt my biting gaze, forgetting the ring for the moment, and I meet his eyes from across the room—“and guess that I’m not the only girl who’s nearly drowned in your . . . uh, your crick?” I say each word with a calculated precision, meticulous in my speech, careful to release each word from my clenched teeth like they might be used against me; by the end of my sentence, my voice is quivering so badly thatI sound like someone who’s trying to speak and drink at the same time, and the more I clench my teeth, the worse it gets.

I cross my arms over my chest, straightening myself and broadening my shoulders in an attempt to appear taller than I really am. But it’s no use. The boy towers over me.

He smiles, his lips pulling taught. “Correct,” he weirdly answers, quirking a single eyebrow. “Ya look a great deal like her, ya know?” His breath catches in his throat. His eyes flit about the room. His fingers clench and unclench down at his sides. “Jest as pretty. If ya don’t mind me sayin.”

His eyes twinkle, shimmering a rheumy shade of cobalt, though his gaze looks darker than the fine finish of the black piano against the wall. For a moment I allow myself to get lost in his eyes, like an astronomer stargazing in a world without stars. But only for a moment—it’s just too bad a moment is all it ever takes to get hooked. Like Meth. Right? I’m going to pretend that the answer is yes.

“I’m not pretty,” I mumble to myself, quite uncertain of whether or not I truly am, though I hardly care either way. If I refuse to let cancer run my life, I refuse to let as small a thing as vanity tear me down. Besides, I’ve spent the first seventeen years of my life looking like a gorilla. So I think I can handle it.

“Where am I?” I whisper, shaking the thought from my overflowing head of nonsense, glancing from him to the window. The scent of spring permeates up to meet me, and I love the way it dances across my skin, drawing my mind back to all those springs when I was still just a child and Mother would lay me down in the yard and tell me stories of the past.

Stories. That’s all they ever were—or so I thought.

“1959,” he breathes, still smiling. “Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.” He moves to stand beside me at the window and his smile hardens, his eyes ignited by the sun. “Finest town fer many, many miles if I do say so myself.”

I freeze, my heart beating a pace faster as nausea ties my stomach in a knot. My insides ignite like a lightning storm without the thunder or rain, drawing sweat to the surface of my skin. “Why did you tell me the year?” I know damn well why he told me the year. “I didn’t ask you for the year.”

You read my mind. Without even trying.

You know why,” he murmurs, breathing in the glow of the morning and exhaling a smile so light and airy that I’m surprised he hasn’t floated away.

He’s so close to me. So, so close.

He could kill me right now if he wanted to. He could choke me or bash my head in or just suffocate me . . . or he could kissme.

I wince at this last thought.

I try to forget it. But I can’t. I know nothing about him, I remind myself. He’s a stranger. He could slaughter me any minute and collect my bones.

He could k i l l me.


He could b r e a k me.


He could k i s sme.

“No, I don’t,” I lie.

He’s right, though. I do know why.

I did time travel. Mother was right. I am cursed.

I am going to vomit. Or shit my pants.

I have to take several deep breaths to calm myself, which doesn’t come easy for a cancer patient. But even then I still feel like I’ve dived headfirst into a casual nightmare that will end as soon as I wake up. So where the hell is my alarm clock when I need it?

Wake up. Wake up. WAKE UP!

“But ya wanted to know, didn’t ya?”

He’s so close.

His voice is so sleepy, so dreamy, so calm. Like wind in a meadow, reminding me why I don’t ever want to leave the wonders of my fanciful mind behind; reminding me why I never want to wake up.

“Jest like th’ gal before ya.”

I freeze. My blood congeals beneath my flesh.

I’m a stone and I’m sinking deeper into a body of water, drifting down and drifting free and drifting away—away from all the truths and all the lies and all the questions accumulating on my itty bitty shoulders—until I’m dead in the water, just another drop in the sea. Until I’m just a flake of snow in a blizzard.

A red rose in a blood-red ocean.

“What girl?” I ask, narrowing my eyes, giving in to this dream and letting it take me by the wrists. Curiosity quickly spreads like a wildfire beneath my skin, kicking any level of surprise or horror or fear to the curb. My dying body remainslively, abuzz with nervous energy that I once thought I had control over. “What was her name? Was it, uh . . .?”

It suddenly occurs to me that I don’t know Mother’s first name. I thought I did. I guess that’s just what cancer does to you—no, no excuses. Not like Mother and ‘the curse’. The truth is I just didn’t care enough to learn it—the truth is that Mother always said she hated her name, so she would make up new ones. A new one every single year, in fact.

I sigh, finding it suddenly very difficult to meet the boy’s eyes. “What was her name?” I repeat, trying to place all my focus on the truth. Not time travel. Not this curse. Because if I don’t I might just vomit.

The question hangs in the air between us, heavy like a weapon. Turning away, I face the window and gaze out at the field, wondering why such a place, so tranquil and beautiful, so simple and calm, is so familiar.

I’ve been here before. I know I have. When everything is old and discolored. When the sky is gray and the clouds are heavy. When the earth is split and the world is rolling down a much different track. I’ve been here before. I know I have.

But why?

Déjà vu has a hold on me and it won’t let me go.

“First, why don’t ya tell me yer name?” speaks the boy, his voice calm but uninviting, gruff but exciting; almost sensual. He doesn’t look at me when he speaks; his gaze crawls down to the world below the window, staring darkly, momentarily caught up in a world all of his own. “A name fer a name.”

“You don’t trust me, then?” I murmur a tad bit bitingly, my eyes narrowing—but they do that anyway. “Why is that?” It’s a stupid question. I know it is.

“No reason,” says the boy, waking from his reverie and innocently glancing about. “It’s jest thatMa and Pa always taught me to take care round the . . . well, the peculiar.” He says the word in such a way that makes it seem as though it’s branded into my flesh. It’s not. I checked. But I don’t blame him for being wary. How can I? If a strange girl landed in my pond—river, lake, thing—I’d be seriously concerned.

“Rosie,” I tiredly admit, rolling my eyes. “Rosie Bryar.” When I glance back over my shoulder at the boy, letting my fisted fingers—unknowingly entangled—drop to my sides, I find he’s staring at me like my name is important. Like he’s heard it before. Like something about it pains him in a way that I can’t explain; like it mortally wounds him rather than physically.

“Rosie,” he whispers, testing it on his lips. “Pretty.”

I shrug off his compliment, fighting the urge to glare at him. “What’s her name? Is she here? Is she close? Do you know her? Can she help me get back?” This finale question causes me to pause. Because it’s real. This is real. Time travel is real.

Panic curls its fingers around my throat, digging in, while alarm drapes its cool touch down my skin, tracing the constellations of scars in the vastness of my flesh that I tell myself will only make me stronger. But cancer has trained me to be tougher than my fear—no, not tougher. Numb. It’s made me numb to terror. Numb to intelligence. Numb to emotion.

River’s the only one who’s ever cracked my surface. The only one to shatter my walls. The only one to let the light in.

“Is she alive?” I reluctantly add, dropping my head.

The strange boy before me laughs a sad, humorless laugh, tilting his head like he knows something he isn’t telling me. “Ya kin say that,” he mutters.

He stares out the window once again, as if seeing her standing down below, waiting for him. When he smiles, his grin so heavy with reticence that I almost feel the weight on my own shoulders, I see more than what’s on the surface of who he is. I see passed his happy exterior and straight on through to the pain that ruins this handsome stranger from the inside out. Like a house on fire.

He looks lost.

Withdrawn. Reserved.

“What was her name?” I ask one more time, chancing a glance up into his big, dark eyes. But he doesn’t look at me. He just stares into the distance until my question finally stirs him back to life.

“Her name?” He calmly grins, his lips quirking up into a sly little smile that reminds me of only one other person in the entire world: River. “VioletteBryar,” he tells me, a bit snidely. Like the name means more to him than it ever will to me.

Violette Bryar,I think to myself. Such a pretty name.

“Flowery names run in th’ family?”

I sigh, flashing a smile of my own, only much less sincere. “Apparently so.”

The boy nods his head. “She done lived not too far from here. But, well, seein as ya clearly know boutth’curse, Rosie, is it safe fer me to guess that ya also know what it kin do to ya?” He pauses to look at me, his radiant eyes roving mine like sunlight, and when he parts his lips to continue, he quickly reconsiders, letting his golden gaze drop to the floor.

I’d smile if I could.

“It drove my mother mad,” I whisper.

Or was it the knowing? Knowing there was a possibility that she might lose me the way she lost my father?

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs in return. His curious eyes twinkle like stars in the night and I suddenly feel the need to look away. But I can’t. I forgot how.

“Don’t be,” I tell him, staring. “You don’t even know me.” This comes out as a whisper. Hardly audible. Almost soundless.

“But I’d like to.” He reaches out and runs his hand beneath my chin, his eyes hardening evermore. Then, before I can even think to draw away, he grabs my wrist and pulls me to the bed behind us and sits me down, tracing the lines that weave across my palm.

I pull away. I flinch.

“I am sorry,” he tells me, staring straight into my eyes. “Even if I don’t know you.” He glances to the window. To the world beyond these four walls. To the pain that finds a way to haunt his every move. “This curse—it ain’t easy.”

“No,” I quietly say, shaking my head. Then, as a sudden revelation plays at my lips in the form of a smile—a real smile—I shrug my shoulders. “I guess it’s not all bad.”


“Because,” I say, my blood boiling in a good way; in a way that’s only ever made me feel invincible, like I can take on this world with one hand tied behind my back. “Because it just occurred to me that for the curse to have been activated, going by what my mother has told me, I would have to be in love.” I smile—I really smile. “Correct?”

He doesn’t answer me. “So?”

Who even knew I was capable of love?

“Nothing,” I whisper to myself, continuing to smile. “Nothing at all.”

I’m still hyperaware of the fact that this boy might eat my face. But I judge books by their character, not their covers, and for the first time in a long time I feel safe. I feel like I don’t have to run away.

He backs away to the bed and picks up the butter knife off the floor, staring down at the dullness of the edge; he hands it over to me after a moment of pensively staring, proffering a gentle smile that speaks more of wonder than it does of kindness. “JessieBloome,” he says, reluctantly introducing himself like he knows nothing good will come from knowing him—or knowing me. “Welcome to Natchitoches, Louisiana, 1959, Rosie. I hope I can find a way to help you.”



Without hesitating to think about it, I take the blade.

| | |


It all fits together. The field. The familiarity. The déjà vu.Jessie. This is River’s grandfather. This is River’s dad’s dad.I’d met the man at our middle school graduation and River’s ninth birthday party at the zoo, when the ostrich bit my ear—fucking ostrich. He’s the same man I’ve met a hundred times and still don’t know the first thing about. Yet he’s here, standing before me, and I’ve never been so afraid.

Anything I do could destroy the future. Anything I say, do and think can ruin my chances of ever finding my way back to River.

“I’ve done lived in this here house most of my life,” saysJessie, beaming. I wear his jacket out in the cold while he pushes me in the tire swing, shivering in the daylight, winter having nearly completed its transition to spring.

It’s curious how easily it is for this world to change the direction of its rotation. And it’s peculiar how, just an hour before, I thought this boy beside me was my captor. Not my savior. Not the one who wants to help me get home.

If I had a dollar for every time I was wrong, I’d be rich.

“Ma and Pa were born in South Illinois but came here shortly after they married. Bin here ever since, bouncin from house to house till Pa came into a little money way back when. Now we’ve binstayin here ever since I kin remember.”

I scan the Louisiana plain, finding it hard not to smile at how much more lush it is now than it will be in the future; at how everything seems to flourish and pop, as if reborn in a way that I can’t entirely explain.

“I’ve lived in this town all my life,” I tell him. “I live alone with my mother in the year 2015. She always muttered things about the past, but she never truthfully told me how she lost my father,” I whisper, looking down at the dirt beneath my swaying feet. “All these years I thought she was crazy. Always whispering to herself, always blaming ‘the curse’ for her problems.” I shake my head. “I wonder if it can be broken. Like in all those movies for kids.”

“I cain’t say that I know that it kin be,” he says.

I stare at him, too curious to look away. “You’ve seen it destroy someone you love, haven’t you?” I bite down on the inside of my cheek, wishing I hadn’t said anything at all. ButJessie doesn’t react. He just stares down at the ground. Looking distant. An innocent. And . . . beautiful. In a dangerous way.

“I did,” is all that he says.

I part my lips to press for more, but when he looks into my eyes, staring straight through to the soul I know must exist inside me, I think better of it and drop the subject.

“So,” Jessie murmurs, “tell me more about yerself. About yer life in th’ next century.”

Jessie twirls me on the swing and I smile, grinning a tight grin. He gave me one of his sister’s many ugly dresses to wear but it’s far too tight on me, choking my skin in a way that feels surprisingly right. Like this is how clothes are supposed to be worn. The fabric is thick and papery, blue like the evening sky, adorned with a couple hundred little floral designs that look like polka-dots when you squint your eyes; the dress stretches down almost to my ankles, and it’s folded at the collar like a man’s suit.

“What life?” I mutter to myself, holding onto the tire as my feet graze the dirt, kicking up some dust. “It’s boring. Ugly. Dirty,” I say, sighing, shrugging. “It’s a place where I don’t belong, you know, I think if it weren’t for River, I wouldn’t quite mind this curse.”

Jessie flinches at the sound of River’s name, I quickly notice.

“That’s a first,” he says, continuing to smile a charming smile.Jessie wipes his fingers on his trousers like they’re dirty, quickly glancing around the yard. “The future ain’t as wonderful as th’ people claim it’ll be, then?”

I shake my head, letting my voice lower. “It’s lonely—it’s full, so full, too full, to the point where you can feel completely alone in a room brimming with people. It’s congested to the point where you can’t breathe and no one cares if you choke.” I shiver at the reality of it all, the truth behind my own sorrowfully uttered words. I flit my gaze up toJessie’s, whose face has yet to lose such a curious warmth.

“An River? Who’s he?”

I smile. “You’ll know him one day.”

| | |

I have cancer.

These three words are so easily said but not so easily provoked. I have a chance here in 1959. I have a shot to escape all the careful eyes and the tired inquires in regards to my health. In the present, in 2015, I am a girl with cancer. I am dying. I’m not in remission. None of the clinical trials succeeded. I’m just a victim, a flower surviving as best as it can before the start of winter. But here I have a chance to thrive, to flourish, to be a rose in the spring and grow without fearing death, whilst still knowing it’s waiting just around the corner.

Here I am Rosie Bryar, seventeen-year-old cursed time traveler. Here I have a chance to make something of myself. To be happy. To feel real. To feel like cancer never came knocking at my door. Here I can start again. No one knows the truth. No one knows I might fall dead at any minute. Just me and the big guy upstairs.

Here I might actually have the motivation to try.

To fight. To win.

Here I can start again.

I have cancer.


Some days I feel like the human equivalent to a one-legged frog. Today is not one of those days.I’ve spent a total of three hours in the past and I don’t hate it.Jessie’s mother and father are out at the market trying to wrap their heads around the fact that a teenage girl from another time period fell out of the sky and landed in their pond. For the second time.

His twelve-year-old sister, Mary sits with me for a while in the little bedroom I woke up in. She’s a very pretty girl with one of those faces you know will be even prettier when she’s fully grown.

Short, brown curls peek from beneath a hat atop her head, and an ugly maroon-colored dress hangs from her shoulders; yellow gloves disappear into the sleeves of the dress, reaching up to her elbows.

“How long have ya knownJessie?” Mary whispers to me, playing with the fingers of her glove while she speaks. She’s such a shy girl—her wariness reminds me of myself when I was her age, and it’s so weird to think what my caution has turned me into.

I stare up at astill life painting that hangs on the wall between two glorious windows while I think of an answer—the curtains are tied back to let in the buffeting daylight, igniting the shadows of the work of art; it’s a grand portrait of a field of mismatched flowers. Different brush strokes correlate to different flowers, providing an air of individuality, depicting coral-pink peonies and cerulean-blue morning glories and honey-yellow daffodilscaught beneath a frozen firmament of harvest-gold.

It’s remarkable, really.

I spare a smile and shut my eyes.

“Not long,” I flatly admit.

I glance down at the bottom of the painting where a large, virile handprint is pressed into the parchment in jet-black ink, with an even smaller handprint inside of it, this one etched in white.

“Thought so,” says Mary. “I’ve never heard him mention ya before.” She shrugs her shoulders and glances out the window, down toward the drive below; light frames her youthful face, painting her skin a russet shade of gold. “An what with th’ way he looks at ya, you’d think he might haf mentioned ya—anyhow, where ya from?”Mary wonders. “Do ya live in town—?”

“Who painted that?” I ask, nodding my head to the large painting on the wall. Mary follows my gaze as I move to my feet, and slowly, without thinking, brush my fingers across the set of handprints.

“My father,” Mary says. “He don’t paint much anymore, but he did when I was young. He used to let me watch—I’d hold the brushes while he worked, and when he was done he let me put my handprint on it.” She smiles at me. “Those were happier times.”

I don’t respond right away. “Do you like your dad?”

Mary smiles again. “Do you like breathing?” she wonders with a slight giggle. “Our parents are like the breath in our lungs, Jessie used to tell me. They’re there one minute an gone th’ next, so we need to savor th’ time that we may actually breathe. But half the time we don’t even realize that we are who we are cuz of ’em.” She looks far away all of a sudden, almost like she’s deep in thought. “I never really think bout it, though. He’s good to me, if that’s what ya mean. They both are.”

We are who we are cuz of ’em. These words stick with me.

But it makes me wonder . . . who am I?

I can’t help but stare at the set of handprints scrawled across the sunlit corner of the painting, dark against all that is light, and feel a sudden pit in my stomach—a pit that was dug in my core when my father left.

The way Mary watches me makes me think she knows more about where I come from than she lets on—but what, I can’t exactly gauge from her manner of subtle examination. But I simply smooth the fabric of my dress over my knees and say, as plainly as I can, “No, I’m from . . . out of town.”


“Yes,” I heedlessly say, tasting the lie on my lips. “Natchez.”

Mary smiles at me. “Grandmother’s from Natchez. She’s comin here soon to pick me up to take me dress shoppin.” Mary, glancing up to look at me, pauses for just a moment. “Would ya like to join us—?”

“Mary?M-ary? Mary—oh, there you are,”Jessiesays upon entering the room. He stops and smiles, wrapping his arms around himself; the thin fabric of his shirt reveals the undulations of his toned body beneath.

I flush and glance away, letting my eyes drop.

“Hey,” he says to me. “I see you’ve met Miss Bryar,”Jessiesays to his little sister, glancing from me to her.

Bryar,” Mary quietly whispers to herself, growing taciturn; her eyes drop and she momentarily avoids either of our gazes, searching her fingers for an answer to a question that hasn’t been asked. “Yes, yes. I’ve actually jest invited her to go dress shoppin with Grandmother an I.” Hopeful eyes flit between Jessie and I, but her optimism is spurious. “I’ve still got some coins left over from my last birthday,” she adds, feigning excitement.

My name did . . . this? My name—made her so fleeting?

I once read that names have power. I never believed it until now.

“Oh, how kind,”Jessie says, smiling at me. “But I’m afraid I’ve already made arrangements to show Rosie round th’ town. Maybe another time, okay?” he says to Mary.

But Mary, looking suddenly forlorn, stifles a frown and laughs a brittle laugh. “Of course, of course. Another time.” The way she said those last two words make me wonder.

“Come now,” Jessie says to Mary, “why don’t ya help me fix lunch?”

Mary quickly follows in Jessie’s wake, waving to me on her way out; she flashes a brittle smile as well, but I see it start to falter before she’s even left the room. I stare after her, wondering. What is it about my name that could make her act so distant all of a sudden?


Could the girl before me have done something to have wronged Mary Bloome? Is the Bryar name now tarnished in Mary’s eyes because of her?—whoever she is. Whoever she was.

After a few moments of sitting on my own in the silence of this large house, counting the lines on the ceiling and the scattered rays of light on the floor, contemplating this new information—or the lack thereof—I decide to explore, though I feel as if I already know this house by heart.

It’s weird being in a place that you go to almost every day and discover that all of its contents have been spit out and replaced with another’s. It’s kind of like picking up the wrong person’s phone. They’re both phones, maybe even the same kind, the same color. But when you turn it on, everything is wrong, different, completely altered until it no longer feels like it’s yours. Because it isn’t yours.

I slip through a room at the top of the stairs where I know River’s father likes to keep a bunch of his guns and bows for when he takes his annual hunting trip every winter. But when I enter I feel as though I’ve been taken and completely submerged within a pool of literary works.

Books upon books upon books line each wall, climbing up and reaching out, some gilded and golden and glowing brilliantly in the light spilling in from the open-doored veranda. I take my time passing through, observing everything on my way, perusing every title and running my empty touch across the faces of each novel.

It makes me wonder who in the Bloome family likes to read. Or is it all just for show? A misrepresentation? I suppose River’s aversion to literature was inherited from someone in this house—but, drowning in cream-colored, yellow-stained, ink-blotted canvases such as these, it’s hard to gauge who.

I step outside and silently smile to myself. The veranda is orange with light, its railings a shade of ginger. The entire world up here is like the far side of a rainbow, dipped entirely in gold. It’s brilliant, truly, the air soft and warm and decent. But it’s peculiar, almost wrong—as if this perfection shouldn’t be limited to only one household, but everyone in town.

It makes you think: if this day has already passed, if I’ve just fallen back in time, then what is the present? If there is a future, and if Mother truly came from another time period, what is the present? Is there a place where time stops? Where there is no such thing as a future?

These questions race on repeat throughout my head until a bubble of panic bursts within my chest and I have to remember how to breathe. I catch myself on the white railing of the veranda and stare down at the world below, ignited by the mid-day sun.

I’m breathless, thoughtless, hopeless.

This is cancer. A battle in my lungs.

“Whoa, yaokay there?”Jessie asks from the open doorway, stepping out to reach for me.

I shrink away, using my noodle arms to push off of the railing. The world only slightly begins to wobble, tipping at the edges, but it’s a similar feeling to when you stand up too fast. Only a hundred times worse. So I wait for the spots glittering across my vision to disappear before speaking, and it takes a lot longer than it used to. “I thought you were making us lunch,” I grumble, doing my best to shake away the sudden dizziness, to breathe without gasping, to stand without falling.

“I was.”


“I ain’t that great of acook,”Jessie admits, blushing. “But this towngots a lotta good grub. I know th’perfect place to eat! I eat there most days, ya know. You’ll love it! I’ll show ya round town while yer here. Sound good? If yer up fer it, I mean,”Jessie says, clearly regarding the lack of firmness in my stance.

“But I already know this town,” I say, ignoring him.

Jessie shakes his head. “Ya know this here town fifty-six years from now. But this town—I’m sure it’s changed if it’s as bad as ya say it is in th’ future. What d’you say?” he asks, smiling. “Ma and Pa ain’t gonna be home fer some time now. Until then I wanna make sure ya feel welcome.”

“Yeah,” I nod, trying for a smile. But I feel a headache start to flare up at the back of my skull, and the sudden pain causes me to flinch back, inhaling. “Let’s do it,” I quickly say to hide my pain.

Jessie runs back into the house and I can’t help but stay just a moment longer. Lingering in the light, staring out at the world that arches beneath my feet, so far away. So distant.

I close my eyes and try to wake up from this dream. But when I open them again and discover that the plains of 1959 still run far beneath me, what seems like many, many miles below, I take a breath and tell myself to calm down. Because this is real.

This isn’t in my head.

This mad, mad world is no different than it ever was.

I’m just . . . changing.

| | |

I slump down into the sunlit seats ofJessie’s pretty little1950 Ford Fairlane and cringe at the tightness of the car compared with our car in 2015. He slides right in and turns the key in the ignition, smiling away as if his day wasn’t just spoiled by a time traveling girl from the future.

I go to click my seatbelt and remember that seatbelts were only just invented last year. And that they won’t be made mandatory for another nine or ten years. And, wow, I know way too much about seatbelts—if only high school had taught me something about life and being brave instead of spending countless hours ingraining into my head things such as when seatbelts were invented, and how to lie to myself and hide who I really was from the rest of the world until I felt like just a shadow in every single room; if only it had taught me to tame the apprehension writhing inside my chest, rather than succumb to it like everyone else.

Maybe I’d be more prepared for this.

I can’t help but watchJessie as we drive away from the house. When we pass down the long drive leading to civilization, the fields and the greenery blurring together, I watch the house vanish in the rearview mirror, and I can’t help but think that this is the very first time leaving the Bloome family’s estate with anyone but River.

My stomach sinks. But it’s okay. I’ll be okay.

“This is nice,” I say, cringing behind my smile. “Smells like flowers.”

Potatoes, actually. It smells more like potatoes. But I don’t say this.

“This here is Pa’s. His pride an joy. He lets me drive it sometimes. When he ain’t home. An when th’ keys are here. An when he ain’t got no idea. But I like to think he’d be okay with it. I mean, if ya don’t take yer dog out fer a walk it’llgit restless. Same goes for th’ car, that’s why I like to take it out fer a spin—”

“Well, I’m convinced,” I sarcastically say, grinning, though I no longer know if people can tell my cynical laugh from my real laugh. I don’t know if I can even discern one from the other anymore.

I watch out the window the entire time, taking in Natchitoches, Louisiana from the eye of a citizen of 1959. It’s peculiar, this world. You’d expect to find things in black and white or an orangey brown color, like all of those old photos. But the world isn’t so different. The cameras and the photos are different.

The world has just evolved.

“Well, it was either take th’ car an git some real food into that there belly of yers,” he says, driving along at a slower pace than any old person has ever dared, like nothing’s motivating him to go faster. He doesn’t care what time of day it is. He doesn’t care how long it’ll take him to get where he’s going.Jessie’s got all the time in the world. I just wish I could afford to live that way. “Or heat up some of Ma’s famous soup,” he continues but I’m hardly listening. I really only hear the words ‘famous soup’.

Soup isn’t famous. It’s either good or it’s not.

“I don’t like soup,” I hastily admit.

“How?” he asks, his brow furrowed. “Soup is one of those, uh, ya know, one of those all-curin medicines ya hear about.”

“I don’t. And medicine is gross.”

“Not when it’s soup.”

Especially when it’s soup.”

“Come on,”Jessie says. “What hasn’t soup cured?”


I think better of responding and keep staring out the window, my eyes locked on the Louisiana distance. The air is moist with warmth and I feel it on my face when I put the window down. With a crank. And not a push button. A fricking crank.

My, oh my. How the times have changed . . .

“Soup is nifty,”Jessie whispers to himself.

“Are we really still talking about soup?” I ask, trying not to smile.

“Yes,” he quietly says.“I mean no.” He looks away, embarrassed.

I don’t think I’ve ever partaken in a more riveting conversation. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation where the word ‘soup’ has been mentioned more than twice. But then again, I’m no longer in the world I always thought I knew. I’m trapped in a picture frame and these four walls around me are growing. Accepting me. Not pressing in on me like the walls I’ve built around myself.

I’m in a world where soup is apparently a panacea.

| | |

Denny’s. We pull up to Denny’s.

This is the perfect place to eat you were telling me about?” I ask as I get out of the car, shoving the door shut behind me. Crossing my arms, staring inquisitively, I brace myself for a harsh breeze, shivering before it even touches me. “Wait until you see 2015,” I say mostly to myself though I knowJessie hears me.

“Hey, yacain’t go wrong with Denny’s. Ever. When have ya ever gone to Denny’s and found yerself sad? I mean—wait, is Denny’s still round in 2015?”

I shrug. “No clue. I think so.” I don’t eat out much.

“It better be,”Jessie says, holding out his arm.

I reluctantly take it, knowing all the while that if Mother were here she’d probably try to threatenJessie with a hammer, too. Because it was sweet of Mother to try and protect me from this curse, it really was. But I can take care of myself. That I know for sure.

“What’s th’ point of a future without Denny’s?”

“Like waffles and hot sauce,” I mumble. “Can’t live without it.”

Jessie only stares at me. “Yer gross.”

“I’m only human,” I mutter, pulling him along after me.

I take a seat at the counter and order some eggs, the same asJessie, but unlike him, clean and cool and oddly smooth, I can’t help but look at everything. It’s like I fell out of bed this morning and landed in a museum.

Everything is different. Even the napkin holders are weird.

“Ya ain’t gonna sit still, are ya? Ya like to look at things a lot,” observesJessie, studying me as I study everything else. Everything other than him.

“And you like to point out the obvious,” I say with a disgruntled sigh, rolling my eyes and cutting my eggs with the side of my fork.

Jessie watches me.

And I pretend like I don’t see anything.

“So?” I wonder, speaking through a mouthful of eggs because I’m far from ladylike. “What’s next on this grand tour?” I look at him now and he looks away, his face red.

“Th’ lake? I kin go fer a swim.”

I freeze, quirking an eyebrow at him. “You’re kidding, right? It’s way too cold to swim! I mean, it’s what, April?”

Jessie nods his head and shrugs his shoulders, devouring his breakfast for lunch—he orders more before I can even wrap my head around the idea of swimming in April, thanking the waiter with a smile.

“If there ain’t snow on th’ ground, Rosie,” he says, looking around before settling his gaze on me, “it ain’t cold.”

“That’s really bad logic,” I tell him, but he’s far too excited by the sight of his food to care.

The only time I’ve ever seen someone so happy and excited to see something is when River looks at me. I suppose that’s good. Right? I’ll tell myself it is regardless.

You’re gross,” I tell him after a minute of silence.

“No, I’m hot.”

I look at him with my eyebrows raised.

He takes his time answering me, smiling to himself all the while, as if he thinks he might actually be funny. “That’s why I wanna go swimmin,”Jessieadds, turning back to his food.

I roll my eyes. “You’re just looking for a reason to take your shirt off around me,” I say, smirking. I play with the straw of my water and try not to look him in the eyes—it’s easier said than done.

“Everythin’s got its advantages,” Jessie grumbles under his breath.

I quirk an eyebrow. “I suppose that’s true.”

I stare into Jessie’s dark-blue eyes and sigh, the exhaustion of Leukemia rolling off me in waves; my head is simultaneously heavy and light, and when I blink I find it harder each time to open my eyes again.

I place my elbow on the counter and shrug against my palm—

And Jessie taps my arm with the flat-edge of his butter knife, swallowing down too-big of a bite of his eggs and coughing. “Manners,” he tells me, motioning for me to remove my elbow from the table, and I laugh—how can I not?

“Don’t speak with your mouth full,” I tell him, plucking my straw from my glass of water, and when he’s not looking, I blow a spray of water into Jessie’s face. “There. Now you’re not so hot.”

“How . . . pleasant,” Jessie says, his eyes sparkling a darker shade of black, though a smile never leaves his lips.

“What can I say? You poke the bear, you’re going to get the claws.”

Jessie only shakes his head, wiping the water from his cheeks. “I feel like I done poked a bubbler.” He laughs at this and so do I. “Is this why ya don’t have many friends, Rosie?”

“Friends are stupid. There’s family and there are ghosts.”


“Yeah,” I nod. “Ghosts—those who don’t make a difference in your life.” I shake my head. “There are far too many people on this Earth to possibly know. To let into your life. And there are those who don’t deserve to know anything about you. About us. Any of us.”

“So ya jest sweep ’em under the rug? Pretend they don’t exist.”

“No, I hide them in the attic. And as far as I’m concerned, they don’t.”

“That’s a good place fer ghosts.”

I smile. “I thought so.”

Jessie takes the next few moments to stare at me; his dark eyes rove my face, examining every feature of my flawed countenance; his gaze traces the crooked contours of my lips, the undulations of my misplaced dimples, the hollows beneath my eyes. “Say . . . we’re not family.”

“Family isn’t always of the same blood.” I glance down before meeting his eyes again. “Your real family is almost never of your blood.”

“I suppose not.” Jessie clicks his tongue. “Are we family?”

“No,” I say.

“Are we friends?”

“Please,” I scoff, spreading my lips to give room for a sly little smile to nestle down into my face. I hold my straw between my fingers like it’s a cigarette, and rest it against my lips when I speak. “You’re not exactly my speed.”

“I don’t think anyone’s yer speed.”

“Maybe not now,” I whisper. “But you could be.”

“Oh, could I?”

“Let’s get through lunch. Then we’ll talk.”

Quickly, in a flash, Jessie shovels down the remainder of his eggs, engendering a hideous gulping noise that makes me internally cringe. He slurps his drink and slams it back down.

“Lunch is done. So? Are we family.”

I roll my eyes once more. “You don’t want to be my family, Jessie Bloome.”

“Why not?”

“Haven’t you heard? We’re cursed.”

Jessie shrugs a shoulder. “If it don’t make yer life worse, is it really a curse?” His eyes flit to my lips, remaining there for a moment or two before returning to my eyes. “Besides, every curse has its cure.”

I shrug. “That’s only in fairytales.”

“Yesterday ya could have said th’ same thing bout curses.”

“True. This is true.” I sigh. “But it doesn’t look like true love’s kiss is gonna save me now. Not when River’s back in the twenty-first century. And I’m trapped here.”

“Trapped,” Jessie echoes.

“You know what I mean.” I bite my lip and look at Jessie, and when he meets my eyes, I glance to the doorway. “Look, I won’t blame you if you run away.”

“I ain’t gonna run away.”

“You’d be stupid not to.”

“Every curse has its cure,” Jessie repeats, reaching out his hand and taking my own; his fingers tightly wrap around mine, callused and rough, and for a moment I like the unfamiliar coolness of his touch. “And I’m gonna help ya find it.” He pauses. “So long as ya don’t hold a knife to my neck again.”

I ignore this.

“Why? Why help me?”


“Cuz why?” I press.

“Cuz I know what it’s like to feel lost an alone.” Jessie raises my hand to his lips and kisses my flesh without a second’s hesitation, savoring the moment when everything inside of me goes still. “But ya don’t haftafeel alone no more,” he whispers against my hand, my knuckles, my fingers. “Together,” Jessie tells me, so easily, so sincerely, like he’s reading from a book. “Together we’ll find a way to break this curse.”

I wrench my hand away and shrink back into myself. “You don’t want to be my family,” I repeat. “I’m too selfish to require a family—I desire my own comfort, my own self-satisfaction more than I ever will yours or anyone else’s. It’s how I was born. How I am. How I always will be.”

“I kin live with that.”

“No, you can’t.”

“Yes, I—”

“No one should have to.” Too sharp. My words are too sharp.

I soften my gaze to appear less . . . malevolent.

Jessie pauses, looking deep into my eyes when I wish he wouldn’t with that same steely-eyed gaze I’m getting far too comfortable with; for a split second I’m weightless, freefalling through an open firmament of blue—blue like shards of shattered stained glass before the edge of night, and blue like a midday sky following the third consecutive day of a torrential downpour, cloudless and pure. “I meant what I said, Rosie Bryar. Yer very pretty.”

“I’m not pretty,” I tell him. “I-I . . . I’m just ordinary.”

“There ain’t an ordinary bone in yer body.”

“There used to be,” I whisper, and when Jessie takes my hand, I let him hold it; I don’t pull away and I don’t know why, but I stare at him, running my eyes over his, marveling at the darkness of his gaze and the brightness of the irises that so easily still me in these moments. “We should . . . uh, we should—we should we go to the lake, shouldn’t we?” Anything. I’ll say anything to change the subject. To get away.

I rise to my feet and Jessie’s quick to follow, unchanged.

“Sure,” he says. “But first there’s somethin else I wanna show ya.”

“Okay,” I tiredly say, reluctantly following him back to the car after he’s paid for our meal; by the time we step outside, the noise of the small city permeating through the air to meet me with the acrid scent of smoke, I have to admit: Denny’s is the perfect place to eat.

“Okay,”Jessie whispers. “How was that?”

“Good,” I say, running my fingers through my scarlet hair and silently wondering when I allowed it to grow so long. “I’m strictly on a meat-and-cheese-only diet back home,” I tell him. “But it was—it was good.”

Jessie looks over at me and flashes a bright side smile, and the way he stands in this perfect sunshine, his insipid skin taking in the light like a freshly fallen snow, he reminds me of a ghost—and I can’t help but wonder if that’s all he’ll ever be to me.


| | |

Jessie takes me to his second favorite place in all of Natchitoches following Denny’s. It’s a little soda fountain in the same building as a drug store, off on the opposite side of town—though, in my time period, I’m pretty sure it’s a torn down laundromat that the police had discovered a meth lab in the back of. I don’t remember.

We walk in and I take a seat on the stool besideJessie at a counter where a young man in a bright red bowtie and a matching apron welcomes us.Soda jerks, I remember mother telling me they were called—what an unfortunate title.

The place is quaint. Smaller than a fast-food joint but larger than an ice-cream shop. A checkered floor gives way to a battlefield of conversation, and straits of the past zigzag up and down the walls in forms of old soda ads and black and white photos.

An underlying scent similar to mothballs permeates throughout the shop just beneath the sticky, sweet odor of soda and vanilla ice-cream. I like it though, the smell. It makes me feel at home. I don’t know why.

“Come here often?” I askJessie.

“I used to come here every day after school.”

I stare. “How old are you?”

“Turn twenty-one next month.”

I nod.

Teenagers mill about in groups, some reading and some just straight chilling, talking with smiles free of the heaviness of stress and indecision that so often plagues the twenty-first century. There are three booths beneath a large window, where parents sit with their young children; in one, a mother cradles a baby in her arms.

I wonder why there’s nothing like this in 2015. A place for parents to take their kids and for teenagers to just be so that they don’t feel like homebodies. A place where humans can talk and speak away from the rest of the world.

“I’ll take a Cherry Phosphate,”Jessie says to the soda jerk, clasping his hands before him on the counter like a little schoolboy attempting to look respectful in front of his teacher.

Phosphate? What the hell is a phosphate?

The man, probably in his late-twenties or early-thirties, glances between the two of us like he’s attempting to discern whether or not we’re a couple. “Just one for the two of you?” He grabs one cup and holds two straws over it, waiting for a response.

“Uh,”Jessie quietly says, glancing at me and blushing before dropping his head, color racing into his cheeks. “No,” he quietly whispers. Then, meeting my eyes, he asks, “What would ya like?”

I shrug my shoulders. “I’ll have the same.”

“Two Cherry Phosphates comin up,” says the soda jerk, moving to the tap on the counter.

“So,” I start, staring awkwardly down at my fingers,“shouldn’t you be in college right now?” I askJessie, thanking the man behind the counter when he slides us our drinks across the bar.

“No,” he tells me. “I’m taking a few years off.” He sips his soda with glee, slurping it all down while I watch as if it’s supposed to impress me. But I quickly glance away when he looks at me, pretending to have seen none of it.

“Oh,” I say. “What was it like? School.”

Jessie shrugs. “I sat and learned stuff?”

“I figured that much,” I say, glaring.

“It wasn’t too bad,” admits Jessie, offering a stiff sort of smile. “I never had anyone to talk too, though,” he whispers, not looking at me. But I look at him. I can’t stop looking at him.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “But it appears we’re in the same boat.”

“Cheers,” says Jessie, and he clanks his glass against mine. He sets it back down and raps his fingers on the counter, and I’m hyperaware of the rhythm that climbs from his touch, as if his tapping is more of a hobby than a habit.

“And you? Do you like school, Rosie?”

I laugh a sad sort of laugh that isn’t really a laugh at all. “Oh, yeah,” I say, groaning. “Just as much as I enjoy sinking my fingers into a pot of boiling water.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Worse.” I shake my head. “But I never really go.”


I want to tell him that it’s because I have cancer. It’s because I don’t want to waste my life on eight hours of school every single day when I can be out in the world, living—or, rather my definition of living: hiding away in my room—before I die.

But I don’t tell him. I don’t say anything, actually.

Seconds of silence pass between us, in which I sip my drink to give myself something to do, beforeJessie clears his throat to dispel the awkwardness.

“I like you, Rosie Bryar”Jessie abruptly says, smiling. “Yer different.”

I shrug my shoulders, careful not to meet his eyes. “It’s called a lack of ambition.”

“Well, it’s beautiful.”

I smile at this. “Good. I’ll try less more often.”

| | |

We drive through town but this isn’t my town. This isn’t my home. It’s better.

Happy faces bob up and down on the streets, shoulders slumped in content. People mill about the roadsides, standing in small crowds of four or five, and I want to laugh at how peculiar it is; at how weird it is that I’m outside and I don’t see a single person talking on their phone or texting themselves into oblivion. Or walking in hoodies, never trusting themselves to meet another’s eyes. Or trying to hide who they are.

Multicolored 1955 Ford Thunderbirds ride the roadways while the warmth of daylight sets everything insight aglow. Parents merrily walk their children down to the park, and kids on bicycles hug the sidewalks, flourishing in the sunshine, dreading nightfall and the tug of the streetlamps to signal when they should return home.

Everything is the way it should be in the future. Kids are outside—actually outside. Parents are spending time with their children. People are happy. It’s nothing like the desolate streets of Natchitoches that I know. And that thought—that single thought—sends a shiver down my spine. Because this is the calm before a never ending storm.

I see a few kids playing baseball in a field, some shooting hoops in a parking lot, and I try to wonder when exactly the transition between real-life outdoor activities and virtual reflections of these very games where you never have to leave your couch takes place.

When sweat, adrenaline, and teamwork were replaced with a remote in your hand and pixels in front of your face; when that fast paced, nonstop beat of the heart was replaced with nothing but a stomach full of crap.

“It ain’t much compared with yer home, I’m sure,” says Jessie, “but I like to think it’s—”

“It’s brilliant,” I whisper, dazzled by the glow of life.

My eyes are glued to the windows the entire time thatJessie drives us—now a tad bit recklessly, I might add—down to Sibley Lake. I could drive. I can drive. I’ve had my license for a little over a year now. And since then, I’ve driven a total of four times.

Cancer has the upper hand. It always does. It always will.

I slump back in my seat, tiredly staring, somewhat careful not to show my face. I don’t know why I hide. I don’t know why I feel like I have to. Maybe I’m just afraid I might change things. But really, to be honest, I think it has more to do with the fact that I don’t like people. Even smiling, happy people. Because people are people. And people never change. Even if time says otherwise.

“Anythin different?”Jessie happily asks me, his voice shocking me back to the present. The past. Wherever the hell I am.

I stare for a moment too long. He notices. I blush. He averts his gaze. I would too. “Bout th’ town, I mean? Houses? Buildins? Trees? Anythin?”

“Uh, yeah,” I nod. “It’s a little different.” That’s an understatement. But maybe that’s something to keep to myself. I glance around, first up at the pale-blue sky above, then through the back window, watching the cars race along behind us.

Jessie chuckles to himself and I can’t take my eyes away from the outside world long enough to wonder why. I probably look weird. The mirror often tells me I do. But that’s a given. Though, it could just be the way I can’t seem to get a grip on anything; the way I’m slipping and slurring together, trying to figure out this life, for the first time in a long time unafraid that time is catching up with me.

Time no longer has a hold on me. Not anymore.

“It’s weird,” I whisper mostly to myself, and whenJessie doesn’t say anything, I’m almost positive he doesn’t hear me. But it’s true, though. It is weird. From the sky and the sun to the way the buildings, freshly constructed and newly painted, seem to pop, appearing almost rejuvenated compared with the ones I’ve known all my life; and from the maroon cobblestone streets in town to the bark on the trees of the forest, everything is bright and alight, a peaceful respite from the dark and brooding world I’ve always known. It’s all so much more captivating than anything my world has to offer. Than anything the people from my world dare risk offering.

Despite the cold of the warming air, and despite how my bones ache with the crispness of winter’s descent, I roll down my window and splay my fingers into the wind, finding it easier to breathe. To live. To try.

For the first time in my entire life I want to be somewhere other than my home. My bed. The spaces beneath my sheets. Out in the light of day. With people. Real people. And I don’t even try to hide myself fromJessie. He knows nothing about me—nothing more than what I care to tell him. But I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of who I am. Who knows if I’ll ever dig any deeper?

I don’t think anyone has ever quite breached the surface. I don’t think anyone has ever really tried more than River, who is still more of a stranger than he is a friend. And that’s a shame. A damn shame. But that’s what happens when you spend your entire life waiting to be torn apart. You forget how to trust. You forget how to let people in.

Me? I was just born cold hearted. And, weirdly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because I’m smart enough to know when I’m being lied to. I didn’t used to be, not at first. But I am now. Because with River I faced the truth. The truth and nothing but the truth. And now, here, inches away fromJessie, I feel like I’m sitting with a stranger. But I’m perfectly comfortable.

I’m the outsider in this equation. I always am, actually.

“It is weird,”Jessie says at last, and I can’t help but stare up at him. “But weird is okay.” His lips curve up at the edges and he smiles, not like he knows he should, and not like he thinks he has to, but because he wants to.

Jessie’s right. Weird is okay. It’s very okay.

| | |

Everything is not okay by the time we reach the lake.

Jessie pulls the car off to the side of the road and I stay quiet and still for a moment too long. My bones are heavy and my breathing is slow, my heart thumping loudly in my ears. I want to move but my body disagrees, like it always does, keeping me frozen as ice.

“Ya all right there, miss?” he asks me and I turn away, my face hot.

I hate that he’s seeing me like this. Like someone forced me to drink a volcano and all the lava is turning my insides to ash. I try to move but my heart tells me not to, sending white spots to my eyes when I finally glance inJessie’s direction.

He slams the door shut and relief hits me like a wall. Maybe I just need to sit a minute alone. But then Jessie opens my door and kneels down beside me, so many questions in his wandering eyes. And the stress and the terror and the panic return all at once, flooding my chest like a tidal wave. Until I’m going to pop.

“Anythin I kin help with?”Jessie asks.

“Uh, no,” I whisper, clenching my teeth, my eyes pressed shut. “No, but thank you.”

“What seems to be th’ problem?”

I have cancer. Cancer has me. Cancer owns me.

“I have to poop!” I blurt out, my voice much louder than it should be. “I mean . . . I mean . . . I must have eaten too fast,” I lie, keeping my head down, my body brimming with embarrassment. I can’t let him find out. Not now. Not yet. Not until I’ve decided whether or not I want to search for a way home. “I just need a minute,” I gasp, my breaths coming much slower than before. Through clenched teeth, I suggest that he go on ahead without me. “I’ll be right behind you,” I add.

Jessie simply shakes his head, concern drawing the color from his cheeks.

He’s not going to leave me here alone. Damn it!

I glare daggers in his direction, but either he doesn’t care or he thinks it’s from the pain.

I just wish he would take a hint. But he won’t. So if I want to hide the fact that I’m on death’s row, I need to get up. Now.

I swing my legs out into the open andJessie reaches for my hand, attempting to help me from the seat. But I shove him away because I don’t need his help. I shouldn’t need anyone’s help. I don’t want help. And even if I’m lying and I do need help, I won’t ask for it. So I pull myself free of the tight little blue deathtrap of a car and broaden my shoulders, shaking the stiffness from my limbs.

Gravity has me by the hair, tugging at my scarlet curls. My head feels as if someone’s filled my skull with stones, and if I shake it too hard it’ll make a rattling sound. So I wait for the dizziness and the vertigo to sweep me off my feet the way they always do, like two birds of a feather.

But I don’t crumble. Surprisingly.

Jessie grips my shoulders to steady me and this time I don’t fight him. Not until the whiteness in my gaze begins to fade away. Then I turn into a chaotic bitch and slap his hands away, leering, swearing under my breath, more frustrated than I have been in a long, long time.

“Ya all right?” Shut up. “Rosie?” I’ll hit you. “Miss?” Leave me alone—he runs a hand up to my face, lifting my chin so that my bleary eyes meet his, catching me momentarily off guard, his tender touch like lightning to my flesh.

I don’t respond right away, but nod against his callused fingers, still cupping my heavy face. “I’m”—I clear my throat—“I’m fine, actually. Thanks . . .”

“Happy to help,” he quickly says, dropping his hands down to his sides, appearing flustered in a way that confuses me. But, then again, most things confuse me. Like Frisbees. And microwaves. And spoons.

Jessie spins around, tired eyes flitting away, wide awake. When I follow, my head still swimming like its filled with all the remains of the lemon juice from the lemons I couldn’t turn into lemonade, I freeze, struck by awe, left to silence.

Before us, spread out like a sheet, unfrozen and clear, is the lake. I’ve never seen anything so calm and peaceful and sparklingly beautiful at the same time. Something so real and tranquil. Something in my town.

Sibley Lake is a mirror version of the sordid muck that is in 2015. The color is blue. Blue. Blue, not brown. Not green. Blue. And when the daylight strikes it, warm and dazzling, you can actuallysee down to the bottom in places. It’s wondrous, glittering and sparkling like a star fell from the heavens and broke and decided to take a dip in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

I really did fall into my own little land of wonders, didn’t I?

“You like it?”Jessie asks, grinning. He’s stripped down into shorts, having left his suit in a neatly folded pile on the front seat of the car. But he forgot to take off his hat and I refuse to be the one to remind him he’s still wearing it—I don’t know why. It must be the part of me that likes to steal candy from babies and spit in other people’s drinks.

I nod, still trying to hold myself together. “I do. I really do. It’s a lot nicer.” I look at him, doing my best to hide a smile that’s pulling at my lips. I don’t know why. I don’t know why I want to smile and I don’t know why I try to hide it. I don’t know why I do anything anymore—I guess some things are just nice to look at. And smile at.

Jessie’s face changes in a peculiar way that makes me blush, the uneven features of his annoyingly-optimistic countenance rhythmically undulating, like water churning about before settling across a surface—smooth and ruggedly pulling together, resemblingtectonic plates shifting just beneath the surface before reforming, creating something entirely new.

It’s oddly mesmerizing.

“Ya ain’t givin me much hope ferth’ future, ya know,”Jessie tells me, but he doesn’t look worried. He remains content and comfortable, the way he has all day, even when I nearly died on his veranda and in his father’s car and when I fricking time traveled and came close to drowning in the drink down behind his house.

His composure has shown no sign of faltering, his eyes calm and cool and warm all in a weird mixture of colors.Jessie seems happy. Unperturbed. Cool as a cucumber—or some saying that’s much cooler than this one.

I smile against the light breeze that blows my rosy-red hair about my shoulders, showing teeth—and not in a venomous way. “If I was trying to, I’d lie.”

“Good to know.”

Jessie drops his shirt on the ground and starts off at a run toward the water, crashing into the clean slate of water at full speed. I watch, laughing as I take a seat on the hood of the car, shivering despite the warmth of the heavy sun just overhead, nothing left to hinder its glow.

“Come in!” Jessie yells, waving his hands. “It’s warm!”

I won’t. I can’t. I don’t know how to swim.

“That’s probably because you peed!” I yell back, staring, studying the way he effortlessly dives beneath the water like he has a surplus of air and he’s taking a break from it—while I sit here, trying to catch my breath.

“Maybe later!” I shout when he comes back up out of the water, flashing me a reproachful look that I hardly even notice. But I quickly dart my gaze away, regardless.

Jessie doesn’t appear convinced.

“Yacain’t live yer entire life in fear,” saysJessie, pulling himself from the water and walking over to where I sit. He’s shivering, his lips going blue in this cold. He holds his now soaking wet hat between trembling fingers, where a puddle of water droplets form in the dirt at his feet. “Come on,”Jessie says, reaching out for my hand.

I laugh. “I’ve known you for like, what, four hours?” I say. “I’m not jumping in a lake with some strange boy. Are you crazy?”

“Crazy don’t mean I cain’t dream,” he says, smiling.Jessie wipes away the water that cataracts down his face, pushing back his strikingly long hair. It’s never occurred to me before what might be waiting beneath that hat of his, and now, observing the long tendrils of hair that curl around his ears, I can’t help but stare. “It jest means I’m willin to shoot fersomethin.”

I lower my head, my voice growing thin as my eyes narrow. “Don’t shoot for me,” I whisper. “It’s not worth it.”

People are like tissues. I’ve never known a world where people aren’t like tissues. You pick one out of a multitude for whatever issue requires the use of another, and then you use them until the problem is all better and just toss them away when you’re done. I’ve never been a part of a world where this isn’t true. Until now. WithJessie. In his eyes I don’t see a plot, a scheme I’m afraid to try to unravel. In his eyes I just . . . I see myself reflected. And I’m not afraid.

“I’ll shoot fer whatever I wanna shoot fer,” he tells me, more confident than he should be. “I’ll shoot fer the stars if I feels like it, an when I miss, I’ll shoot fersomethin farther away. It ain’t crazy to reach fersomethin ya know ya ain’t never gonna git. It’s jest . . . it’s like flyin, is all. If ya know jumpinain’t gonna git ya in th’ air, then yagotta climb to th’ top of th’ nearest tree an ya try somethin different.”

I stare at him, wanting so badly to laugh. “That makes absolutely no sense.”

Jessie flinches, looking hurt—I’m glad I didn’t laugh. “Well, it does to me,” he stubbornly says, crossing his arms before his chest, trying to look stern, but really appearing constipated. It’s okay though—I look that way on a daily basis; people tell me it’s because I don’t wear makeup but I think I was just born with a face that makes me look as though I constantly have to poop but can’t.

“And that’s all that matters,” I mumble.

Jessie doesn’t say another word before turning away and moving to the car, searching in the backseat and pulling out a pretty, shiny guitar.

“D’ya like music, Rosie?”

I shrug my shoulders. “I suppose.”

Jessie, shirtless and slick with water, hangs the guitar from his shoulder and takes my hand. He doesn’t say anything as he leads me from the shore and down to where the water laps against the earth.

His gentle fingers slowly strum the cords of the instrument, throwing sound into the silence like light into the dark or hope into the hopeless.Jessie glances over at me, his blue eyes searching mine the way a spotlight searches the shadows, and I’m suddenly unsure of what to think or how to think or what the hell my lungs are for if there’s no air for me to breathe.

A striking melody inches up the skin over my spine, sending a shiver through my veins and a shock to my system, whisking away all the thoughts accumulating inside my head.

It’s soft, his music. Nothing like the rock and roll that should be popular around this time period. It’s soft but it’s thick and it weaves its way beneath my skin; it worms its way into the space where my heart should be and ties a weight about the vacant chamber in my chest like a noose around my neck.


I want to melt.


I want to collapse.


I want to drift away.

Like ashes on the wind. And snow beneath the clouds.

Or a dynasty born to crumble.

The sound spins me around in the exact way that moonlight spins the stars, twirling me and letting me loose, leaving me to spin until I’m about ready to fall to my knees.

Faster. Faster. The music grows faster. More intense.

Until I’m dreaming on my feet.

And I crave the manifestations of this ephemeral stupor unlike I’ve ever coveted anything in my entire life.

The sunlight feels brilliant on the back of my neck, and though I wish the wind would quit trying to huff and puff and blow me to smithereens, I can’t think of a single thing that could possibly spoil this moment.

Jessie and I walk along the shore until any memory of my near collapse just a few minutes before fades away with the shadows on the shore. The melodious engenderment of his swift and graceful fingers on his guitar draws me back to life the way my heart never could, leading me along and allowing me to stand and walk and fly without ever leaving this Earth.

What’s it like to soar?

You tell me. What’s it like to breathe?

Slowly, slowly, without thinking, I kick off my shoes and swing them between my fingersby the laces, my stinky socks tucked inside; I press my toes into the sand and . . . smile. The earth beneath my feet is surprisingly cool and soft like a new dawn despite the heat of the day, and the gentle inhalation and exhalation of the water reaches up to grasp for me. And I don’t flinch away. I don’t even think of it.

For some unknown reason I remain. Still as can be.

The touch of the water is crisp and breathtaking. I gasp and stiffen, but Jessie’s there, strumming away the astonishment from my flesh with the unmitigated, unfettered song of his soul; every strand of it falls before me, cold and unexpurgated like uncensored writing—it speaks to me, his music, true and innocent, and it calls out every single one of my many hollow faults and fills them the way some people fill trees with cement when they’ve taken sick. But that doesn’t make them any better—that doesn’t mean they’re healing.

River was right, I think to myself. The water is beautiful.

“So what d’you think?” Jessie wonders aloud. His fingers come to a stop, still at his sides, and the world rights beneath me, leaving me to question how much time has passed since we arrived. Minutes? Hours? Years?

“I don’t—it was . . .” I don’t even have words to explain how beautiful it was, so I simply say, “Lovely. It was lovely.”

Jessie lets the instrument hang. He doesn’t say anything for quite a while, and when I glance up at him, having spent the last minute or two gazing out at the reflection of the sky above etched into the ripples of the lake’s surface, I find him staring at me. Not questioningly. Not longingly. Just . . . diffidently.

“Ya look exactly like her, ya know,” Jessie whispers to me, his blue eyes capturing me, holding me still as they pull me back to life.

“Who?” I wonder, coming to a stop, staring at his back—at the way the landscape of his spine alters to accommodate the movements of his arms, contoured by the sun. ButJessie keeps on walking. So I call out his name, hesitating no more than a moment. “Jessie—?”

Violette,” he tells me without looking around. “Ya got her eyes. Her hair. Her smile.” Jessie pauses, sounding pained. “Spittin image.”

Violette Bryar.

“But I’m not her,” I say.

He stops at this. And he turns.

“I know that.”

“Do you?”

“Of course.” He looks doubtful. “I know that.”

I shiver as a cooler breeze rolls over my skin, tossing my smile upside down. The light stirs the freckles on my arms and face into existence, however little there may be, pulling them out like the venom running through my veins.

“Yacain’t swim, can ya?”

I shake my head, somewhat surprised at the abruptness of his inquiry. “No, I can’t.”

“Wanna learn?”

“I . . .” I try to speak but I don’t know what I want to say.

“Come here,”Jessie whispers, placing his guitar on the ground and taking me by the hand, leading me into the water. I try to resist, to pull away, but for some odd reason my feet are working against me.

I drop my socks and shoes and slowly wade into the water.

It’s freezing. The cold immediately takes my breath away, leaving me to gasp the way that I do when I’m not freezing and on the verge of drowning.

My clothes unexpectedly puff up and float around me like heavy parachutes, slowly sinking me down into the mirror of the azure atmosphere overhead.

“It’s okay,”Jessie quietly says, wrapping his arms around me and holding me tight. He slips one arm around my waist and moves the other behind my legs, tipping me up and over; I’m conscious of where every one of his fingers touches my skin, like nimble little lightning rods.

For a split second I see the sky and nothing but the sky. It’s peaceful, daybreak bright as it shatters the heavens above, golden and unadulterated; birds swoop across the cloudless expanse, taking their time to get wherever they’re going, and I trace the shadows they throw with every effortless flap of their wings, etching a note of such serenity in the back of my mind.

I’m floating, my body weightless in Jessie’s arms, now going numb wherever the water touches the surface of my skin. My problems drift away, tethered to the clouds that have no hold over the sky overhead.

I shut my eyes—

And when I open them again I find myself underwater. Slipping down. Drifting away. Wondering if this is what it’s like to be a star, floating, lost in the dark, stirring in Death’s grip and striving to glow.

Down, down, down I go.

Deeper. Deeper. Deeper.

Until I’m gone, gone, gone.

And then I’m fighting, fighting, fighting to get back to the surface.

I’m wrong.

People are like paper. You never know what emotions might be scrawled across their flesh. But you know one thing for sure: dip them in some water and they will melt. They will crumble. They will fall apart.

I will fall apart. Unless I fight.

Anger and fear flare up inside my chest, panic close behind, and I kick out with my legs, punching at the dark that is quick to overtake me, flailing and floundering like a fish that just remembered it’s actually a cat.

I break the surface—no, I shatter the surface. Waves and ripples are sent in every direction, and I fight my way to my feet because I need air, I need air, I need air more than I’ve ever needed it before.

Air . . .

I need . . .

I need air . . .

“Rosie,”Jessie says to me, but I swing my fist out at him before I can even see straight. My knuckles rebound off his chest and he snatches at my arms, pulling me back. “Rosie,everythin’s okay! I’ve got you! I’ve got you—”

“What the hell is wrong with!” I scream as best as I can with as little air as I do in my lungs, gasping, gasping, gasping until I’m coughing, coughing, coughing.

I continue to punchJessie but I’m weak and it doesn’t make a difference. His arms entrap me and I let them, giving into the weariness of my bones and my muscles—or my lack thereof, I suppose.

“Rosie, ya need to relax,” he says.

But I can’t. Because he just tried to kill me.

“I could have drowned!”

“I was never gonna let that happen—”

“Then why did you let me go?”

“Cuzteachin someone to swim is like teachin ’emto ride a bike, Rosie. Ya give ’em a reason to believe you’ve got ’em an yer not lettin ’em go. An at some point or another they realize ya let ’em go a long time ago. But it’s too late.”

“And in what way does that apply here!”

Jessie smiles and I want to punch him in the face until I see exactly what he’s smiling at. For when I glance down, I notice that nothing is holding me afloat. Nothing but myself.

“I’m . . . I’m swimming,” I murmur, glaring.

“That yaare, Miss Bryar. That ya are.”

All the anger melts away inside of me, leaving me to marvel at such a vacancy inside my chest; such a lightness, a feeling of weightlessness. I look to Jessie, embarrassed for having exploded in his face, and surprise bursts from my throat in the form of a laugh, climbing to the sky like bubbles from the effervescence of my smile.

I wrap my arms around his neck and my legs around his waist, and I smile into the short space that divides us.Jessie spins me in circles, guiding my hands from his skin and to my sides while he holds my legs.

“Ya remind me of a bird,” Jessie murmurs with a giggle.

I don’t respond.

My eyes hold tight to the sky above, watching the world the way a snowflake must see it. I spin and I move my arms back and forth in the water, pretending to fly in the reflection of the heavens above.

“Teach me how to fly,” I whisper to the sky.

“Ya don’t think learnin to swim is enough fer one day?”

I don’t respond. Because I wasn’t talking to him. I was talking to the one being orchestrating the catastrophe that is my life from the top of the largest set of stairs I don’t see myself ever ascending without falling down them one less time than I try.

Teach me how to fly home.

| | |

One moment I’m fine. One moment I’m healthy and happy like a flower in spring.

And then I begin to wilt.

I slip off the side of the hood ofJessie’s Pa’s car where I’ve been sitting for the last half-hour, drying in the sunlight, and suddenly collapse to the ground below.

I can’t breathe. Stupid lungs.

It’ll pass.

It’s not passing.

I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

Shit. I can’t breathe. Again.

My lungs have officially deflated and I’m on my knees, breathlessly battling the air for my life. I cower on the ground, my hands pressed firmly into the dirt behindJessie’s car, heaving and crying and digging down deep and coming up empty. I’m empty. I’m losing.Again.

This day is just another tally in the cancer column.

I grow lightheaded and weary, and when I try to look around the world threatens to turn on its side. But I refuse to let it. Sweat is pouring off my face and the air is flowing with it, every hope I had of climbing to my feet gone with my faith in myself.

Broken, disheartened, wilting, I tremble on the ground.

I pound my hands against the earth, willing it to stop, to release me, to give me enough will to fight this. There are hands around my neck and my first thought is Mother, the image of her with a hammer in hand flashing before my eyes like a light from the dark. But I can’t blame Mother for this lack of air, nor the curse, nor myself or this world. I can only blame cancer—what else is there to do when you’re dying? You blame.

Stupid, stupid cancer.

I roll onto my side and stare up at the relentless sun, giving the sudden range of clouds a gilded sort of look high up there in the heavens.

My heart is one failure after another, its beat fading on the air, tap-tap-tapping in my ears and thrumming in my chest, losing itself in my throat.

I kick out my legs and stumble and the world tilts and turns and heaves beneath my feet.

When I open my eyes, having not remembered ever closing them, I find myself being pulled to my feet. My hands are plastered to the side of the car and I’m one jelloy mess but I’m alive and I’m not dead which is a plus. But when I glance around no one is there. No one has me by the throat. No one has helped me to my feet . . .

There’s no time to think.

No time to process what’s happened.

Taking a shaky step forward, nearly crumbling back down to my knees, I grit my teeth and throw myself into a weary sort of walk that could easily be mistaken for a new dance move in my time period—I swear to God if there was a contest for who could pull off the world’s best drunken pirate I would come in first.

Jessie is just exiting the water when he catches my eye.“Comin back in?” he asks, smiling, pushing away his hair from his face and wiping the water from his eyes.

I don’t say anything. I don’t say another word before I lose all my strength and topple over. I don’t know if he’s caught me because either way my head sloshes beneath the water of the lake and blackness grabs me by the hair.

I’d like to think after all the struggles I’ve endured on this earth, I would get a fitting sendoff party when I officially pass. Send me adrift on the ocean in a raft and shoot a burning arrow into my chest. Toss me into the heart of an active volcano so I can fully understand what it’s like to be a candle blazing in the light. Burn me and send my ashes into a lightning storm. Anything. But drowning, again, is not acceptable.

Jessie is calling to me but his voice is far away, thin, garbled. I’m not sure whether if it’s because I’m under water, or if I’m just so far gone that nothing seems close anymore.

I am cancer. Cancer is me. I will die and I am completely okay with that. Really. But I won’t die here. I refuse. This is ridiculous. This is pathetic. I don’t care if I die the moment River and I meet again, but not now. Not until I’m happy. Not comfortable but happy.Actually happy.

I am cursed but I will never let that stop me. Least of all now.

Reaching up, reaching out, holding onto anything and letting go of every doubt, I pull myself back to life and slip my fingers throughJessie’s hair, who holds me the way I should be holding him, like I’m a life preserver and he’s drowning. Without another word, breathless and thoughtless and silent, I grab him and I do the unthinkable.

I do the one thing I hope will break the curse.

I pull him close, breaking inside and out, shattering from head to toe, and I draw his lips down to mine. Because I want to go home. I want to break the curse. I want to see River again.

But I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no idea if true love sent me back in time or if my lips are just magical or if I can still be happy. But I have to try.

So I pray for time to right itself. I pray that I will wake up back in River’s arms.I plead for the curse to magically break so that I can be done. So that I can just go home and crawl into bed and at least die comfortably amongst a tide of pillows and a river of blankets.

This doesn’t happen. Of course.

Instead lightning strikes.I have a heart attack.

I die a thousand times. Plus once more.

But this time I’m coming back. This time I’m not giving in.

Cancer has always been my best friend. But . . .

I find I play best on my own.


There are a thousand things wrong with this town. Probably more, if I think about it. But meat pies aren’t one of them. So the fact that they won’t even be invented for another, like, twenty years is a serious blow to the chest. Because, unlike soup, meat actually has the ability to brighten any dark day. It’s a proven fact.

I wake up three times but have no more strength than a newborn giraffe, so I wallow in self-pity, sick to my stomach whenever I think of what I’ve done. My lips feel tainted now, somehow, and I hate the way it makes me feel. So I hide my head and pretend like I’m capable of breathing without fail.

Jessie’s mother and father come in to check on me several different times, leaving trays of food and water on the floor beside my bed. Mary checks on me too, but I don’t speak to anyone; I just hide beneath the sheets of the bed I find myself tethered to.

“Is she gonna be okay?” I hear Mary ask at one point. “Is she . . . Ma, is she like Violette?” Her scared, little voice tells of haunting memories, and a part of me is eager to question her. But the part of me that’s more dead than alive holds me in place and doesn’t let me go.

There’s a deep silence. Then, “Don’t worry bout it, my child,” Jessie’s mother’s voice passes through the thin fabric of my sheets, kissing my ears with a tone even warmer than Jessie’s. “Even if she is, darlin, it’s gonna be different this time.” A pause. “I promise.”

They leave me. But their words do not.

. . . it’s gonna be different this time.

Sometime during the evening they call me a physician but I refuse to see him. Because I know what’s inside of me. I know that when my nose and the gums of my mouth bleed it’s just normal. I know that when the world flip-flops on me and spins on its side that it’s typical. I know that collapsing and fainting is regular.

I know what cancer is. I know what’s destroying me.

I know why I break so hard.

I nestle down in the arms of the ugly, ugly truth, and drift away with Jessie’s mother’s words shooting through my head, ricocheting off of every inch of my skull until they’ve ingratiated themselves into my mind. My dreams. My heart. My soul.

My fractured, fractured soul.

. . . it’s gonna be different this time.

| | |

JessieBloome, with no intention of entering, sat for countless hours outside the very room that had once housed Violette Bryar. He spent most of the day there, pressing his head into his knees and trying to forget that the girl who slept on the other side of the door at his back was not the girl he’d lost. She wasn’t the one who got away. But it was nearly impossible to see her as anything else.

Rosie, he thought to himself.

They looked exactly the same.

They sounded exactly the same.

They smiled exactly the same.

But it wasn’t her. It wasn’t Violette.

Violette Bryar was gone and she wasn’t coming back.

She was gone, gone, gone.

| | |

When I finally come to in the late hours of the day, everything is different. Well, not everything. Only one thing, actually. My arm. I wake up with a tattoo. A tattoo—a tattoo of some roses onmy forearm. Black ink, appearing a darkish blue in some lights, similar to the cobalt ofJessie’s easy gaze, twines about beneath my flesh like veins never before seen.

I can’t help but trace them with my finger. Three roses, their stems intricately wound about each other, coiling down my skin, stare darkly back at me. But it’s peculiar. It’s like—it feels like a name tag or a birth certificate in a way, like it’s proof of my existence. Like I’m real because it’s here; because it shows that something beautiful can come from something dying. Like my hair.

I’m so astonished by the markings I completely forget what I’m waking up from. I forget why my head feels heavy and my arms are weak and why my chest rises and falls as if someone is standing on top of me like I’m a doormat.

Cancer. It’s always cancer.

I put my sweaty head into my hands and try to breath; I try to keep existing.

“What’s that?”Jessie asks from where he appears out of the corner of my vision, sitting at the foot of the bed, shocking me back to life. Startled, I quickly shove the sleeve of my shirt down, covering the tattoo before he can see anything. A rush comes to my face and I’m hot all over, more so than I was before.

By the light filtering through the windows, the sun finally making its decent, I can tell it’s well after six in the afternoon. This is my second time waking up like this today. I’m only a little disappointed I’m still in 1959. Only a little.

“It’s nothing,” I whisper, tired, still a bit breathless but much better than I had been. Though, I feel sick. Really sick. I think I might be sick. Oh my God I’m going to be sick.

Jessie doesn’t look at me. He sits and stares down at the floor, at his hands, at the piano by the wall, and at the light buffeting just outside the window. He looks anywhere but at me and I’m afraid I’ve done something to upset him; I’m afraid kissing him might have destroyed the forbearance between us, the reason for the warmth and kindness he initially bestowed upon me.

Silently, calmly, he sighs.

I’m jealous of the air inside his lungs. So much air . . . so much precious air to waste.

I go for the stupid act and whisper, “Have I done something to upset you—?”

“Ya cain’t do that,”Jessie flatly murmurs to me before I can even finish speaking, his words so soft that they don’t sound as if they belong to him. They sound far away. So far that it makes me nervous.

I stare, praying my face doesn’t betray me the way it always does. “Excuse me?”

“Yacain’t jest go an die,” he says so matter-of-factly. “That’s highly frowned upon in this here time period, Rosie. I ain’t sure if yer aware of that.” He doesn’t look at me. He won’t look at me—though, in his defense, I am one mess of sweat and dishevelment that I wouldn’t want to look at me either. “An don’t kiss me . . . I know, I know,” he says, holding up his hands in defense. “I’m told I’m irresistible. But . . . well, yeah.”

I want to tell him the only reason I kissed him was to turn time forward and hopefully wake up in the future. But now, after what I’ve done, I’m not sure whether or not I would be lying.

“I’ll try not to next time,” I simply say, happy to get it all out into the open. I pretend like I have a hair in my eye the way I always do when I’ve been entrapped by an awkward conversation, or when I just don’t feel like talking—it gives me the appearance of being busy, while also giving my fingers something to do rather than hang limply at my sides.

“No, ya hafta do better than that,” he tells me a bit bitingly.

I look down at my hands in my lap. When I glance up, still a bit dazed and bleary-eyed, my eyes find their way to his lips and I freeze. I catch myself. And then I look away. “R-right,” I say. “I—I will.” I sigh and try to change the subject because I’m getting bored and awkward.

I say the first thing that pops into my head. “I want waffles. Do you have waffles?”

“We got beets,” Jessie tersely says, finally shedding a glance in my direction, his jaw set.

I stiffen. “Beets?”


“You’re kidding, right?”

Jessie shrugs, his eyes as hard as stone. “Beets or no beets.”

“No beets,” I groan, falling back against my pillows. “Never mind,” I dramatically say, looking to the window. “I’ll go hungry—”

“Nonsense!” comes a large, burly voice from the doorway. Jessie’s mother strides into the bedroom and sets down a tray of fresh milk and a plate of eggs, eggs, and oh, more eggs—the Bloome family sure do like their eggs—with a warm biscuit lathered in butter on the side and a waffle drizzled in a light coating of sugar and syrup. I prefer hot sauce but I can’t be picky.

“Um . . . thank you,” I say, tensing.

I’ve never been brought food like this before.

“It’s mighty nice to see ya awake,” Ma trills, clapping her hands together, her voice growing strident with excitement. “Ya gave us quite a scare, dear.”

I don’t say anything. But I’m so happy for the presence of another soul that I nearly scream.

William’s mother is no small thing; she’s a large, bulky woman. Her clothes hang from her body like a shower curtain, and her brown hair, thick like leather, is balled up atop her large head. But she has the warmest, brightest, happiest smile I’ve ever seen on a living, breathing human being, with even darker eyes than Jessie.

Mrs. Bloome reminds me of someone you’d expect to find on a syrup bottle.

“Ya can call me Evelyn,” she says, taking my hand and shaking it. “Is there anythin else I kin git ya, hon? Jessie’s told me all about yer situation.” Her eyes sparkle and glint, dark and reflective like glass placed in the shadows.

“No,” I murmur, shaking my head. “Thank you.”

Evelyn nods her head. “I jest wanna start, Rosie dear, by tellin ya that yer not the first . . . out of towner we’ve discovered. I’m sure Jessie-boy here’s mentioned Violette to ya—such a sweet, sweet girl.” She stops and smiles, glancing to the window and staring up at the fading sunlight. “Wish ya could have had the chance to have met her before—”

“Mother,” Jessie firmly says, stopping her.

I stop and look at each of them in turn. “What is it?” I quietly wonder. “What happened to her?” When neither of them answer, both frozen where they stand, I clear my throat and ask, “Was it . . . was it cancer?”

Jessie doesn’t say anything, and when I look to his mother, who’s eyes hold the sunlight gleaming in the window, I shake my head. “Forget I asked—”

“It wasn’t cancer, no,” says a voice from the doorway. Jessie’s father stands there, a lit cigarette between his teeth. He’s a tall, slim man in a suit, with a thick and graying mustache that covers his upper lip; a brown hat sits atop his head, sending shadows sprawling down his face. “The doctors said it wasn’t anythin they’d ever seen before.”

I stare.

“Billy,” he quietly says, crossing the room to stand beside my bed. He holds a hand out to me, smiling.

“Rosie,” I whisper up to him, taking his hand.

“Well, Rosie,” the man says, “I’m sorry this has happened to ya.” He lowers his eyes. “It’s cain’t be easy.”

I nod. “It’s not.”

“Somethin bout you Bryar girls just keeps ya comin back,” he says with a grin, blowing out a puff of smoke.

“Oh fer Heaven’s sake, Billy, git that putrid thing outta my house!” Jessie’s mother walks over to him and, following a tired roll of his eyes, Billy lets her yank it from his lips; holding it up, Evelyn feigns a smile and pitches it out the window. “There’ll be none of that in this here house of mine, ya here me?” She points to each of us.

“All of Natchitoches kin here ya, hon,” Billy says with a smile, removing his hat and holding it against his chest. “My kingdom fer a quiet wife . . .”

She scoffs and places here hands on her hips, shaking her head from side to side. “Go gitth’ keys, hon, I’ll help ya find one.” She laughs and looks at me. “Never git married, Rosie dear, it’ll only cost ya.”

“I’ll remember that,” I whisper.

A sudden grimness steals the color from Jessie’s mother’s cheeks. “Scary stuff, this time travel business. But here I be, hostin yet another visitor—that’s what we call yer kind. Visitors. Anthis time I ain’t even shocked.” She sighs. “I suppose Violette kind of changed th’ way we see things.”

My kind.

She says it like I’m not even human.

Maybe I’m not.

“We’ll help ya anyway that we can, Rosie,” Jessie’s father tells me, placing a hand on my shoulder and pulling out another cigarette from within his sleeve. “Smoke?”

I shake my head. “It’ll only kill me,” I say.

“It’ll kill all of us,” Evelyn says, walking past and plucking the cigarette from Billy’s mouth without even looking, throwing this one out the window with the other.

Billy sighs and shrugs his shoulders. “She never lets me have any fun,” he says, shaking his head from side to side.

“There’s a fine line between fun an stupid, dear.”

“That there is,” he snarkily replies, wiggling his eyebrows at me until I’m laughing.

At this, her face puckered with amusement, Evelyn retrieves a feather duster from the table beside the bed and whacks him in the stomach.

“Git goin, ya goof,” she tells him, prodding the man towards the door until he’s gone; Evelyn rolls her eyes, but no more than a moment after she turns around, Billy discreetly pops back into the room, another cigarette between his teeth.

I try to stifle my laugh but fail, chuckling softly to myself like a donkey if a donkey could laugh, despite the weakness of my lungs; I cover my mouth and glance away, turning my focus to the floor, and Evelyn just shakes her head, gently elbowing her husband in the gut.

Ooof,” Billy groans, clutching at his stomach before sparing a feigned look of indignation down at his wife, who wiggles her brows at me. “I jest came back to let ya know, Rosie,” Jessie’s father says to me, “that ya kin stay here as long as ya need.” He smiles and looks over at his wife, who stares reproachfully at the death-stick between his lips. “Us Bloome’s ain’t quick to give up.”

“Ya got that right,” says Evelyn, closing the door, but not before plucking yet another cigarette from Billy’s mouth and bringing it to the window. “Disgustin things, I tell ya. Bring nothin but trouble.”

I smile when she throws it out the window.

“You’re both very kind,” I say, “but I don’t believe I’ll be here very long. Or, rather, I hope I won’t be.”I think. “But I . . . I need to know . . .” I glance between Jessie and Evelyn, suddenly reluctant. So I close my eyes and pretend like these words on my lips aren’t really mine. “I need to know what happened to Violette . . .”

Evelyn freezes. A few moments pass before she dares to speak. “Violette—”

“She lives jest down th’ road from here,” Jessie says, staring down at his feet where they hang over the bedside. He doesn’t look at me while he speaks. “She . . . uh . . . she lost her mind.” The words are dead in his throat. Broken on his lips. Painful in his eyes.


“She’s. . .still alive?” I quietly wonder.

“If it kin even be considered livin,” says Jessie, scowling at anything and everything.

“And . . . and she was the only one before me? No one else?” I ask, trying to search Jessie’s eyes. But he fights me. Until I get too tired of trying and I flit my gaze to Evelyn for the answer.

“One other,” she says after a moment or two.

I freeze. My body comes to a stop. My breath catches in my throat but I’m used to it so I don’t even notice. When I do move, my heart beating a pace faster, I can’t help but try to hide a smile. “Pardon?”

“Just one,” Evelyn says.

“Mother,” Jessie whispers, glaring. “Don’t.”

“She needs to know—”

He cain’t help her.”

“Ya don’t know that.”

“I know!” Jessie suddenly shouts. I’m startled by the rise of his voice, so much to the point that I flinch away. “I know,” he repeats, lowering his voice when he sees the look in my eyes.

Evelyn shakes her head. “No, boy, ya don’t.”

“Who?” I quickly intervene.

Evelyn doesn’t look at me right away. In fact, she bounces from one corner of the room to another, suddenly set on a mission to dust anything in sight, cleaning dust in places where it’s evident there isn’t any there, always searching for something to keep herself busy. She exudes nervous energy the way the sun radiates light.

“There’s a fellow that used to live off of West Main,” Evelyn says at last. “I ain’t too sure where he lives now, I fear, but Jessie here knows where to find him.”

“No, I don’t,” Jessie sternly says, his eyes biting.

“Don’t lie to me, boy,” Evelyn says in return. She looks at me. “Haven’t seen him much round these parts since what happened to Violette . . . happened.”

“They knew each other?” I murmur.

“Rosie . . . drop it,” Jessie says, glaring at me.

I glare back.

“They were inseparable,” says Evelyn. “It was peculiar, to tell ya th’ truth. Keep in mind, dear, he’s a much older gentleman. My age, or maybe a little older.” She smiles at the memory of him. “But somethin about that man made it impossible ferViolette to leave him behind.”

“Leave him behind? Where was she going?”

Evelyn stops and looks at me, surprise igniting the warm features of her chunky face. “Well, to start a new life. Violette came to fancy the past—or, if I do remember correctly, it was the future for her.”

The future.

“But she never could stay in one place fer long.” Evelyn shakes her head, smiling a sad, sad sort of smile. “That fellow down the road made her want to stay . . . he was the one who tried to save her when she . . . when she went.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I demand, looking past Evelyn to where Jessie sits, stock-still in the warm glow of the window, shying away from my watchful gaze. He no longer looks pained. Just simply . . . numb. “You told me about Violette. Why not him? Who is he—?”

“I wanna protect ya. That’s why I said nothin.”

A weird feeling like panic or fury or relief comes to life beneath my skin, and I have the strongest urge to lunge atJessie and hug him until he stops breathing.

“I don’t need your protection.”

“Maybe not. But she—she’s gone cuz of him . . .” Jessie drops his gaze. His bones and his muscles pulled taught with unwavering tension. “I don’t have an excuse, Rosie,” he says to no one in particular, though more so to the tapestries on the far wall than to me. Jessie’s head drops. “I jest wanted . . . I really did jest wanna protect ya . . .”


Jessie clenches his teeth. “The guy’s a mystery, Rosie. He’s dangerous. An a real case, if ya ask me—”

“But I didn’t ask you,” I snidely comment, scowling in his direction. “I just know that I’ve been here all day. You could have said something. You should have told me right away that there was someone else here who might be able to help me. But you didn’t.”Jessie remains distant, his gaze tethered to the light flooding the room, stealing the oxygen from my lungs. “I need you to take me to him—”

“I won’t do that—”

“Don’t be selfish,” I quickly retort. “He could be my ticket out of here—” I stop myself, noticing how harsh my words sound in my own ears. “I mean,” I start again, “he might be able to help me break this curse.”

Jessie perks up at this. “Curse?”

“Whatever it is,” I tell him. “This force—this thing that brought me back in time.”

He falls silent again, and I notice how agitatedJessie appears by his mother’s presence, shuffling about him like a buffoon. Then, right when I expect him to get up and leave, he says, “I won’t. Th’ guy is nothin but trouble. An more trouble is th’ last thing this family needs—”

“Oh, no,” Evelyn says. “Yer gonna be in a whole lot of trouble, young sir if ya don’t take Rosie to see this man.” She stares at him from across the room, her eyebrows quirked, the broom raised threateningly in her hands, indicating a spanking.

Jessie leers at her, gritting his teeth. “I will not—”

“Of course ya will,” Evelyn interrupts, beaming. “This young miss needs our help,an we will not deprive her of that, my boy. Tomorrow ya’ll fetch some fresh clothes an I’ll have yer father drive ya both down there. Now, I’m sure there’s some work to be done round here, boy. Get on it! Shoo!” She pops him with the broom until he stands, and then she waves a feather duster at him, dusting him from the room.

I’ve actually never seen anything funnier.

“He’s a weird one, I must admit,” she says to me, smiling. Evelyn shuts the door at his back and takes a seat on the bed, turning to look at me. “Now, dear, why don’t ya tell me what’s wrong with ya. I made sure not to bring this up in front ofJessie. He’s real fragile-hearted, ya see. But, Rosie, if you’ve turned away the doctor with that much certainty, ya must already know what the matter is, don’t ya? So why don’t ya tell me what ails you?”

I think of answering but I don’t say a word. Instead, pretending to pick an eyelash from my eye,I look outside the window. “I like it here,” I whisper, dropping my hand back into my lap, doing everything in my power to change the subject. “It’s comfortable.”

“Now, Rosie, I don’t think it’s well to keep secrets. Especially ones about yer health.”

“I’m perfectly well at the moment, thank you, Mrs. Bloome,” I tell her. “But getting back to the future is the only way to save my life,” I lie. I’ve lied before. What’s one more time? Sometimes we must breathe out a few little white lies to breathe in something new . . . like peace.

“Please, call me Evelyn,” she responds. “And . . . all righty then, if what yer tellin me is true, dear, we will do everythin in our power to get ya home, hon. But not today, sweet pea. Today is ferrestin.” She runs her hands through my hair, matting it down against my face.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

But I don’t say this. Instead I smile. “Thank you,” I murmur, and when Evelyn moves to turn away, I snatch at her hand and repeat, “thank you. Really. I mean it.”

Evelyn smiles, joyful and calm, glowing like she’s breathing in the sunlight and holding it inside of her. “Of course, dear,” she says, grinning, and it’s then that I realize right behind her faithful smile is a speck of doubt—either she doesn’t believe me or she doesn’t think there’s a way to get me home.

This thought sends a shiver through me and I want to vomit.

“Don’t think anythin of it, ya hear me?”

I do.

“This town is peculiar, I know. An if there’s one thing I’ve learned from livin here, Rosie, it’s that time travel is a bitch.” She blushes. “Please, mind my language, dear. But what I say is true. Cuzit’s manageable. And we have time to figure it out.” I brush back my messy hair, tucking a few long strands behind my ears, feeling my face redden. “Despite what we may go through in life, an no matter the hardships that plague us with internal and external war, God has a way of makin it up to us in the end, dear Rosie, an don’t ya forget it.”


“I won’t,” I whisper. “Not so long as I’m alive.” Which might not be for much longer.

She’s right, though. About both things. God very well may be my salvation. I don’t know. No one really knows. I’ve never exactly been the religious type. But someone’s writing this tragedy that is my life, and if I know anything, it’s that the future isn’t set in stone. Well, it wasn’t before. Now . . .?

Time travel is a bitch. Plain and simple.

| | |

People are also like potatoes.

You can take them and turn them into something warm and wonderful, but there is always the risk that you might get burned in the end. And French-fries are better because they can’t talk back and they don’t scream when you devour them. Not that I recommend sticking a human being into an oven at 450 degrees. Or eating them.

I have to remember this whenever I think of trusting the Bloomes. Just because I’m in “love” with River doesn’t mean I can trust his predecessors. I can’t trust anyone. I can’t rely on my health to get me through the day, so I can’t even trust myself. But what I know for sure is that out there, somewhere, in a world all its own, fifty-six years into the future, River is looking for me. He has to be.

This is the only thing in the entire world that gets me out of bed. Well, that and the idea that getting back to the future means getting back to my meat pies . . .

Evelyn and Billy come by every hour on the nose to check on me, leaving me alone to the solitude of the upstairs of their lovely house. I spend most of the rest of the day up on the veranda, not holding my breath like I’m used to and not chasing my lungs for mercy, but forgetting myself in the colors bleeding through the sunset. I get lostso easily I’m surprised I didn’t wake up with a tattoo of a compass on my arm.

Speaking of which . . .

I roll up my sleeve and glance down at my skin, running a thumb over the markings, making sure they’re real and that they weren’t just a part of some dream. But sure enough, as real as real can be, indelible marks twine about my flesh, beautifully scrawled. More than beautiful, really. Brilliantly. Befittingly.

“Why me?” I ask the breeze stirring the treetops curling up to meet me. Stars glimmer from beyond the straits of color on the horizon, twinkling like halogen with the crescent moon strung high above my head, so close I swear if I were just a few inches taller I could reach up and snatch it from the heavens. It holds my gaze, reeling me in like a donut on a string suspended above a fat man. Or any man, really. Or any woman. Who doesn’t love donuts?

Okay, so what do I know so far? I ask myself.

My name is Rosie Bryar. I fell in “love” with River Bloome in the year 2015. My family is cursed. My mother tried to warn me about it but I never trusted her. I kissed River and I was sent back in time to 1959. NowJessieBloome, River’s grandfather, wants to help me get back to the future. Oh, and one of my ancestors is alive. In 1959. But she’s lost her mind. And apparently she’s not the first person to time travel in Natchitoches . . . tomorrowJessie is taking me to meet the man Evelyn mentioned earlier. Today I nearly died. Today I woke up with a tattoo of some roses on my arm.

Now I’m guilty and alone.

What do I need to know?

Who gave my family this curse in the first place? Who is Violette Bryar? Who is this mysterious time traveling manJessie doesn’t want me to meet? Where did this tattoo come from? And, most importantly, how do I break this curse?

How do I learn to be happy?

My biggest fear?

This curse can’t be broken . . . that’s a lie. My biggest fear is that I’ll never eat a meat pie again . . . or see River . . .

At the sound of approaching footsteps, I cover up my arm and I don’t let it show. Like my heart.

“Howdy,”Jessie whispers upon approaching, stepping out onto the veranda and standing apart from me, distant. His blue gaze sweeps over mine but not for long; not long enough for me to hold on tight and grasp some certainty from it. “Sleep well?” he asks, and though his voice holds a touch of apathy, his stern eyes remain obdurate.

I don’t answer him. I don’t say anything for some time, actually. Speaking now is like speaking underwater.

“What’s it like?” I finally whisper, my head tilted heavenward.

Jessie hesitates before answering. “What’s what like?”

“Not knowing.” I pause.“I mean, knowing there’s a world completely different like 2015 just waiting around the corner and knowing it’s being held out of reach. It’s not like you won’t see it, of course . . .” I stop, shutting my eyes tight. When I look over atJessie, whose eyes are wider than the moon, I clench my eyes tight and continue. “Okay, so yeah. You live to see 2015. But I’m not saying anymore,” I sigh. “But anyway, what’s it like? How do you cope?”

“Who says I do?”Jessie asks, his tired eyes finding mine. “Cope, that is. It ain’t easy. At first.”

“But it gets easier?”

“Of course,” he tells me, and I can’t help but stare into his eyes. “How did ya cope with it before ya knew that ya were cursed? Before time travel became real?”

I never thought of it like that. “I guess I didn’t.”

“So why start now?”

I nod. “You make it sound easy.”

“It ain’t. But ya’ll learn.”

I know.

“Why don’t ya come downstairs? I can have Ma cook ya up some food that doesn’t come from a bird.”

I smile and laugh, which is a big step for me considering I nearly died again today. “I’m okay. But thank you. Really.” I glance over at him and then back down at the field, caught in the buffeting light of the moon, shown down as the evening is thrown to darkness.

Jessie nods and starts for the door, heading back into the house; there’s a slowness to his step, as if he doesn’t really want to go.

“Everything here is so peaceful,” I tell him before he leaves, stopping him in his tracks. “So quiet. There are no distractions.”

“I kin think of one,” I hear Jessie whisper, though I don’t suppose I was meant to, and I blush. He turns back around and nods, silently smiling; his piquant facial features seem sharper in this lack of light, his complexion silvered by the moon and every star I see reflected in his careful eyes. “Oh,” he says, reaching into a pocket of his trousers. “I forgot to give this to ya this mornin. I found it on ya when I dragged ya from th’ pond.” Glancing down, I find my cell phone in his outstretched hand. “I admit I thought it was a weapon . . .”

I take it with tired fingers and try to turn it on, momentarily hopeful. When it remains dark, I hand it back to Jessie, smiling gently. “Keep it,” I tell him. “As something to remember me by when I leave here—when I break this curse. A piece of the future to look forward to.”

Jessie slowly nods, his pleasant eyes gleaming, and he slips it back into his pocket, where he pats it twice with his hand. “I’ll keep it till the day we meet again. An then maybe ya kin repair it.”

I smile. “I’d like that.”


“So,” Jessie timidly intones, “I’ve bin meanin to ask ya somethin ever since ya woke a few hours ago. An I know it ain’t none of my concern, but th’ markins on yer arm—”

“You’re right,” I tell him with a tad bit more asperity than I mean to. “It’s none of your concern.” I try not to scowl but my face is naturally smug, so when I look in his direction and see his eyes dart away, I shrink back into myself, disappointed. “I’m sorry,” I say after a moment or two, flushing with self-directed reproach. “They’re just—it’s just . . . nothing.”

Jessie holds his hands up in surrender. “Forget I asked,” he breathes. “I’ll—uh—I’ll see ya early in the mornin when I take ya to see Jefferson, okay? Sleep well.”


“Jefferson,” I quietly whisper to myself, a smile tightly encompassed by my lips, doing my best to instill the name into my head. “Okay,” I say. “You too. See you bright and early.”

The moment Jessie leaves I’m left to the silence that I’ve always thought might be my downfall, the darkness swirling about my throat like a noose as the last glint of sunlight finally dives beyond the distance. But now I see I entered kingdom come a long time ago, back when cancer was only just a thorn in my side and not the chains at my wrists. Now I’m just heading straight for the castle and I won’t stop until I’m sitting on a throne.

I trace my fingers along the tattoo of the roses on my arm one last time, whispering my regrets into the wind until my lips are like parchment and I’m just a disembodied thought, voiceless and clear, stirring in the breeze.

Without hope, I turn away. Without determination, I walk back into the house, leaving the veranda to the ghosts of yesterday. Somehow, without a smidgen of pleasure tethering me to the ground, I find it in me not to float away.

Now more than ever I know I will break this curse.

| | |

Jessie sat on the edge of his bed and clutched the small device that Rosie had given him long after the rest of the family went to sleep. He stared at it and tapped on it, fumbling with it deep into the night. When, at last, Jessie could keep his mind off the recollection of Rosie’s marking’s no longer, he lied back on his bed and reminisced with the shadows that dwelt outside the purview of the glow from the candles flickering in the window.

Jessie thought back to Violette’s markings. The ones that crept up and down her arm on one side, black like the night sky outside his window. He remembered when she’d first shown them to him, trusting enough to let him see exactly what they were. And, though he pressed for sleep to take him away, Jessie unwillingly remembered the state of Violette’s markings in the day before their wedding. They were darker, thicker; the designs had lost their beauty and had spread all the way up to her shoulder.

He wondered what the markings meant.

The floral design.

And that’s how Jessie spent his night. He pillowed his head with his arms and stared at the ceiling, replaying the memory of Violette’s arrival over and over in his head until he felt like if he saw the images one more time that night, he’d start to bleed.

So, at last, Jessie picked himself up, opened the secret panel in the back of his closet where he would put his valuables if he had any, and placed the small, black device Rosie had given him on the floor. He slid the panel back into place and shut his closet to the darkness and the monsters that held its vacancy after dusk.

He sunk back into bed and stared out the window until sleep came for him, swift and sweetly, and Jessie tucked any thought of Violette beneath his pillow for the next time he desired a memory strong enough and deep enough to break him wide open.

When Jessie woke, his eyes were wet with tears.

| | |

“Memories are dangerous things.”

I remember River telling me this when we were younger.

“Memories have the potential to destroy, to inflict harm and ruination in any beautiful thing. Like a flower remembering a drought or a song, forgotten and wonderful, thinking of the silence. Memories can pull us to our feet or shove us back down. Like stones in our pockets, memories weigh us down. But we choose which ones we hold onto. Which ones will save us in the end.”

I can’t help but stare up at the twilit sky.

It’s three-thirty in the morning and I don’t feel the slightest urge to sleep. I’m not tired. But I know I should be after the day I’ve had. I guess I’m just too afraid of going to sleep—well, not so much falling asleep, but waking up knowing my life has changed. Knowing nothing will ever be the same again, even if I do make it home.

I twirl the butter knife I’d threatened Jessie with and smile down at my ghostly reflection in the silver; I’m faded, my expression ghostly in its moon-lit surface, and yet I can’t stop myself from looking at it over and over again.

I don’t know anything about stars. About constellations. About anything, really. But I know that high above me, ‘pressed into the dark like a sign that things will get better’, as River would always tell me, are three stars in a row. Aligned. Waiting like sitting ducks for time to dip a bated hook into the deep and reel them to their own demise.

Time has the power to destroy. And one day it will. One day those stars, those three aligned stars will vanish. They’re probably already dead. Dead a long time ago. And all we’re seeing are their echoes, the marks they made. But so long as I’m alive, so long as cancer remains beneath my pretty little thumb, I will remember these three stars.

“Stars aren’t for wishing,” I remember, River’s words cool in my ears, soft on my lips. “Coins? Now, coins are for wishing. Four-leaf clovers? Them too, I suppose. But stars,” I say to the night sky, inhaling the darkness of the atmosphere and, for the first time in what seems my entire life, actually exhaling without difficulty. “Stars are like faces. Snowflakes. Pieces of cereal. No two are exactly alike. None can be copied, replicated. That’s why they’re special. Coins, on the other hand, are no different from each other, like blank sheets of paper. And clovers are simply growth defects, mere anomalies. But stars are as delicate and important as any person will ever be.” I pause. “That’s why you’re my lucky star.”

I smile, thinking back, blushing in the night.

My fingers and my gaze instantly go to the tattoo on my arm, the ebony roses dark against the paleness of my flesh, twining like perfect, faultless little veins just beneath the surface of who I am. I brush my touch along my forearm, stroking the markings with a wistful air that not even I can describe, letting my mind shift and turn, my thoughts caught about River the way a noose wraps around a neck.

I look up to the stars and a shiver goes down my spine. I can’t help but wonder if somewhere out there, far, far away, River is staring up at the same stars. If he’s remembering the same thing I am, reminiscing with the darkness of the atmosphere. Is he thinking about me? Does he wonder if I’m still alive? Or is he gone? Is his life merely frozen, iced over because I’m not there to make it function properly? Is the future gone? It better not be—I still had some meat pies left in the fridge. Is Mother gone? Is my home gone? Is everything and everyone just . . . gone?

Such a thought sends a shock to my system and I can’t breathe. Not like before, when cancer caught a grip around my throat. Now I can’t seem to catch my breath because I left it back in the twenty-first century. Yet, oddly enough, I feel it in my lungs like my heart in my chest, working, pumping, living. I feel it whispering to me, calling to me, telling me to stay. Telling me I finally belong.

I push the voices down as best as I can, suppressing the truth brimming inside of me. “Don’t let me go,” I say up to the stars, to River, holding on for dear life. “If you’re still out there, still fighting for me, don’t let go. Don’t ever let me go.”

I twirl the knife between my fingers one last time, tracing the undulations of the bland designs running across its hilt, wondering if there will ever come a time when I will feel as defenseless and broken as I did when I held it to Jessie’s throat.

I place the dull knife upon the railing of the veranda and take a step back—I won’t be needing it.

My reflection in the blade is once again warped in the silvery glow cast by the moon, but even as I turn away I can still hear Jessie’s voice inside my head.


Memories do have the potential to destroy us.







{Part Two}

Pricked By A Thorn

| | |

A rose without its thorns is still a rose. But what’s the point of a fire that doesn’t burn?


River couldn’t take his eyes off the sky. It was as if it were calling to him somehow, the sun bright and heavy like the calm before the storm.

One day had passed since Rosie up and disappeared. Twenty-four hours and the city of Natchitoches was alive with sirens, spreading the word about “seventeen-year-old runaway, Rosie Bryar,” after the blurry events of the night before. Every time River even dared to think back, his heart beat faster and sweat would bead at his forehead, all the while shivers running the length of his body.

He hadn’t gone home after what had happened. He couldn’t. There was nothing for River back in the stale comfort of his father’s home—it wasn’t a home without Rosie reading at the foot of his bed or sitting upside down in his comfy chair or singing songs that she didn’t know the words to. Without Rosie, River’s home was just a bunch of walls. There was nothing left to discern it from a prison.

River thought of spending the night stuck up in his room gnawing on stale bread and pretending to study like he always did when Rosie didn’t want to be around human beings, all the while hiding from his father—from the man who couldn’t go more than ten minutes without boiling River’s blood. But how could he be expected to go back to a normal life after Rosie . . . after she just vanished?

River’ssemi-safe haven was no longer the place it used to be, for when before he could just close the blinds and pretend the world didn’t exist, he couldn’t close his mind to Rosie. He never could.

She was alone somewhere. Lost. Afraid.

“Rosie’s a tough girl,” he told himself again, for the fourth time that morning.

River stood outside of Natchitoches’ own police station, staring down at a puddle that glistened with refracted light, the sun warm against his gooseflesh-covered skin. He tucked his hands inside his pockets to keep them from shaking but that was near impossible, for when he looked at the ground he saw Rosie. When River looked up at the building he saw Rosie. When River looked at the sky, the sun, in an attempt to distract himself, he saw Rosie.

All he ever saw was Rosie.

She was, in a way, kind of like a harmless addiction to River. Rosie was the television he always tried to turn on after the power went out because there was nothing else to do. And when he set down the remote; when he allowed his mind to wander, to focus on something else, there he was moments later picking up the remote again to check what show he could watch to distract himself.

Now, to make matters worse, Rosie had vanished. Poof. Gone.

There was no longer a TV remote to grab when the power went out. He’d lost the remote. He’d lost it and it wasn’t coming back. And, of course, his TV was one of a kind so it wasn’t as if he could simply go to the store and buy a new one. He didn’t want a new one, regardless. So he stood patiently waiting outside the police station, wondering when he’d stop being such a little kid and take a step forward. Open the door. Act, for once in his life, like an adult.

What happened was unexplainable and the only person—the only person in the entire world—who could possibly understand was the same person that tried to kill Rosie with a hammer the night before. The same person who went insane.

Every time River tried to explain to himself that Mrs. Bryar was just a person, just a human, all he could see was the monster with Rosie’s blood on her hands.

The police had taken her away after River and Rosie had fled the scene only hours before, though it felt like years ago. He wouldn’t have even come looking for answers if he didn’t secretly understand the woman; River, though still frazzled and weak from the traumatizing events of Rosie’s disappearance, had to admit Mrs. Bryar had a reason for keeping Rosie away from him.

His kiss sent her away. His lips sent her away.

That’s why he was standing outside the doors of the police station.

River was responsible.

Mrs. Bryar had been taken downtown in a squad car, that much he knew. Was she being charged with anything? Was she dangerous? River couldn’t be sure.

He’d thrown his phone into a puddle—too afraid that his father might be able to track him after spending the night away from home—and ditched his father’s car in the park. He stood now in still-damp clothing, lost and afraid. And alone. River never realized how alone he was until Rosie had vanished.

River started up the steps and then turned back around, keeping his head low as people passed on the street. It was stupid, really. To be afraid of a woman under lock and key. But, God. Nothing ever happened in this city. Nothing like this . . . everything River knew about this world, this earth, this place he called home was altered. It churned his stomach. Made him feel sick.

Time travel was real. Curses were real. Loss was real—something he’d only ever felt after his mother died several years before; it was the hardest thing he’d ever gone through, but Rosie was at his side the entire time, the way he was there during every hospital visit, every chemo session, and every checkup at the doctors.

They endured. That’s what they did best.

Rosie was River’s best distraction. She was the beautiful light in his life that made him see the better things in such a dark, dark world. The light that made him feel like he had a home. Even if he really didn’t.

What did he know about curses? What did any sane person know about curses? Curses could be broken with true love’s kiss. So how the hell was he supposed to break the curse that was caused by true love’s kiss?

Suddenly River felt like he was going to faint. But he couldn’t. There wasn’t time. So he stepped forward, shook every ounce of fear from his mind, and River gingerly threw open the doors of the police department and strode into the stale-aired building, never once seeing anything but Rosie.

He abruptly stopped when the front door clanged shut behind him, and a chill was sent tumbling down the strait of his spinal cord, falling in perfect synchrony with the uneven thrumming of his heart in his chest. An ugly, fatal truth lingered at the back of his mind: this could be his do-over; this could be his only chance to walk away and forget about Rosie for good, put her behind him. This could be it. His prayers answered. His wish granted.

“How may I help you?” a smiling officer wondered.

In that moment, River made a choice that he feared might destroy him in the end. For, when he answered, his heart in his throat, he knew once he was addicted that there was no coming back. Rosie had taught him that.

“It’s my friend,” he whispered. “She’s missing.”

In his head, as if she were there with him, River sent Rosie a message.

Rosie, I’m coming.

Rosie, I’m going to save you.

Rosie . . . I have no idea what I’m doing.

But neither do you.

| | |

Jessie owns a cat. Or, in all reality, this cat clearly ownsJessie.

“This here is Esther,” he tells me, rubbing at the cat’s mane, scrunching up his face. The cat, an orangey color, is a similar shade to Mother’s pumpkin soup, and though I hate soup, I’m surprised by how hungry I get by looking at it. “Esther means star. An this little lady, much like a star, fell straight outtath’ sky.” He smiles but I don’t return it.

“You’re kidding,” I say, gently patting at the happy cat’s head as it wanders up onto my lap, which, no more than a moment later engenders a slash upon my wrist and daggers from the eyes. I wince but stand my ground, staring deep into the feline’s sturdy gaze. Its fur comes away in tufts and I have to wave it away from my face as it leaps into the air, but when I leer back at the cat, indignant, I find its eyes glimmer a captivating yellowish color in the light, like amber set ablaze. They bear into me. They hold me and they burn me and I never knew there could be so much beauty to be found in something so annoying and bipolar.

Jessie shakes his head and shrugs his shoulder. “Well, to be fair I wasstandin under a tree. An it was really windy that day. But it don’t really matter how she got here, jest that she did. An she’s here to stay, now ain’t ya, pretty kitty.”

Pretty kitty.

I can’t believe my eyes. Before me, appearing gruff and neat, his hair slicked back beneath a hat,Jessie rubs behind the cat’s ears and talks to it like it’s a new born child. Something I never thought possible from someone as tough looking asJessie. It’s like a biker playing the flute, or a wrestler doing ballet. It’s irregular. It’s amusing.

It’s perfect.

“We should be going,” I say, snatching up the bagJessie’s sister, Mary left me. I tie up my hair in the back of my head, still wet from the shower, and turn to findJessie hasn’t moved an inch. He’s still distracted by the damn cat. “Well?”

“Yeah, all right,” he says after a moment’s hesitation, rising to his feet. “Come on, Esther,” he tells the cat on his way to the door, and the impish thing follows his master with a look of warmth, just another demon to the Tempter. Glancing back to meet my incredulous eye,Jessie tells me, “She thinks she’s a dog. Follows me everywhere I go. Poor girl gets hysterical if I leave her behind.”

Great. Cats get worse.

“So we’re bringing the cat?” I ask, quirking an eyebrow, hoping by my tone of voiceJessie might catch the hint that I don’t like cats. “The cat,” I repeat, hoping for the words to somehow begin to make sense to me. They don’t. Of course they don’t.

Who brings a cat with them? A dog, I can understand. But a cat?

Jessie innocently smiles, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Esther’s a part of th’team,” he tells me. He steps past me, the cat following at his heels. And I swear to God, Esther stares me down as she walks out the door.

Esther. What a pretty name for such a stupid cat.

“Who brings a cat?” I mutter to myself, shaking my head all the way to the car.

| | |

I can’t help but look at Jessie and remember the hurt in his voice from the night before.

Billy dropsJessie and I at the edge of Kisatchie National Forest, a place Mother took me often enough as a child, where Cypress trees wind to the sky above like pillars leading to the doors of Heaven, and where great oaks trail off in peculiar patterns, as if creating alleyways through the thick and misty forest.

We climb out of the car andJessie leads me off the path and into the thickness of the forest I’ve known all my life. But it’s different. It’s bigger, fuller. Greener.

Esther wanders a few feet ahead of us, seeming to lead the way. A part of me hopes she gets lost.

“Does the government know he lives out here?” I askJessie.

He laughs at me. “Please, what don’t th’ government know?”

I couldn’t possibly agree more.

Jessie takes me to a clearing I never knew existed, probably because it doesn’t in 2015. There, waiting just beneath the branches twining above our heads, stretching to meet the brambles that dance their way through the tall grass, sits a bus. A school bus. A big yellow fricking school bus.

“A bus,” I stoically observe, puzzled, quirking an eyebrow in inquiry.

“Come on,”Jessie says, taking me by the hand and pulling me in his wake, leading me up the steps, its door set ajar. The bus smells of the same grossly welcoming fumes as any bus ever to exist, but the windows are painted over and all the seats are missing, replaced with a handful of beds.

“A bus,” I repeat.

“A bus,”Jessie whispers in return, smiling. He always seems to be smiling.

I glance around, taking in the abandoned school bus. A curtain divides the bus in half from front to back, and dust swirls through the shadowed space, ignited where the light from the entrance is thrown deep. It’s empty save for a thousand papers and clippings of torn newspapers taped to the walls and the ceiling, like that of a victim of a supposed alien kidnapping. I’m almost afraid of what I might find.

“He’s not here,” I say, findingJessie’s eye before pulling down a paper suspended from the ceiling. The headline on the newspaper reads: FUTURE MEETS THE PAST: STRANGER WAKES UP IN POND CLAIMING TO BE A TIME TRAVELER. I hold up the paper, gently smiling. “This is Violette,” I tell him. “Isn’t it? Or have there been more than just us?”

Jessie takes the paper and reads the headline; when he’s done he simply shakes his head. “No, just the two of you. And Jefferson.”

“So who is he, exactly?”

“The biggest pain in my—”Jessie doesn’t get the chance to finish his sentence.

Poof. Like smoke from a fire, a middle-aged man suddenly appears out of thin air, and I’m so simultaneously startled and taken aback that I nearly stumble to the ground, but catch myself at the last second.

Fully clothed in a garish frock coat of iridescent shot silk, a sullen hat atop his Irish head, the man stands between us, shockingly familiar, like a memory sent forward from the past; his flesh seems to shimmer and glow for a moment, the air about him bright and fair like that of golden chaff, eddying without a breeze to supply its swirling torsion.

He stands out like a laceration in all of time and space, his skin pallid and his eyes a milky-white in this dim light; I glance over at Jessie, swallowing back my astonishment, and he shoots me with a pointed look, as if to warn me that we should never have come here.

“Most people call me a joy,” the mansays, smiling so bright that he has to squint his eyes. He looks around, as if surprised to find us in his ‘home’, despite his tone of voice. And then, catchingJessie’s gaze, his face falls and he seems to flinch before looking straight into my eyes. “You’re late.”

“No, you’re late,” I abruptly spit back—though I have absolutely no idea why—still astonished and captivated by the fact that a human being just appeared before my very face. Like magic. Like . . . “Wait, how did you even know we were coming?”

I gingerly stare at him, my eyes narrowed. I’m only a little surprised to find that he’s not a homeless person; though something about the way he dresses makes me wonder where he shops.

The man—Jefferson, I presume—laughs, his pale, pale face completely devoid of any wrinkles or undulations provided by age. “Yes, of course,” he trills, beaming down at me. “My apologies. I like to say things like that to confuse people. Anyhow, why are you on my bus, Rosie?”

“Why do you have this bus?”

Jefferson spins away, refusing to answer my question. He sets down his hat on one of the beds and sits beside it, pretentiously running his long fingers through a head of orangey hair, graying at the edges. “You’re very pretty, my dear. Prettier than I remember.”

I stare long and hard in his direction. “But we’ve never met? And . . . hold on, how do you know my name?” I clench my fists as this daydream unravels into a nightmare, leaving my skin riddled with gooseflesh and a shiver caught in the hollows of my being.

“Haven’t we?” He pauses, taking his time as he studies me, drinking in the sight of me the way a vagrant does when offered a glass of water. Then, like lightning, a single strike that can’t be replicated, a thought snaps into his head, rearranging his entire facial features.

A look of sudden astonishment blooms across his face, and I find it, more so than I care to admit, hard to look away. “Of course,” Jefferson whispers, beaming, intrigued by my face. “Of course. Of course. Of course. This is our first meeting. That’s why you don’t recall . . . I mean, well, yes, you’re probably very confused. The both of you, I’m sure.” He stops. Freezes. Thaws. “Oh . . . oh, this is it. This is . . . I mean, that’s why you’re here.”

Jefferson glances up atJessie, who’s reading a newspaper clipping on the wall, hardly paying any attention to what’s going on around him.

“I’m surprised yer actually here,”Jessie says, not bothering to look in Jefferson’s direction. “Thought you’d be runninaway. Again. Like always.” His icy eyes flit up, insipient reproach evident in his arctic gaze, and part of me longs to know what it would take to thaw such a look, though my heavy curiosity strikes a natural inclination to understand what made them so cold to begin with.

“I do not run away,” Jefferson confidently tells him, holding his head high and scowling with eyes no less calm than a silent glen of flowers and woodland; his voice is hoarse and cold, but fairly warm compared with Jessie’s. “I just know when it’s time to give up.”

“Yeah, I know ya do.”

“What are you insinuating?”

“Nothin that ain’t plain to see, Jefferson. Yer a joke.”

I look to Jefferson to see if these words will leave a mark, but if they do, he doesn’t let it show; simply, without hesitation, Jefferson straightens until his gargantuan-self stands tall before Jessie, like a wolf before its quarry. He smiles and I see teeth, and his hackles are indolently raised, done idly so, as calm and composed as that of a new dawn.

I can’t help but glance back and forth between the two, studying them each in turn. But before long my neck starts to hurt like I’m watching a tennis match, so I just stare down at my feet and try to etch some sense into the earth with the words they throw into the air.

“You didn’t seem to think so when you first came looking to me for help,” Jefferson says; there’s no evidence of malice in his resolute equanimity, no sign of spite in the superficial hollows of his face, but there’s an edge to his words, likes he’s honed them from his decorum until they’re as sharp and subtle as daggers in the night.

They seem to strike at Jessie harder than I could have imagined. But he’s quick to retaliate.

“She used to tell me ya were the most important person to her, Jefferson,” he says, still not looking up, as if this man before me is far too repugnant to even lay his eyes on. “But ya couldn’t even try to save her life.”

“I did try.”

“An maybe that’s why we are where we are.”

“Maybe,” Jefferson calmly says. “Or maybe we could have lost her a long time ago—”

“You’re talking about Violette,” I whisper a few moments later.

Jefferson stops and looks at me. He parts his lips to speak, something clearly written on his tongue, but he shakes his head and all the unsaid words between his teeth run away, fleeing back into the silence. “Pardon my manners,” he says, such tangible warmth in his gaze. “My name is—”

“Jefferson, th’ town’s biggest disappointment,”Jessie bitterly says like he’s reading it from a newspaper. “Don’t git yer hopes up, Rosie, this guy ain’t what he seems.” He finally turns around, and when his eyes meet mine, they’re biting. Warning. Cautious.

“Now that’s a rude thing to say,” Jefferson says, sounding hurt. Actually hurt. “And yes, I am Jefferson II of Natchitoches. Born and raised. Kind of.” He extends his hand out to me, a pleasant smile kindling the warmth of his face. “I was named after my father, of course,” he goofily adds.

“No, I thought ya were named after yer goldfish,”Jessie flatly says, glaring; there’s a darkness to his face that, though I haven’t known him more than a day, I never knew he was capable of possessing.

I scowl in his direction.

“Of course,” I say, smiling up at Jefferson. “So we’re related? We share the same family curse.”

“A curse,” Jefferson scoffs. “That’s what they’d like you to believe.”

“It is a curse,”Jessie says, his tone climbing several decibels towards dangerous. “Look what it’s gone an done to Violette. Look how it’s destroyed her, no thanks to you.” He crumples up what he’s reading and tosses it on the floor, leering at Jefferson with eyes of thorns and fire.

“No thanks to me? How many years did you get to be together because of me? Because I did all that I could.” Jefferson shakes his head, and after a moment of saying nothing, he ostentatiously draws a small mirror from his pocket and uses it to help him style his hair with his fingers.

Jessie is the color of blood. He looks like he’s about to pop. I don’t think I can blame him. This man is . . . well, he’s definitely something.

“If it weren’t feryou she might still be here! Still sane!”

“Or she might be dead,” Jefferson shrugs. “At least she’s alive.”

“An in what world is thatlivin?”Jessie asks, pointing as if Violette is in the room.

Jefferson opens his mouth to say something in return, but I hold up my hand. “Whatever you’re about to say,” I whisper, looking from Jefferson to Jessie, my eyes wide, “don’t say it.”

There are a few seconds of silence where neither says a word. I take my eyes off of Jefferson and steal myself, slowly, slowly, turning my back on this stranger of a man, and—

“Violette asked me the night before the wedding if it was worth it,” Jefferson spits, his eyes burning, brimming with flames that lick and burn so angrily that for a moment I’m afraid to look away.

Wedding? I silently wonder to myself.

“She asked me if she should just walk out that door and keep going,” Jefferson says, pointing to the entrance of the bus. “She asked me if she really had a future with you, and I told her yes. I told her she did. Because I knew she didn’t have long. I knew she deserved to believe that she was happy.” Jefferson’s eyes narrow until they’re mere slits in his face. “But I should have told her to go.” He laughs a laugh devoid of any warmth. “I should have told her to run.”

This seems to wound Jessie in a way that can’t be explained; his eyes glitter and his breath catches in his throat, trapped by all the things he can’t say.

“Jessie—” I try. But there’s no point.

“Forget this!”Jessie barks, his voice lower than I’ve ever heard it, yet far scarier; his hands clench down at his sides, and I think he’s going to punch Jefferson in the face. “Come on, Rosie,” Jessie growls.“He’s a waste of time—”

“No,” I whisper, and simultaneously bothJessie and Jefferson look my way. “I need his help.” I don’t think I’ve ever admitted that to anyone before. “Whatever is between the two of you doesn’t change the fact that I need his help.”

Jessie stares into my eyes, his own glistening back at me like diamonds in the sky. “Ya don’t know what yer gittenyerself into by comin here,” he breathes, looking gruff. Tender. Dark. Brooding. Colder than the air outside the thin windows of this bus. “He can’t protect you—”

“Then it’s a good thing I don’t need protecting,” I say, I lie, I try to convince myself it’s true. But, come on? What time traveling cancer patient doesn’t need help? Sometimes I need help simply breathing.

Jefferson glances between us and laughs, his eyes alight with warmth and mocking amusement. A part of me wants to punch him in the face at this moment but I need his help. I need help.


“Oh, please,Jessie,” Jefferson provokingly says. “Why don’t you go hang around someone outside of my family for a change? That look you’re giving her won’t take you places that it did with Violette—”

“Shut up! Shutup!”Jessieyells, and I’m so startled by his sudden outburst that I nearly stumble back into a bed. Turning away, but not before his eyes catch mine, slick and smoother than blades,Jessie storms from the bus. I long to follow him. And I start to, but something holds me back.

“Can’t you see how this has affected him?” I say to this stranger, surprising myself by the amount of certainty and strength I discover in my voice. I glare at Jefferson, my eyes dark and firm, several shades lighter than my heart. “We might be family, Jefferson, and I might need your help,” I spit, the spring, earthy air making me choke as I breathe it all in, struggling. “But, God, I’d like to think you have enough sense to realize that that was a stupid thing to say.” I shake my head before turning and chasing afterJessie, feeling Jefferson’s eyes on me all the while.

I run as fast as I can, what with this world sitting on my chest, butJessie has long legs and I have a hard time catching up with him. Something holds me back—I could blame cancer because it probably is cancer, like it always is, but, oddly enough, I feel tethered to the bus. To Jefferson. To what I’m not strong enough or brave enough to walk away from.

“STOP!” I scream, using the last of the air in my lungs.Jessie finally turns around but I hardly notice; I’m too busy having to hold onto a tree limb to find purchase on the spinning world at my feet. When my dizziness begins to waver, and when my heartbeat inside my head slips back down into my chest, I glance around.

We’re nearly back to the car.

Jessie looks like he wants to help me but he also looks like a little schoolboy after being called out by his teacher, his face and neck red with embarrassment. His cobalt eyes find mine and I search for stars in his unhindered gaze; I search for the moon and a way home. But all I see is myself reflected back at me. And I’m frightened by what I see.

He starts to turn away, his hands stuck into his pockets, only his fingertips fitting.

“What the hell was that?” I would scream if I had the strength, starting forward and taking his elbow, wrenching him back around until the deep blue of his eyes becomes the sky above my head, dark and looming, devoid of any clouds or lightning.

Jessie’s eyes, suddenly flitting away, loiter on the ground, the trees, the sky, anywhere but my face. He refuses to look at me, all because of what Jefferson told him. All because a stupid man made a stupid decision to say a stupid thing becauseJessie made him feel stupid and puny.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Doesn’t anyone use their heads anymore?

“Look,” I say, taking a deep breath and calming myself down. I shut my eyes before I speak, collecting myself as best as I can, picking up the pieces of myself that so easily come apart. “Don’t listen to him,” I breathe. “You have no reason to. He’s just trying to get on your nerves.”

“He’s a waste of time—”

“No,” I shake my head, wincing at how sharp my voice sounds. “Did you see what he did? How he just . . . poofed into existence?” I say, illustrating ‘poofed’ with my fingers. “I need his help. It’s the only way to . . .”

“To what?”Jessie quickly asks, suddenly appearing worried. Alarmed. At first I think he’s going to ask me about River; about why I really need to get home. But then he reaches out and grasps my wrist, knowing perfectly well what lies against the skin of my forearm only a few inches away, concealed beneath the soft fabric of my sleeve. “Does this have anythin to do with why ya collapsed yesterday? At th’ lake, I mean . . .?”

I shake my head. I lie.Why not lie? I’m so good at it.

“No, of course not. But I . . . he might be my only chance to find River again. To go home.” I hate using River as an excuse to leave.

Jessie doesn’t look convinced. But after a moment he languidly nods. “Alright. I believe ya. But only cuz I’m startin to like you, Rosie Bryar.” He smiles but there’s no warmth, no light, no happiness. No stars.

“How could you not?” I mock, taking his hand and pulling him back towards Jefferson’s bus. “I’m irresistible.”

Jessie scoffs but says nothing as we make our way back in the direction of Jefferson’s home. The bus. We walk back up the steps to find Jefferson lying on his back, his hat over his eyes.

“You’re back,” he observes, clearly annoyed that we’ve woken him from a ten second nap.

“I’m back,” I say. “And I want to talk to you about the curse. About everything you know.” I stare at him; the way he lies so peacefully, like he’s resting on a cloud. “That includes Violette.”

Jefferson puffs out a sigh, his incredulous tone doing nothing to dissuade me. He doesn’t move to get up, and the hat remains over his eyes.

“It isn’t a curse,” he says.

I stare. “Excuse me?”

“Our power? It isn’t a curse, Rosie. It’s . . . well, it’s like a gift. Unless you lose sight of that and lose your mind like some people.” He doesn’t say it in derision but in sadness.

Regardless, I want to hit him. I want to inflict pain just so I don’t have to see the hurt in Jessie’s eyes. But as the seconds of silence slide down my throat, I can see Jefferson’s holding his breath—he wants Jessie to explode.

It amuses him.

“What we possess is not some fairytale conflict, you need to understand. True love’s kiss is not going to save you now.”

“But I thought it was the reason why I’m here?”

“A kiss?” Jefferson groans. “No, Rosie. It wasn’t the kiss that sent you through time. It was the hormones.”

“Excuse me?” I spit, glaring.

Jefferson sighs once more. “The surplus of emotion engendered by such a kiss, Rosie,” he says to me, “is what caused you to time travel. A part of you must have made yourself feel like you needed to escape . . . like you needed to run.”

I shake my head. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Perhaps not,” Jefferson says, lifting his head and tipping back his hat just enough to meet my eyes. “But it’s what happened to Violette.”

I stop. “Then if it’s not a curse, what is it?”

“I’ve already told you, Rosie. It’s a gift.”

A gift?

I shake my head and glance over at Jessie, who doesn’t seem to be paying much attention; he appears numb to the world, like I could say anything to him and he wouldn’t understand.

Silence worms its way between us.

“I want to know how to get home,” I whisper to Jefferson after a moment or two, takingJessie’s arm and squeezing, doing my best to defuse the ticking time bomb that’s counting down in his darkening eyes despite his absentmindedness. “But I also want to know about this.”

I pull up the sleeve of my shirt and Jefferson picks up his hat, staring down his nose at my arm. A wave of panic and shock washes over his face, as well asJessie’s, who stares at me with his arms crossed—each try to hide it their surprise, Jefferson behind the thin barrier of a spurious smile, whileJessie hides his behind a frown.

Jefferson sits up immediately, tossing his hat aside.

“Well, shit,” he says, running his hands through his hair. “Shit, shit, shit.”

Nervously, I ask, “What does it mean?”

“How long do you have?” Jefferson asks, his eyes immediately flitting up to meet mine.

“Excuse me?” I say, confused, glancing between him andJessie like he might have a clue as to what’s going on.

Jefferson sighs. “You’re sick, right? How long do you have?”

I’m so astonished by this that I don’t even have the words to answer. I just shake my head.

“You don’t, do you? You’re out of time.”

I nod.

“What?” Jessie says, staring at me.

“That’s what this means,” Jefferson tells me, tapping my arm with his finger. “It means your time in 1959 is limited. Extremely limited.”

Jessie steps forward, looking sick. “Violette has one just like it,” he breathes. “Right on her arm.”

Jefferson, looking oddly disheveled in this moment, reluctantly catchesJessie’s eyes. “I know. I’ve always know.” He looks back at me. “Your sickness, I believe,” he sighs,“is a result of being in the wrong time period.”

I shake my head. “But that can’t be true . . . I’ve always been sick.”

“Then you’ve never really been in your right time period,” he whispers, his eyes gliding over mine, simultaneously bright and dark. “This mark is like a countdown,” he explains. “You’ve given yourself a little more time by coming here, Rosie, but unless you go back to the time you were supposed to grow up in, you’re going to die.”

I hear so much in his words. So much alarm. So much pain and fear. So much of death. But I block it all out save for one thing. One thing I hear louder than all the rest, stronger and keener, as if spoken straight into my mind.

“Unless,” I whisper to myself.

There’s still a way to beat this.

I can still find a way to survive.


The police station was a bust. They wouldn’t even allow me past the front desk.”

River paced back and forth in the Goodheart family’s house just a few streets down from his own, his feet booming like thunder over the weak floorboards while his best friend, and the proud house sitter of such a fine abode, lay splayed out over the rich family’s white, fluffy divan.

Sunny Galen, the smartest and geekiest person he’d ever met, and the proud owner of a car—or what came close to a car—stared deeply and intently over at him, his hands propped beneath his chin when he sat up, evidently deep in thought.

“Well, you can stay here for the next two weeks,” Sunny suddenly said, glancing around. “My mom will be back from her trip within the next few days, and my dad’s working. But the Goodheart’s won’t be home until Christmas vacation’s over, and I can sneak you food and laundry.” He sighed, his hands going through his hair. “But there’s a storm coming—”

“I can handle a little thunder and lightning,” River said, scoffing. “I have more important things to worry about.”

Sunny rolled his eyes. “A big storm, River. They’re calling for a Christmas tornado, you know. And, besides. If you’re going to be the crazy one, someone’s got to be the sensible one. And who does that leave?”

“It’s probably just nothing,” River whispered, ignoring Sunny’s comment. “But . . . thanks. For helping me out.” He clasped his hands together and hung his head, tired of thinking, of sitting, of keeping still while the world kept moving around him.

Is this what Rosie’s life is like?

“What other reason do you keep me around for?”

“Good point.”

“Though . . .” Sunny murmured, momentarily unable to meet River’s eyes. “I still don’t understand why you won’t just—”

“Go home?” River asked, running his hand through his wild mess of hair. “Please, you know my dad—”

“Yeah, your dad’s a dick. But, as I was saying, I don’t understand why you don’t tell the police that you were with Rosie before she . . . disappeared. I mean maybe she didn’t really vanish. Maybe you were just too hopped up on adrenaline and became delirious? Did you check Rosie’s home? Maybe she’s there.”

“Twice,” River admitted, doing anything in his power to keep his hands busy; to keep them from shaking. “But I wasn’t delirious . . . I don’t know a lot of things, Sunny,” he whispered, staring straight ahead, his eyes filling with fear and tears alike, “but I know what I saw. I didn’t just imagine this.” River shook his head, his entire body trembling, causing his breathing to come in short, shaky waves. But there was nothing in the world strong enough to distract his mind; to dispel the fear that pumped through his veins. He felt like he was going to be sick again. “Rosie really did disappear.”

Sunny took a deep breath and leaned in real close for a moment. And then another moment. And another. Until four minutes passed and River began to grow worried, his mind swimming with the fishes.

“You’re telling the truth,” Sunny whispered his revelation, sighing, as if annoyed that his friend wasn’t totally bonkers. “So what does this mean? What are we supposed to do? This isn’t—I mean, this is . . .” Sunny ran his hands down his face, leaving them to cover his mouth; his eyes, a golden sort of shade, gleamed where he glanced around the room, appearing intrigued as if it were his first time being there.

“You’ll help me, then?” River asked, frowning; he meticulously twined his fingers together to keep them still, but even then he didn’t come close to finding tranquility.

Sunny laughed softly to himself, appearing half lost and half like he didn’t want to be found. “Who’d give up a chance like this? I’ve always thought time travel was possible. Always stayed up late at night wondering about the impossible. And now that it’s knocking at my door?” He glanced out the front window, momentarily mesmerizedby such a heavy truth; when River looked up at him, trying to understand what exactly might be running through his best friend’s head, Sunny launched himself to his feet and snatched up his car keys from the mahogany coffee table before him.“I’m not passing up this opportunity.”

“Okay . . .” River said, following Sunny’s lead. “So where are we going?”

“My dad’s a cop, remember? If I can’t get us in to see Rosie’s mom, maybe I can distract him long enough for you to slip on by.” He shrugged on his jacket and grinned, checking his watch for the time. “We’re going to get Rosie back.”

River wanted to laugh.

How could he have forgottenSunny’s father was a police officer.

| | |

“We’re not promised tomorrow. So I’m going to live for today.”

That’s something any normal cancer patient would say. But, clearly, without need for explanation, I am not normal. When I should be motivated to fight, when I should be provoked by my undying love for River Bloome, I just can’t seem to get up. To move. To get a grip. I’m tired all the time, weak every moment of the day.And today has been like climbing a mountain for me.

Jessie is sitting on the steps of the bus, staring up at the sky like the key to his happiness lies above, somewhere in the clouds. I lay on one of the beds, staring up at the ceiling, wondering when reality’s just going to cut away the strings and send it toppling down on top of me.

Time has me by the throat but I’m not backing down. I’m not giving up. My body on the other hand gave up a long time ago.

“Why a flower?” I whisper mostly to myself, fingering the markings on my skin. Across the bus Jefferson perks up and glances my way, his eyes wondering, soft and hesitant, but filled with something just shy of wisdom. Or maybe it is wisdom. Unmitigated, absolute wisdom. I hardly know left from right anymore.

“Pardon?” Jefferson asks, staring into my eyes like he’s had enough time to memorize them. Like he knows me better than I know myself. Which is weird. Very weird. But I can’t look away.

“Why a flower? A rose?” I ask again, raising my arm for him to see. “My tattoo, I mean. Why is it of a flower?”

Jefferson shakes his head, shrugging. “I’d like to think that that is how you see yourself. I thought the same with Violette but I was never sure. How can I be?” He shakes his head again, glancing down at his fingers. “Can’t really be sure of anything these days . . .”

I look from him to my markings, fresh against my skin. “A rose?” I breathe a tad bit incredulously, narrowing my eyes while I think. For a moment, frozen still, I don’t take my eyes away from the wondrous patterns spiraling up my flesh like hope, blooming dark before my skin, bleeding out into the open. “You’re telling me I think of myself as a rose?”

“Well, yeah. I can see it, I suppose.” Jefferson studies me now, raking his eyes up my willowy frame, tired and heavy, stopping at my disheveled curls of hair that tumble down before my eyes. I feel bad for him. For anyone forced to look at me. But not so much that I care to help my appearance—makeup is stupid. Mousse is stupid. Shampoo is necessary. Soap, too. But nothing else. I find I rarely need to look pretty for cancer. Cancer likes me for the haggard, tired, messy couch potato that I know I am.

“See what?” I ask, my heavy eyes longing to shut.

“You’re youthful and pretty,” begins Jefferson, pensively gripping his chin as if in deep thought. His eyes narrow and I wonder what he’s looking at, beyond my marked skin, my cold-azure eyes, and the shadows that lay therein. “You see the world through delicate eyes—”

“Watch it,” I grumble, scowling. “These delicate eyes are more than they seem.”

Jefferson smiles, his lips tight. “Of course they are!” he happily exclaims, and the sudden warmth of his voice is a relief, leaving my brow lifted in question. “It proves my point, you see. Every rose has its thorns. And while you remain quiet and insecure, it’s clear to me that you’re bolder than you look.” He pauses. “Oh, . . . and your hair is red like a rose.”

I almost laugh at how blatant his observation is.

“That’s why my mother named me Rosie,” I say, remembering back, imagining Mother’s tired eyes, momentarily feeling guilty for thinking so ill of her after all these years. But then I remember that she threatened me with a hammer, gave me a nasty bump on the head, and tried to board up the windows of the world my heart has wanted nothing more than to be a part of instead of just telling me the truth. The whole truth and nothing but the truth.

My stomach twists and I groan, hiding it behind a long, drawn-out yawn. “Because of my hair,” I add a few seconds later.

Jefferson looks far away, his smile fading into a thoughtful frown. “I remember . . .”

This stops me. Freezes me. My mind is ice and my heart is Novocain, beating numbly in my chest. I don’t feel it. Any of it. But I don’t feel much anymore.

“You remember?” I whisper, tired. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I try to creep closer, folding up my knees and leaning in, turning my head so that my good ear faces Jefferson. And then I remember that I don’t have a bad ear so I just shake out the nothingness tucked and folded inside my head until I hear nothing but the softly spoken words that dribble from his lips.

Jefferson doesn’t hesitate. “One day soon you will be happy, Rosie,” he says, a soft smile rubbed into his lips. “I remember . . . I remember,” Jefferson tells me, clasping his hands together and glancing down at the floor of the bus, looking grave. “I remember because I’ve met the future you. I didn’t get to know you very well, I fear. But you warned me about the day we’d meet.”

“Warned you?” I angrily say, only a little lost in thought.

“Indeed,” he murmurs, brightly beaming. “You said, and I quote, ‘no matter what happens, and no matter which way time turns in the end, everything will turn out for the best’.” Jefferson glances up to look at some of the papers clipped to the wall, scanning his eyes along them, drinking in their headlines. “I may not have had the chance to know you, but I soon will, Rosie Bryar. I will,” he nods. “I’ve been waiting many, many years for a clue as to where we might meet, and now I’ve found you . . . I mean, to be fair, you told me what day we’d meet—well, not you. Future you. The you that isn’t you.”

God, this man makes so much sense.

“So you’ve been to the future, then?”

“Far enough,” he nods. “Far enough into the future as not to lose myself in the evolution of this odd, odd world we inhabit.” Jefferson, though his voice is somber and ambivalent, remains cheerful and positive on the outside. He sounds like someone who could use a hug. But I don’t give hugs. Hugs are for children and gunshot victims.

Then, straight out of the blue, like a missile landing in my lap, Jefferson suddenly adds, “I was there the day you were born, you know. And, God, kid, you were slow. You really, really took your time.”

Surprise blooms with the color in my cheeks. “You knew my parents?” I whisper, my voice coming away tremulous and strangled, my breath catching in my throat. “But . . . you knew my father?” I’ve never met a person alive, other than Mother, who has claimed to have met my father. No one knew him. But I’d like to think I knew him enough that if I stumbled upon him in my lifetime, I might recognize him.

It’s a stupid thought. I don’t even know if I was born before my father left. Or vanished. Or whatever happened to him.

Jefferson smiles, and this time, dissimilar to before, it’s actually compatible with the lightness of his tone of voice and the rheumy color in his shadowed eyes, the way the stars match the moon rather than the sun. “You’ll know who I am soon enough,” he whispers, trying his best to sound mysterious as he moves to sit beside me, plumping down with a quiet harrumph.

“That’s a weird thing to say,” I observe, quirking an eyebrow.

Jefferson continues like I never even spoke. “But not before I show you that this curse,” he says, snatching up my hand and raising it, holding my marked arm aloft, “is a second chance. A saving grace.”

A second chance? To do what?

Jefferson sees the question in my eyes. “To live,” he tells me. “To live like we’re dying. To go down in history and see every sunset before the sun has even reached the sky.” Jefferson pauses and drops my hand, letting his own fall between his legs, dangling limply. “I’ll admit, sometimes what we have does seem like a curse. And to some it truly is. Like Violette. Like every boy and girl before Violette. But—”

“Who isViolette, exactly?” I whisper, not wanting to hear more. “In relation to me,” I add, meeting his eyes. I never quite noticed their color. They’re a deep amber, glowing brightly in his face like spotlights. His orangey hair curls upward, mussed from his hat, though in a way that still seems neat—it reminds me of the messy hair style in 2015 where everyone takes three-hours or more to get it to look like they’ve only just fallen out of bed.

“Violette—?” Jefferson stops andruns a hand down his face, thinking back. Or forward. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you.”

“Because you don’t remember or you refuse to tell me?”

“It’s not my story to tell,” Jefferson whispers in a small, almost brittle voice. “Violette has a past and a future, and whether or not you’re involved, I can’t risk revealing everything. Not yet.” He shakes his head, his calming gaze sweeping mine, somehow rejuvenating me, shocking me back to life in a way that’s both beautiful and graceful. “I refuse to risk it. Not for me. But for what the future holds.”

I silently nod.

What else can I do?

I don’t have the strength to argue.

“So I have a future? Cancer . . . I don’t die, then?”

Jefferson doesn’t answer. “I could tell you,” he says, “this is true. But there’s no way of knowing whether or not I would be telling you the truth. You see, I’m a very good liar.”

“Then why should I trust anything else you’ve said?”

“Because,” Jefferson murmurs, holding out a hand. “I can show you.”

I don’t know what to say. Even if there were words in my head, there’s no telling what they’d sound like coming from my lips.

“All you have to do is think of a time you remember the most, whether you’ve actually lived it, or you’ve read about a specific time period in a book. Vivid memories are the easiest to chase. Happy or sad, it doesn’t matter.”

I don’t hesitate. You’d think I probably should. But I don’t.

I start for Jefferson’s hand but he pulls it away at the last second. “First,” he whispers, taking up my hand once more and running his weathered touch down over the oddly beautiful marks that lie like fresh ice on a pond, tracing the design. “First, you need to understand that these don’t decide your fate. These marks. They’re not just signs of the horrors yet to come. They’re a sign that something horrid awaits you but you still have a chance to do something about it.” Jefferson smiles in a way that sends a shiver straight to my heart. “A reason to try.”

He holds out his hand. This time I’m a tad bit more reluctant to take it.

“You can trust me, dear girl.”

“I’ve known you for less than an hour and I already trust you more than most of the people I’ve spent my entire life surrounded by,” I tell him,shaking my worries from my bones and smiling slyly up at him.

I grab Jefferson’s hand and . . . poof.

The ground must haveforgotten what it was there for and vanished because we’re left to fall, our bodies drifting down with the shards of glass and bits of smoldering remains from an explosion I’ve never been so happy to be a part of.

My grip on him doesn’t falter, even when we’re eviscerated and our souls are ripped from our bodies, leaving us to sink into the unexplainable vastness of something bigger than us. Something bigger than anything I’ve ever known.

I’m not sure if my eyes are open or not because everything is black and I’m beyond terrified of what I might see should I be able to. My stomach does three flips before climbing up my throat, a groan roiling from the shadows like an ounce of silence in a crowded room.

It’s absolutely breathtaking—though, I suppose for me eating cheese is breathtaking. Walking down the stairs is breathtaking. Taking a shower is breathtaking. Mini-golf is breathtaking. Going to sleep is breathtaking. But this . . . this is something different. This is something unbelievable. Indefinable. Uncontrollable.

Everything is dark. Matte-black. Vast and open, like space. Cold, too. But it’s indescribable in the sense that it’s beautiful and wonderful and chaotic, like a wild stallion trotting through fire. It doesn’t just wrap around me like the arms I’ve always feared and desired, but tears me open and burrows into my bloodstream, the darkness where my heart should be, and the nothingness where there’s said to be ambition.

It’s dying of thirst and it’s drinking me in faster than I can learn to run.

People always mention how their lives flash before their eyes when they think they’re going to die, but I’ve never truly experienced it until now. Until this very moment. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this.

The only thing that has ever come close was the lightning. The spark inside my veins.River’s arms around me. And then the sinking. The drifting. The drowning. And the explosion.

I want to let go of Jefferson’s hand and hide my head in the sand the way cancer taught me to, but the darkness has invaded my life and my heart and it’s taking control, leaving me with no volition whatsoever.

I look around me and I see the brick and mortar I’ve used all my life to build up the walls that raised me. And when I breathe I smell the blue of the sky and the brown of the soil and the green and gold of the grass that Natchitoches has slowly begun to bury me beneath.

I never ever knew it was possible to inhale colors the way that I am, and it weirdly makes me think of my childhood the way that fabric softener always does; nostalgia runs me straight into the ground until I’m just a missile and the only way to stop this ride is to explode.

The darkness grips me, tears me, kills me.

Saves me.

I want to hold onto it but I’m so afraid, so terrified of the monsters that have always patiently waited for me in the shadows. And when I recoil, ashamed of the nothingness that stands before me, I try to convince myself it’s time to let go of this delirium.

It’s time to let go.

I feel my entire body tense, and my free hand clenches into a fist as my entire body, being sewn back together as I quickly begin to unravel, is tethered to the wire of tense energy I’ve only ever read about, like the fuse to a mountain of dynamite.

It takes all of three seconds. Three heartbeats.

And I’m hooked.

The silent pandemonium pricks my skin like a rose briar and the darkness fills me from head to toe, digging down deep beneath my flesh until I’m seeing stars and crying constellations.

I’ve never felt so beautiful. So perfect. So . . . happy.

The infamous “they” told me I could be anything I wanted in life. So I’ve become a time traveling cancer patient bent on catching just one more tomorrow. Because an actual job is simply too time consuming. And I don’t like to do dishes.

Mother can vouch for me there.

| | |

Jessie had spent the last hour meticulously studying Rosie Bryar in clandestine. He examined her every feature, from the curve of her cheekbones to the way her shoulders arched when she sat up straight, each piece of her just as beautiful as the next, if not more. Every time she glanced down or turned away, he would look at her and watch her every move, and when Rosie inhaled, Jessie would note the way she exhaled, like it was a difficult task for her to execute. But when Jessie glanced over a final time, mesmerized by the striking similarities between her and Violette Bryar, he caught a smile creep from the shadows of Rosie’s face before Jefferson had her hand in his—

And then they both vanished. Poofed.

And Jessie couldn’t help but gasp as they helplessly stumbled through all of time and space without him.

“No!” Jessie exclaimed, and he was on his feet. He stared at the space Rosie had only just existed, where nothing but empty silence now sat before him. “Rosie, no,” he whispered, balling his hands into fists at his sides.

She was gone. Without a trace.

And, once again, Jessie Bloome was left in the dust.


| | |

Time has me by the wrist. But it’s time to let go.

So I tear away and I run straight into a train.

My knees hit the ground first, the world teetering to the side, rolling with my stomach. My head is tethered to the future, plaguing me with a sudden noxious delirium that I can’t escape, as if an explosion has gone off right beside my head. Sound is one slurred requiem after the next, the world a blur of colors and shapes that my heart tries to flee.

I’m vomiting. Again. The ground is moving so unbelievably fast and I’m vomiting.

Tears flow down my face with the snot in my nose.

And then he’s there. Jefferson. His voice a hammer against an anvil.

“Ah . . . yes, I probably should have warned you about the effects time travel has on a person . . .” Jefferson says from a mile away. Or right beside me. I have absolutely no clue about anything anymore. “No matter. We’re here, I suppose.”

Words. His words are in my head and on my tongue and in my bones, reverberating from deep within and I want to escape, to run, to evade this awful feeling worming its way through my body. But I can’t. It’s like a part of me, growing, growing, growing with my skin and my bones and my hair and my nails, blooming with my own self-evolution. It’s something I can’t seem to live without, though I know absolutely nothing about it.

I wonder if this is what a hangover must feel like. If so, I’m never ever getting drunk. Or I’m going to become an alcoholic. I don’t know yet.

I wipe away the puke from my lips and spit into the dirt at my feet, breathing raggedly. Though, to my dismay, my breathing isn’t a problem. I feel like I could just spend my day sitting and breathing and not have a problem. I wonder how long this will hold. Because everything has a countdown in this life. And my time is almost up.

“W-w-where . . . h-how?” I finally try to speak, my voice hardly more than a shaky whisper in my throat. I feel Jefferson at my side, one of his paler-than-pale hands on my shoulder, stabilizing me in my moments of unsteadiness.

My body is trembling all over from this quiet pandemonium.

I know I’m not normal, or even average for that matter. But even I’m too afraid of what’s happened tothink straight. And before long Ilose track of time until it’s drip, drip, dripping down my throat, threatening to drown me. Again.

“November 2nd, 2004,” I hear Jefferson say, following a low and guttural growl that surfaces from deep within him, and I imagine he’s clearing his throat but I really can’t be sure. For all I know he’s getting ready to eat my face—which is funny because I suspectedJessie of initially being a cannibal and not Jefferson, who I just let take me back in time.


“One of Louisiana’s finest playgrounds.” Through the opaque clouds fogging my vision, I see Jefferson lick his finger and hold it up. “The wind is coming from the north. 54 degrees Fahrenheit.”

He’s so weird.

I like it.

“P-play . . . what?” I stammer, struggling to see, my heart heaving in my throat. I begin to sweat like a chubby truck driver on a hot summer’s day, and I think I’m having a panic attack. But then I just think of meat and I begin to calm.

It’s weird the things that give us clarity.

“Here,” Jefferson says, slipping something into my hand. “They say if you eat this it will help reorient you. Though, if I may be honest, I’ve never found that to be true.”

They? Who’s they?

Without hesitation, I make haste throwing whatever it is Jefferson’s slipped into my hand into my mouth, chewing it slowly. It tastes like . . . well, bad. It melts on my tongue and sticks to everything, containing a bland sort of taste that I want to spit out immediately. From my youthful days of eating my arts and crafts projects, I recognize the taste.

“Did you j-just feed me p-paper?” I stutter, leering with eyes mostly unseeing.

“Yes,” Jefferson blatantly says. “It’s not particularly one of my favorites, either . . .”

The film over my eyesmagically clears, and my ears simultaneously pop, leaving me to reel Jefferson’s words in like a fish on a hook. I can move, slowly, if I really try, but my bones are like sticks in a sack, involuntarily limp.

Glancing around, I take in the scenery, attempting to remember what Jefferson’s only just told me.

“November 2nd,” I whisper, finding myself kneeling in the sandbox behind the elementary school I went to oh so long ago.

I try to see what’s so special about this day, but nothing catches my eye and nothing comes to mind. The playground is barren, empty save for us—standing around like patient pedophiles—and some geese patrolling the shadows beneath the swings, guarding their poop.

“2004? Why? How? H-how did we just . . . h-how?”

“You ever go to church, Rosie?” Jefferson quirks an eyebrow.

I shake my head, blushing—I don’t know why my lack of religion makes me blush but it does.

Jefferson clicks his tongue three times. “I’m not judging.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”



“I’m pretty sure you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

Yes, you are.”

“No, really, I’m not.”

“Don’t drivel.”

“Don’t whine.”

“I’m not whining,” I bark, scowling. “Now get on with it.”

Jefferson smirks. “The gift of God is a precious thing, Rosie. And do you know what that is?” He looks at me with raised eyebrows and a light inside of his eyes that oddly makes me flinch.

I shrug my shoulder. “Life?”

“Life,” Jefferson agrees, nodding his head. “Amongst other things, of course. Talent. Attitude. Grace. Charming good looks—”

I elbow him in the side.

“But what is a gift? It’s not something you asked for. It’s not always something you understand. But it’s yours. It’s yours. The ownership has passed from one hand to another. Which means?”

“Finders keepers?”

Jefferson nods, his facial features contorting into a look of agreement. “I suppose. What I was looking for was ‘it’s mine’. And, by these standards, what you do with it is up to you. Like, for instance, if a stranger buys you a sponge, Rosie, you can do whatever you’d like with it.”

“A sponge?”

“Wash dishes. Wipe the counters. Clean under the sink.”

“A sponge?” I repeat. But Jefferson doesn’t seem to hear me.

“You can even clean your other cleaning materials,” he happily says, as if cleaning gets him excited—which would be peculiar if he wasn’t like fifty and old. “What I’m getting at, Rosie,” Jefferson sighs upon seeing the confusion in my eyes, a touch of irritation climbing from its slumber in his voice, “is that what you hold inside, whether or not it’s a gift from God, or a mere anomaly in your pattern of evolution, is yours. You own it. So it’s up to youto decide what you do with it. It’s a matter of opinion, you see. A gift. A curse. Only experience will tell.”

I shake my head, my body finally stilling itself.

“So this is real,” I whisper, glancing around. “This isn’t all some elaborate hoax that will end with me covered in animal blood or a chicken suit?”

“What? A chicken suit—what?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I quickly say. Then, “Okay. So time travel exists,” I mutter, doing my best to calm my beating heart. I swallow my disbelief and go with it. If this is a dream, that’s all right. Don’t wake me up. I’d rather be trapped in the past and covered in vomit than live one more day in 2015.

“This is 2004. But why? Why here? Why now?”

“You tell me,” Jefferson whispers, tugging his coat tighter around himself, shivering against the subtle breeze that floats on through.

Leaves, like in every autumnal setting ever to exist, stream down from the surrounding trees the way ash descends upon a fire; this world is the honest to goodness embodiment of the painting I spent the first tier of my life dreaming I might one day fall into. And here I am.

Some dreams do come true . . . I guess.

“This is your memory,” Jefferson says like it’s a statement as common as “today is cold”, “the sky is blue over there and cloudy over there”, or “it’s breezy so I’m wearing a coat”. He smiles and bobs up and down, his eyes sweeping over everything, though briefly, like he’s seen it all before. And he probably has. “This is your past, Rosie.”

I sigh, shaking out my hands, doing my best to turn my already noodle-like arms into stone. Languidly, I start to move, the ground slow in its act to run away from me this time, and I actually gain an ounce of purchase.

“Do you think you can stand?” Jefferson asks me, looking disappointed. Or sleepy. Or hungry. I can’t tell.

I start to shake my head, and then think better of it. “Uh, yeah, I think so.” I extend my hand out to him and he wrenches me up to my feet, keeping his hands firmly planted on my arms, assuring my stability. “Thanks,” I whisper to him when I’m on my feet; when I remember I’ve only just vomited, I blush and force a hand before my lips, keeping in my rank breath.

“No bother,” Jefferson says to me, stepping forth like he does this every single day. “You know,” he starts, looking back at me and narrowing his eyes because of the sun, “I’m a little surprised, Rosie. The future you is so much more . . . well, how should I put this? Vibrant. No offense—but what kind of person doesn’t lose their mind over time travel?” He clasps his hands behind his back and stares at me. “In a good way, that is.”

“None taken,” I whisper, narrowing my eyes, “but I think I lost my mind a long time ago.”

“You’re not even a little freaked out? It’s been like ten minutes? Most people need at least an hour or two to come to terms with it. I mean, for heaven’s sake you just time traveled. Flash a smile! Shed a tear! Show some emotion. Doesn’t it bother you in the least not knowing how you’ve gotten here or how to get home? Not knowing where your home really is or what time period you should have grown up in? Doesn’t it killyou, Rosie? Knowing the guy you like—or girl, I don’t judge—won’t even be born for another thirty-eight years? Well, excuse me, I suppose now that we’re in 2004 he’s already been born. But come on! It’s not every day a girl with a curse is given a chance like this!”

“So you admit I have a curse?” I ask, trying not to smile.

“I . . . I mean . . . well, no . . . what is the matter with you? Aren’t you a little curious? Doesn’t it drive you mad?”


I think long and hard about this. “No.”

“Then I can’t wait to see the way you change, Rosie Bryar, because if the girl you turn out to be ever heard herself say such a thing . . . well, now that would be a sight!”

I shrug my shoulders, squinting up at the sun as I wrap my arms around myself. “All right,” I admit, “I’m a little curious. About this. About me and the markings on my arm. About the ‘curse’ and the fact that you seem to have complete control over what you can do.”

Jefferson smiles. “I hoped you would be.”

“And that fact that you’re not sick,” I add. “Or mad.”

Jefferson’s face falls at this, as does his head, hanging on his shoulders like it’s too heavy to hold. “Yes, you’re correct. I’m . . . No, I’m not sick.” He bobs up and down, and I wonder if he’s really as good of a liar as he claims to be.

“So,” I say, quick to change the subject,“why is this memory important? Nothing is happening—”

At once, coincidentally, a bell tolls and hundreds of screaming children spill from the now open doors of the elementary school, each streaming for the playground like an approaching flood. A girl, her face buried in a stereotypical thick layer of pink, like that of a marshmallow, hobbles down the steps, the first to exit and the last to arrive at the playground. At the foot of the steps awaits a boy with long blond hair, watching, waiting. Smiling.

“Oh,” I whisper, suddenly surprised, color rising to my cheeks. “See her,” I point, directing Jefferson in the direction of the small six-year-old in pink, taking her time wandering into the sea of innocence and arguments. “That’s me. And that’s River. The boy I’m trying to get back to,” I add, smiling a bit crookedly.

The fact that this is all real presses on my chest.

Jefferson, looking unimpressed, nods his gingery head of hair. “Ah, I see.” He hops up and down a few times to get warm, puffing out a steamy breath of air. “Children are like bouncy balls,” he stoically observes, his cheeks attaining a pinkish shade as the few clouds up in the sky move before the sun, blocking out the warmth. “Some bounce and some don’t.”

I can’t help but smirk at such a comment. Because it’s true. Even from this distance I see kids fall, bounce, roll to their feet and keep on going. And then some just teeter over and wail on the woodchips, expecting someone to always be there to rescue them.

Newsflash, fledglings, reality won’t always be so good to you.

“The same can be said for checks,” I joke, shedding no more than a smile, finding myself quite amusing.

Jefferson merely stares at me, his eyebrows raised. “Funny.”

I thought so,” I murmur to myself. Then, a short distance away a small child crumples to the ground, his body flopping onto the earth as softly as a feather. But, rather than simply pick himself up, he catches the nearest adult’s gaze and his own eyes flood with tears, and his throat brims with the disgruntled hymns of hysterics that any cancer patient or burn victim knows like the back of their hand.

“That one didn’t bounce,” I laugh, pointing to the boy crying on the ground. Then, freezing, covering my mouth with my hand, I’m horrified by the humor I find to distract my overbearing discomfort with. “I’m horrible,” I admit. But I’ll get over it.

I spare a single glance in Jefferson’s direction to find him bent over in laughter, his face contorted as a silent plead for air rips through him; he rears back, letting loose a torrent of hilarity, and I can’t help but join in.

I don’t make people laugh. People don’t laugh with me or because of me. People laugh at me. Or near me. Or both.

Jefferson picks himself up and regains his composure, brushing away the laughter from his face. “It’s funny,” he whispers to me, “the things that make us laugh. Children falling. People getting hurt. Movies where things eat people. Arson.” He shakes his head. “Every generation breeds some peculiar traits, my dear, but the twenty-first century is by far the most puzzling.”

I agree with him completely. Well, almost.

Arson? Arson? Arson? I don’t ask.

A short distance away the little girl—little ol’ me—meets River and wanders off to hide in the shade of a tree, over on the damp earth that smells of strawberries and chapstick, and is overrun with small pieces of glass.

No one ever went over there. It made life peaceful.

“Remember anything yet?”

I start to shake my head when it hits me what’s coming. “Yes,” I breathe, my fisted hands clenching and unclenching down at my sides while my eyes flit up toward the buffeting dawn, the light a pleasant distraction where it unravels from the growing clouds overhead. “It’s, uh, well, um, any minute now, uh—” I realize I don’t know how to finish this sentence.

“It’s quite all right,” Jefferson says, placing a hand on my shoulder, clearly noticing the tension in my arms. “I’ll just watch.”

I nod and I’m nodding and soon I can’t remember why I’m nodding so furiously.

Little Rosie is talking to Little River, smiling and happy. Hardly anyone notices that they’re over there, away from the world, away from society. Her face falls, her eyes drooping like they’re being weighed down by some unknown source. She sways. Little River thinks she’s just playing around. Until she falls. And she falls hard, her head slamming down into the dirt, where she remains. Unresponsive.

“What’s happening?” Jefferson asks, his tired eyes finally waking up. “Are you—?”

“I’m dying,” I whisper up to him, unable to take my eyes off the scene at hand. The scene I lived through, experienced through first person. “My illness—uh, Leukemia, I mean.”

“Did you know? Before this day?”

I shake my head. “Not until right this second.” My voice breaks, and I try to clear my throat to sturdy it. Glancing up at Jefferson, I turn away, my last view of Little Rosie when Little River, still much larger than me back in the old days, bends down to scoop me up.

The world is unchanged.

No one screams. No one is afraid for my life.

Except River.

“No one’s helping you,” Jefferson observes, unblinkingly looking around. “Why aren’t they helping you?”

“Because this is the twenty-first century,” I mutter to myself.

People only help you for a price. They expect something in return.

I walk away. I walk as fast as it takes until I hear a whistle sound. I hear a teacher shout. Adult voices sound like thunder on the air. And then the sirens sound, shallow, low, becoming strident as the distant wail becomes existent.

“I’ve hated this day all my life,” I tell Jefferson, who walks at my heels. “And I never even remembered it. I didn’t remember how it went. What I was doing when I collapsed. What I was wearing and how cold it was. I only remember River.” I clear my throat. “I only remember being lifted off the ground, and then the bright, bright lights of the Emergency Room.”

“Memories are powerful things,” Jefferson whispers, a twinge of unmitigated severity loitering in his words, different from before. “This is why it’s important to try to focus on good things, happy things, and warmer things when you are time traveling. It makes it easier, and the blow to the gut is softer.” He grins, his eyes filling with tears that I suspect aren’t from the cold. “And sometimes it’s good to hold onto them.”

“Memories have the potential to destroy us,” I whisper, River’s words heavy in my mind and careful on my lips, and I say them softly like I’m afraid that if I don’t, I might scare them from my tongue.

Jefferson shrugs before looking at me, his soft eyes searching mine as if he’s looking straight through me to the girl that exists within, withered and weary. “Sometimes the things that hurt us the most remind us why we need to move on.”

What hurts me the most?

Cancer? Loss? Fear? Loneliness?

I shake my head, blinking. “You told me to think of a time I remember most—”

“And you thought of this one?” Jefferson stuffs his hands into the pockets of his coat, tugging on the lapels of his jacket soon after, struggling to find warmth in a world on the brink of winter.

“I thought of the time I fear most, I suppose,” I tell him. A breeze blows my fiery hair around my face, over my lips and into my eyes, and I like the softness as it grazes my skin.


“And the one thing that made this day better was, when I first woke up, River and his mother were standing at the foot of my bed with flowers and balloons and I—I think I’ve loved him every moment since.” I look down at my feet, suddenly self-conscious by the revelation of such a truth in front of such a stranger. “Does that sound stupid?”

Jefferson doesn’t hesitate. “Yes, it does. Very stupid, actually.”

I nearly laugh.

I didn’t expect this.

“Excuse me?”

“All of it. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Love isn’t something you feel because a boy brought you flowers and balloons when you were on your deathbed, Rosie. That’s like falling for a superhero if he dropped out of the sky to cure you of your cancer.” Jefferson reaches out to stop me, reeling me back around. “Love isn’t something you feel because one person was there for you when no one else was. Love isn’t a cause and effect affair. Not really.”

“You’re trying to change my mind?” I whisper, my eyes growing weary. “Why?”

“I’m not,” he quickly responds. “Okay, yeah. I am. But only because your reasoning is stupid.”

“It is not.”

“Yes, actually. It is.”



“No, it’s not.”

“Oh, it’s very stupid, dear.”

“Jefferson,” I say, his name a warning on my lips.

“Rosie,” he says in return.

Jefferson allows a weak smile, staring down at me. “You see, Rosie, love is something that takes you by the hand, pulls you away from anything and everything, and throws you straight into Hell because in the fire is the one person that can make it all better. Love is the bond that ties you to the person who makes you feel like you’re going insane because a piece of you is missing. A piece of you is gone, and you need to find it.”

I glare into his aging eyes, appearing far older than any other part of him. “I have found it,” I snidely say. But even as the words leave my lips, I begin to wonder.

“Wrong. You think you have. You want to believe that you have. Because tomorrow you could be dead, and you’re afraid of trying to fall for someone else. Because you want to feel comfortable and love is complicated.”

I want to tell him to shut his mouth. To walk away and leave me here to be alone. But could he be right? No. Of course not. That’s stupid.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

“But the curse,” I whisper, finding some ground. “How come it worked? Mother always told me it only ever took affect when you kissed the person you loved. I do love River. I do.”

“She was wrong, Rosie.” Jefferson shakes his head. “Time travel is a tricky thing, little miss. I didn’t kiss you when we came here, now did I? And love isn’t something you should have to convince yourself of,” he whispers, extending a hand out to me, his fingers riddled with faint lines and undulations that don’t match his face.

And there, creeping around his wrist like lace, dark and beautiful, written into his flesh is the start of a mark—a mark just like mine. “Love is something you’re sure of,” he tells me.“Something you know. Something you’d die for.”

Jefferson is sick.

He lied to me.

I part my lips to ask about his mark but think better of it, glancing back one final time at the playground off in the distance, and the streams of children churning in the midst. I cringe at the sound of the ambulance’s sirens, now patiently waiting in the school’s parking lot, the doors ajar, eager to gobble up its next victim and swallow them whole.

“I think you’re wrong,” I lie, trying my best to convince myself more so than I try to convince him. “And I will prove it.”

Jefferson stares into my eyes as I take his hand, and the world goes black. But there, right in front of me, soft and fatherly, his gaze still watches mine like an echo.

For some reason I hold onto it, and I don’t let go.

I hear his voice, strong against the dense darkness. “You know, it’s not a bad thing to be compared to a rose, Rosie Bryar,” Jefferson whispers, his lips curving up into a side smile in the vastness of the shadows. “Roses aren’t born, they’re grown. Like fires. Like heroes.” He pauses. “Like hope.”

I don’t think I’ll ever quite remember anything the way I’ll remember these words.


| | |

Swearing is not pretty. Swearing is unattractive. Swearing is unladylike.


Fuck that.

Swearing is cathartic. The expletives I so merely choose while being pent up inside this cancerous shell I call skin for as many hours of the day as I am, prevent me from otherwise committing acts of vandalism and violence I know would be at the very top of my to-dolist. These ‘hurtful’, ‘dangerous’, ‘ugly’ words are amongst my few saving graces in such an ungraceful life. And I know, more so than I do about the future or the past, that if I didn’t have them, fist number-one and fist number-two would quickly become my two best friends. If you know what I mean.

But felonies are felonies. Cancer is cancer.

And I’m just left to the quiet of my shitty, shitty shell.

| | |

This world thinks it’s funny. I think it’s a pain in my ass.

“What were yathinkin?”Jessie chastises me, grabbing me by the arm and dragging me towards the door of the bus. “We’re goin. I never should have brought ya here,” he grumbles, and in his eyes, dark blue like that of a twilight sky ignited by stars, I see fear. Not for my safety, no, not entirely. Fear of losing something else. Fear of losing—

“Let go of me!” I say, pulling away fromJessie and contemptuously listing my head to the side, leering in angst. “I’m not going,” I scornfully whisper, lowering my voice, keeping my breathing to a minimum. “He’s proven his worth,Jessie. I need his help.” I pause. “I need him to teach me.”

Jessie shakes his head, fury in his eyes. “Because of himViolette is gone—”

“And I will be too if we don’t act fast,” I tell him, too tired to fight, to argue, but knowing all the while that I’m right. “You can go back home and hang at Denny’s, but I need to go home,Jessie. I can’t stay here forever. And so far you haven’t helped me—”

Jessie looks like I’ve struck him, his eyes quickly thinning out like daggers. “Fine,” he growls. “Stay. I’ll keep th’ door unlocked fer ya when ya learn what yer gittinyerself into.” Without another word, his eyes swift to flit away,Jessiedeparts, leaving me to my breathless domain of cancer and curiosity and horror.

I want to tell him to stop. To tell him that I need his help. But something holds me back. Something keeps me tethered to this earth and it’s not letting me, it’s not letting me go, why won’t it let me go?

“Jessie!” I say but he ignores me and keeps going.

He stops only once to let Esther catch up, but when the cat hisses and runs back towards the bus,Jessiewaves a hand at it and continues forward into the thick and heavy forest, evidence of fury in his stride.

I watch, torn, distracted by the ugly cat now rubbing at my ankles.

Great. I’ve made a friend.

I shake my head when Jefferson spins me around. “This is stupid. I should go after him—” I start for the door but Jefferson blocks my path, his big, bear-like frame looming over me.

I’m no longer sure if I’ve made the right choice by staying here.

“People likeJessie fear us,” Jeffersonreproachfully tells me. “It’s subtle, yes, but it’s fear. He hides it under his obvious attraction towards you. But it’s there, Rosie. He doesn’t want you to leave because he’s afraid of what you can do. He’s afraid that you might just up and disappear.”

Fear? People don’t fear me. I fear them.

I shake my head again, my disbelief lodging in my throat. But I swallow it down until it’s just another speck of dust in an ocean of tears that have begun to pool inside of me. “That’s absurd,” I tell him, thinking it through. “Jessieknows I can’t stay here. I’m notViolette. I’m not. I—I can’t be like Violette.”

The sound of her name causes Jefferson to wince.

“That very well may be,” he tells me, “but hereJessie goes again, whining back to his mother and father in hopes to draw you in. He thinks he’s helping you but in all truth he’s only pulling you away from your chances of getting back home.” Jefferson pauses, his ageing eyes meeting mine, and when I try to read the expression on his face, he quickly glances away. “And a part of me believes there’s a piece of you that’s not quite ready to leave.”

“I don’t think I am,” I blurt out before I even know what I’m saying. But now the truth is out. And I must pay for the consequences. “I mean, well, I don’t want to die. And I want to be with River, I do. But when I get home it’s all going to be over. I’ve only been in the past for, like, one day and it’s already been one of the best days of my life. And I almost died yesterday afternoon.” I grin—I actually grin. “The people. This town. Everything is so much calmer. So much more peaceful. And I don’t want to give that up. Not yet.”

Jefferson, appearing partially alarmed, nods his head. “1959 is quite a peaceful time here in Natchitoches,” he assures me. “Though, I was curious to as why you haven’t asked me to take you home,” he murmurs. “Time travel is an alluring thing, let me be the first to tell you. It’s a temptation that will always draw you back. There’s no use trying to fight it, either. Trust me.”

“I believe you,” I whisper, nodding, finding it hard not to.

“That’s why I need to be the one to help you. To train you, Rosie. I actually know what I’m doing.” Jefferson runs a tremulous hand through his hair, his eyes growing wide with both delight and pain—pain that I’m eager to understand, and I don’t know why.

“I don’t even know you,” I quietly say.

“And you never will if you honestly believeJessie is your ticket out of here,”Jefferson insists,grabbing my arm and pulling up my sleeve. “This,” he tells me, pointing at the markings winding up my skin, “is not something that a few pretty little words and lunch at Denny’s will ever cure. If you want to survive,” Jefferson grins, “you’re going to have to learn to throw caution to the wind.”

And I do. I throw it up over my shoulder, and I stand with more certainty than ever before. “Train me,” I say. “Teach me,” I say. “I want to understand,” I say.

I want to take a three-hour nap, I don’t say.

“This may come as a very arduous task, Rosie,” Jefferson says, and it’s then that I realize that my sleeve is still up, revealing my markings. Quickly, hardly pausing to think, I pull my sleeve back down. “Time, while instinctual in some cases, doesn’t always work the way that you want it to. Sometimes it can be somewhat . . . unpredictable.”


“Put me to the test,” I diffidently whisper.

Jefferson pauses to look me over, scanning me with eyes that seem to pinpoint my exact insecurities, from the markings on my forearm to the way that I breathe. “Looking at you now, Rosie, I’m doubtful,” he admits before meeting my eyes once more. “No offense. But can you blame me?”

No, I can’t.

I narrow my eyes at him and try to challenge the wave of nausea winding its way through my veins, threatening to break my glass. “Well, clearly you don’t know me the way you think you do,” I say through my teeth, fighting the urge to kick him in the face—though, in my unusual condition, I highly doubt I’d be able to without collapsing.

“Exactly,” says Jefferson. “Prove. Me. Wrong.”

“I will,” I say without thinking, and I have absolutely no idea if it’s a lie or not. “I will,” I repeat, louder this time, doing my best to convince myself that it’s true. But I have no way of knowing.

I have quite the proclivity for a lack of thought, which, experience so surely tells me, increases my susceptibility to getting hurt. But I just have to live with that.

“Okay,” Jefferson whispers, smiling ever so slightly.

“Okay,” I breathe, unsure of what else to say.

“Then choose.”


“Choose?” he meticulously intones. “Right now.Jessie or River? Because in the end that is what it will come down to. 1959 or 2015?” Jefferson stares at me, into me, through me until I feel like he’s reading everythought streaming through my head that I can’t form into a single ounce of sanity.

1959 or 2015?

Jessie or River?

Some place new, or that same old cancerous house I’ve known all my life?

Choose? Choose now?

How can I possibly choose?

“You,” I say, and I don’t know why it’s suddenly become so easy to lie so openly. “I choose you.”

Three words. One little white lie.

“Good,” murmurs Jefferson, grinning.

“So you’ll teach me?”

“I will,” Jefferson tactfully says, admonishing me with his eyes in advance for something we both know I’m going to do wrong. “But you should know better than to lie to me, Rosie.”

Astonishment blooms inside my chest until I’m coughing up rose petals. “I . . . I—”

“I would like to start by taking you on a little field trip,” he cuts me off, relieving me of my floundering.Jefferson moves to the driver’s seat of the bus and looks down at me, eyes alight with something I don’t quite understand. “Care to attend?”

“Where to?” I wonder, taking a seat on one of the many beds, a little afraid that Jefferson seems to be able to read me so well while I can’t even understand the first sentence that makes up who he is. Much less myself.

Jefferson brightly smiles. “I think you should meet Violette.”

Violette Bryar.

A shudder goes through me and I have to clench my hands into fists to calm myself. I take a sharp breath and shrink back, involuntarily shying away from the name. “Okay,” I murmur. The word tastes conspicuous on my tongue, almost as if it’s out of place. Like of all the words I could have said, this one doesn’t seem quite right.

“Are you sure, Rosie?”

“I’m sure,” I gingerly say, biting back my bitterness. “I am.”

Jefferson smiles but it’s flaccid, and when I look more closely, I see that there’s a wary look in his eye, like he knows I’ve been lying from the very beginning; he stares me down, a challenge in his gaze.

But I outfox him at his own game.

“I’m ready,” I add when the silence grows too thick, too heavy. I breathe out a puff of air and try to quickly fill my lungs, but cancer tells me it needs a minute, so I sit, breathless and choking, telling myself that I really am ready; telling myself I can do this, even if I don’t have any clue what I’m doing. “I know I am,” I say the moment I can breathe again.

“Then let’s go.”

I spare a glance around the bus, examining it in its decrepit state. The windows are dark and shadows roam like stars in a twilit atmosphere, out of place, straining against the light that forces its way in at odd intervals.

“Is this thing still street legal?” I wonder. “Does it even run?” I graze my touch along the wall and grimace at the accumulated dust that coats my fingers, gray like ash.

Jefferson shrugs. “I guess we’re about to find out.”

The bus lurches forward and I’m thrown back, separated from my stability just as easily as everything I thought I knew becomes separated from this new reality of time travel, strange men on abandoned buses, and curses.

I glance down at the markings woven across my flesh.

I’m putting my faith in the hands of a madman.


The world in 1959 is very different than it will be in 2015.

I’m surprised by the lack of assholes on the road. People don’t flip you off for absolutely no reason, and people don’t honk their horns because they’re sick of driving and want to go faster to get to wherever they’re going. The road is just the road. With cars on it. And everything is so quiet. And warm. And peaceful.

Nothing is rushed because you can’t rush perfection.

Why do people forget that?

We pull down a shadowed road and Jefferson leads me to the front door of a ramshackle home at the forefront of a darkened wood. A thin, white picket fence runs alongside the road in the shade of a few bald cypress trees that jut out of the ground like bone-dry pillars, shooting up and reaching for the sky beyond the clouds.

A swamp out behind the house can be seen from the road, with oak trees twining up from its heart, throwing shadows out over the murky wetlands; mayflies, bumbling about, loopy and lost in the month before their time, swarm at the edge of the swamp, beating their miniscule wings against the hesitant breeze that names the wind.

Esther follows at my heels, tripping me way too often.

One kick. That’s all it would take . . .

“I know this place,” I whisper mostly to myself, catching Jefferson’s eye. I bite my lip and think back, jabbing at the house with my finger. “It’s not here in 2015, is it?”

“No,” he responds, looking grave. Like a part of himself exists inside this house and he’s afraid of it. Afraid of losing it. And I wish I could help him but I don’t know why, so I just stare up at his face, drinking in the warmth of his gaze; Jefferson’s eyes smolder in the light, a rheumy amber that I can’t seem to look away from, and when his glance darts to the crumbling home, I can’t help but notice a twinge of pain. A pretty damn evident twinge of pain that he doesn’t try to hide. “No, it’s not.”

“Why?” I wonder.

Jefferson shakes his head, shrugging off the thoughts weighing down on his shoulders. “No idea,” he says to me, and a shiver worms its way down my spine as a result of these short answer responses.

Something lives inside this house.

Something Jefferson fears, the way I fear tomorrow.

He pulls open the screen door and knocks twice on the wooden door beyond, finding it ajar. Looking back at me, sighing and appearing not at all surprised, Jefferson waves his hand and beckons me into the home. No lights are on, the place surprisingly cool and dark, and it reeks of dirt and mud and earth—but, oddly enough, in a good sort of way.

“Violette, dear?” Jefferson calls into the home. “Violette, honey, I’ve brought someone to see you. She’s a very special friend—”

Somewhere inside the house, deep in the dark, glass shatters.

I jump.

Shit. Not again . . .” Jefferson mutters to himself before running into another room, leaving me alone in the doorway. I glance back, knowing perfectly well that I don’t have to be here; I can still escape. I can still run away.

It’s what I do best.

Or I can be brave—or whatever the hell remaining would say about me.

I ball my hands into fists and conceal them in my pockets; I sink my teeth into my gums and pretend like I’m stronger than I ever will be. Because if I can lie to other people, I sure as hell can lie to myself.

And I’m pretty damn convincing.

Because I move.

Reluctant, hesitant to take a chance, I follow in the direction that Jefferson’s only just disappeared; I open a swinging door with tremulous fingers, and to my astonishment I discover that this house is half torn down. The ceiling is caved in and plaster covers the ugly tile flooring of what looks to be a kitchen, as well as the surfaces of the counters that wrap around the room; despite what it may have once looked like in all its glory, it sadly appears to have been victimized by an earthquake.

On the floor, surrounded by half-a-dozen broken dishes, her hands red with blood, sits a girl only a few years older than myself. She’s the absolute quintessence of what I envision a cave-woman to look like. Tattered clothes. Messy hair. Primal actions.

Jefferson holds her in his arms, and she screams and howls into his coat, the blood from a cut on her hand seeping onto his jacket.

“Violette . . . what have you done?” he sighs, taking her wrists and studying the girl’s hands before him. Her hair, just as red as mine, is like a bird’s nest, disheveled and big, covering her entire face. All I see is hair. I don’t see a face or a place for the tears to escape, just hair howling for forgiveness for something I don’t understand.

The girl—Violette—flinches away and shoves back her hair, searching the debris on the ground for something, desperate in her hunt. “It’s here. It’s got to be here! I know it! W-where is it?! Someone’s stolen it!” She pushes away from Jefferson and slides across the floor to where I stand, her eyes peering up at me when she notices my presence, looking through several waves of hair.

She freezes, her body as still as stone, if not stiller.

“Violette,” I whisper, reluctantly kneeling down to meet her, my fingers beginning to shake inside my pockets.I suddenly reach out, compelled to do so by some unknown power forcing my spine to go rigid and my muscles to tense beneath my skin. “Violette, everything’s okay now,” I tell her, brushing a few strands of her hair away from her face until—

There, like I’m staring straight into the sun, I find the most beautiful human being to ever exist. Her eyes are the same blue as mine, hard and firm as ice, but warmer and brighter than any flame that has ever been allowed to catch. Her skin is white like snow, and I can’t help but reach down and take her by the wrists to examine the gash in her infallible flesh.

Roses are red,” I sing into the silence that separates us, remembering the lullaby Mother would always sing to me when I got hurt, way back when I was still a child and life still made sense to me—oh, yeah, I forgot to mention I can sing. Like really sing. And my nose sounds like a seagull when I’m sick but that’s not important at the moment. I love to sing, I guess. My lungs just try to thwart me every time I try. But not now, for some odd reason. Not this time.

Roses are red, violets are blue,” I sing, my eyes catching hers while I dab at her abrasion with my shirt sleeve, careful not to hurt such a pretty, little wounded animal. “Sugar is sweat, but so are you. And if you love me as I love you, with a hand of candor and a heart just as true, then no knife can cut our love in two. Thou are my love and I am thine; I drew thee to my Valentine,” I say, tipping her chin up so that our eyes find each other; she reminds me of a small child, looking into me with wondering eyes like there’s more there than meets the eye, and I want nothing more in this moment than to know what’s running through her head. “The lot was cast and I drew—” I smile into her pretty little face, wondering what’s happened to make such a smile turn into such a frown.

“And F-Fortune said—” Violette tries, stopping herself, and it’s evident to me that she’s struggling to speak, looking pained like something’s caught her and she’sdesperate to get away.

And Fortune said it should be you,” I sing to her, letting my voice soften as each word left my lips in a harmonious manner.

I drop my gaze and fall silent, momentarily unsure of what I’m doing as a cloud of quiet swirls about the room. I tend to lose myself so haphazardly in remnants of the past, and this one holds me like a chain, unbreakable and firm. When I glance up at Jefferson, having forgotten that he’s here, I smile.

It’s weird how easy it is to smile now.

Roses Are Red,” Jefferson whispers, shaking his head in remembrance. “I can’t recall the last time Iheard it sungso beautifully.” He grins, crouching down beside me, his eyes alight with pain and beauty, and something similar to loss. “Your voice is wonderful,” Jefferson tells me.

I blush, quick to look away.

“You see,” I quietly whisper to Violette. “Everything is okay now—”

Something shifts in Violette’s stable countenance and she snaps, her composure gone like the warmth in the air. Her eyes harden, so cold that I want to look away. But they hold me. They captivate me. They don’t let me go.

“It was YOU!” Violette barks, leaping up. She extends her hands out and tries to choke me, her fingers wrapping tightly around my throat as her nails dig in.

For a moment I’m entirely afraid for my life.

But Jefferson is there, wrapping Violetteup in his arms and pulling her away, her wild eyes grazing mine for no more than a second.

“Enough of this!” Jefferson bellows, and for the first time I see him angry. Really angry. And afraid. “This isn’t fair, Violette. Think about what you’re doing. There’s nothing here to find!”

Jefferson talks to her like she isn’t totally gone. Like whatever’s wrong with her, whatever disease has stolen all the sense from her head, there’s still a part of her locked away in the darkness inside of her. And, for whatever reason, he hasn’t given up on her. Not yet.

“Are you all right?” he asks me.

I don’t respond. I just run my fingers over my neck, feeling the spaces where Violette’s nails sunk into my flesh.

“Find it,” Violette groans, and I see her face. Her pale, pale, colorless face. “F-find it. I’ve got to find it!” She starts to pull away but Jefferson just tightens his hold on her and pulls her back, shards of glass and bits and pieces of pottery skittering all about like fragments of ice over a lake.

I stop a large shard with my foot, bending down to retrieve it. I don’t know why. I’m just a little curious, I suppose. Clenched tightly between my trembling fingers, glinting in the faint light entering the room from above, is what appears to be a fairly large piece of a ceramic plate, scrawled over which are cursive letters and shapes. Pretty shapes—flowers.


“Oh my God,” I whisper to myself, gasping. The plate falls like my sanity and shatters on the ground. I quickly dart away, thankful for the loudness of Violette’s groans that muffle my surprise.

I flee from the room, my head swimming as insanity threatens to drown me in my own thoughts, stumbling into what looks like an abandoned living room. Three broken windows line the peeling wallpapered walls—two on one and the third on another—and curtains, ripped and torn with what I suppose isn’t age, flutter like the tail end of a kite.

A thick, rotting, wooden bureau has begun to crumble beneath one of the windows, and melted candle wax speckles the entire floor, amongst crisply strewn leaves and scattered clumps of soil. Beneath a shattered mirror, the world glinting back up at me in the shards that sweep the floor, sits a couch;it’s pressed against one wall, adorned with a rip in the cushion and two squirrels sleeping in the warmth of the felt.

I want to scream but find myself too tired, too astonished, and I feel like I’m going to fall.

You’ll know who I am soon enough.

I collapse into a rickety rocking chair in one corner of the room by one of the broken windows, carried down by the weight resting on my shoulders. It’s been broken from the inside so the glass is on the outside, leaving me free to sit without fear of cutting myself open. Drawing up my legs the way I do when I’m tired and alone and afraid, I breathe into my knees, tucking my face down into the warm, quiet darkness for protection.

The plate.

My mind keeps going back to the plate. My plate. The only plate I liked to eat on as a child because it was a gift to Mother from my father, and because it always reminded me that there was a time when she was happy. When we were all happy.

So what does this mean?

I want to vomit.

The plate was rare. One of a kind.

I’m going to vomit.

Does this mean Violette knew my father? Was this his house? Is he still here somewhere?

Chaos unfurls itself within me, wreaking havoc on my stomach.

I quickly unfold from my happy place like a spider coming back to life, and I run to the window and vomit out into the yard below, my empty stomach aching. When I’m done, tears streaming down my face the way they always do when I’m sick, I wipe my mouth on the back of my hand and sit back, still a little nauseous.

I remind myself to count back from ten.

Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven—


I don’t know how much time has passed or how many sets of ten I’ve counted back from, but I haven’t moved an inch from where I sit on the floor and Jefferson is walking into the room, tired and blood covered, his glassy eyes rheumy with tears.

“Rosie?” Jefferson asks, looking more tired than I’ve seen him before. “Hey, I put Violette to sleep on the bus. I want to take her to the hospital to get the cuts on her hand checked out. See if I can get her the help she should have gotten a long time ago.” These words that so softly leave his lips wound him in a way that I can’t quite imagine.

“Why does she live here?” I quickly ask. “Alone. Here. In such a dump.”

Jefferson doesn’t answer right away, but sits down on the couch, despite the squirrels burrowed in one of the cushions—they scurry away at his arrival and hop out the ground-level window. “Because she’s gone,” he says. “Up until now, I believed there was a part of the old Violette still inside her. But I was wrong.” Jefferson doesn’t meet my eyes. He doesn’t dare. “She had a home. With the Bloomes. And with me. But every day and every night she’d come back here and fall asleep in the bed. But after all these years—well, this place has clearly gone to hell.” He meets my worried eyes, blushing. “I check on her each and every day, though. There hasn’t been a day where I haven’t. Not one. But she’s getting worse.” He indicates the blood on his clothes from Violette’s hand.

“Oh,” I murmur, looking down at the floor, my eyes heavy from all the thoughts and questions weighing down on my heart. But I hold them inside. Jefferson doesn’t look like he’s in any mood to answer a million questions. So I start with one: “You two were close?”

Jefferson, taking a moment to respond, nods his head. “More so than you can possibly understand, Rosie,” he tells me, his eyes gleaming. Burning. Breaking—breaking my heart.

I nod, careful not to press deeper.

“I’m not sure if anyone has had the chance to tell you, dear, but Violette andJessie were set to get married a short while back,” Jefferson says, and when he meets my eyes, acknowledging the sudden rise of my eyebrows, he nods. “I know. Hard to imagine. But these are different times than the one you must be used to . . . people marry young.” Jefferson glances out the window, looking grave, as if waiting just outside is his past and every single mistake he’s ever made lined up like dominoes, ready to fall.

“Violette, like you and me, traveled through time. She wasn’t all that happy here, though. Despite what the Bloomes believe.” He lowers his head and I can’t help but wonder what it’s like to lose someone the way that he has. “She thought something was wrong . . . she thought she was going to die . . . so she mistook her comfort with Jessie as love . . .”

“She didn’t love him?”

Jefferson shook his head. “Not the way she thought she did, no. On the night before the wedding,” he whispers, “she came to me and asked me if she should stay. In this time period.”

“And you told her to stay?”

“I did,” Jefferson nods. “And if I hadn’t, maybe she’d still be the way she used to be. Sane. Living life the way she was always meant to, rather than spending her days caught up in the broken shell of the person she used to be.” His voice loses its strength. Its composure. Just like the warmth in his eyes.

“Don’t do that,” I whisper, scowling.

“What?” he wonders, appearing dead in the eyes.

“Don’t blame yourself.”

“An impossible task, I assure you.”

“That’s what I used to think,” I say.

“It is.”

“It isn’t.”

“Yes, Rosie, it is.”

I shake my head. “I don’t blame myself,” I say.

Jefferson stares at me, listing his head to the side. “What do you mean,” he wonders, so quiet that I have to lean in to hear him.

I sigh. “When I found out I have cancer,” I say, “I used to blame myself for my mother’s temper. Her craziness. But it wasn’t my fault.” I meet his eyes in the dark, shivering. “How can it be?”

“But that’s different—”

“I don’t blame anyone for my sickness,” I say. “And if Violette were sane, she wouldn’t blame you either. So don’t pretend like this is your fault. Like any of this is your fault.”

Jefferson opens his mouth to say something, but rather than argue, he shakes his head like it’s actually possible to dispel every evil memory haunting his mind. But it’s not. I know it’s not. I’ve tried. There’s no dismissing what makes us who we are, even if our memories are the hardest things in life to bear.

Ghosts are ghosts for a reason.

They’re there to haunt.

“No matter,” Jefferson says after a brief moment of silence. He drops his head, looking wretched. Then, raising it again, he says, “I thought I heard you gasp before. Are you all right?”

Damn it.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I whisper. “It’s just . . . I mean . . . I saw something . . .”

“You saw something?” His eyes narrow. “How vague.”

“A plate,” I say.

“A plate,” he says.

“Well,” I add, sighing. “It was a piece of a plate. One Violette threw on the ground. It had cursive on it, and—”

“Oh, yes,” Jefferson says, his voice dropping low. “It was a part of a set. Ihad them specially made as a wedding present for the happy couple a while back. The one with cursive writing around the edges? And little flowers on the inside? I forgot about that—”

“Roses,” I correct him, my heart beating faster, steadier, angrier. “They were roses.”

I’ve never felt so at a loss for air.


“On the inside of the plate,” I say, my eyes burning. “They were roses. And the words,” I slowly say, “read—”

Home is where the heart is,” says Jefferson.

My heart shatters inside my chest.

I can’t breathe. I forgot how.

Jefferson must see the agony in my eyes, the unmistakable confusion staring back at him. “I’m not seeing the big deal, Rosie,” he quietly admits, noticing the rage inside my eyes, the sadness inside my heart; the pain running beneath my flesh, flooding my cheeks with color. “Is something the matter?”

Something is the matter. Something is always the matter.

But I shake my head and cross my arms over my chest, wrapping myself up into a tight little ball on the floor, feeling like one breath of air might send a thousand cracks through my skin and shatter meas if I’m made of glass. Because I think I might be. I think I’ve always been.

There’s a peculiar pain that resides up under my ribcage, completely dissimilar to the anguish that tears me right open,and I feel its pulse, it’s supplication for mercy, ravenous and shrill inside my body like my bones are a forest and this feeling is on a hunt, its compulsive appetite primarily voracious, and my marrow and my blood and my strength are its quarry.

You’ll know who I am soon enough.

My vision blurs as I take a shuddering breath; when I try to speak, my voice is pitifully soft and utterly stilted, a forlorn attempt at my explanation.

“We have plates just like that. At my house. In 2015.” I pause to glance out the window, searching for the bus and failing, for all I can see from my place on the floor is the sky, knowing Violette waits asleep. “Mother always said . . .” I stop, my eyes finding Jefferson’s despite the reluctance in my heart. “It was a gift from my father.”

I stare into his eyes and search for a twinge of shock. Of panic. But instead, rather than what I expect—for reality is rarely all that it seems—Jefferson stares absentmindedly down at me, withdrawn, reserved, as if he’s forgotten how to function properly.

“Was she lying?” I whisper, my head already beginning to ache from holding back so many questions. When Jefferson doesn’t respond, I try again, more anxious for the truth than I have been about anything in my entire life. “Please,” I murmur, my voice so brittle, hardly audible over the beating of my heart, loud in my ears; I feel myself start to slip, my strength gone with the feeling in my chest. “Is it true?”

Nothing. Silence.

“Is it TRUE!?” I yell, slamming my fists down against the floor like the uncouth savage I’ve involuntarily evolved into, quickly coming undone. I scowl up at Jefferson with bleary-eyes, tensing my muscles and gripping my sanity for dear life because I’m afraid it’s simply going to let me drop if I don’t.

Only now, on the brink of destruction, am I able to glean an ounce of unmitigated sincerity from those eyes of his, like sunlit-russet specks in his somewhat impassive countenance. “Is. It. True?”

All at once, the way a house of cards collapses in on itself, Jefferson’s face falls and his eyes, glowing like pieces of gold, flit to the light filtering down from the ceiling.When they meet mine, they’re lost. Horrified. Like there’s nothing left of the man he was at dawn.

“I always wondered how you would learn the truth, Rosie Bryar,” Jefferson gently says to me, his voice so soft I hardly hear it as it creeps up my spine and threatens to shatter every iota of strength I have left inside of me.

This time.

I don’t vomit. I don’t break.I just simply shutdown.

Dad?” I dubiously whisper, my voice softer than my heartbeat inside my ears, roaring along like a river with nothing else to do than flow.

One word. One revelation. One question.

Strong enough to change my life.

Or break it. Wide open.

And then, with more assurance, I repeat, “Dad.”

Jefferson smiles, two dimples coming out to play.

“Rosie . . . at last.”

Sometimes I feel like this world doesn’t like my attitude. But that’s all right because I really, really don’t like its sense of humor.

| | |

The air in my lungs runs out like the hope in my heart, deflating there in a vacant cavity within my empty, empty chest, and I choke and I choke and I choke on these heavy, heavy stars that tether me so helplessly to this inescapable delirium that is my life, and I can’t help but cough up these pretty little cloudy, swirling nebulas that River used to tell me existed only in my eyes.

I can’t stop blinking, blinking, blinking back these tears, blinking to dispel this blurry reality, blinking to hide the sudden lack of color to my tired, tired gaze that won’t stop looking and searching and looking and searching and looking and searching for the uneven steps I took to get to where I sit, blinking and looking and breaking on the ground.

I take my time finding my box of reasons and, slowly, slowly, I open it up to why I’m so desolate and empty inside, blaming cancer and Mother and this curse for everything and anything, and when I finally throw it aside, bent and ever-bending, I notice just how see-through my flesh has become.

I’m parchment and I’m all out of words.And these thoughts, these stupid, stupid thoughts are just strands of desolation in my empty, empty head, devoid of any shape or color, still and unmoving, just as stagnant as the blood in my veins.

I tell myself everything’s okay.

I tell myself lies with words that burn me.


Words shape me and words take me and words knock me down. They have too much power over me, too much brute; I stare them down and tell myself that they can’t push me back, that I’m unmovable, but I’ve never known a lie so shallow, nor a lie so thin.

And here I am.

On my knees.

Once again.

Remembering something Mother once told me:

“Your father is gone, Rosie. Gone. Gone. Gone. He’s left us and he’s never coming back.”

Sixteen words. One lie.

I hear a ghost of her words when I close my eyes, breathing through the shadows like the words of a phantom, feeding me with lies and plaguing me with hope before knocking me back down to my knees again; they beat inside my ears with my heartbeat, these words, thrumming along like the restless wind outside the windows of this broken, broken home.

Gone. Gone. Gone.

| | |

I never knew how many ways you can say the word ’father’.

Dad. Daddy. Dada. Pops. Papa. Pappy. Abba. Abbu. Abonim. Áhcci. Athair. Atta. Ayah. Baba. Babbo. Banketi. Bapa. Buwa. Churiyaqe. Edesapa. Fader. Faeder. Haakoro. Isa. Itay. Janak. Missier. Mzazi. Ôèe. Ojciec. Opa. Otac. Otec. Otosan. Pai. Pare. Patri. Pita-ji. Pitar. Pradininkas. Tad. Tata. Tatti. Tevs. Vader. Vatter. Viejo. Yebba.

I’m pretty sure most of these are gibberish.

I’ve never had a father. I don’t know the first thing about fathers, or how to speak to them.

Until now, Mother has been my only parent. She’s always spoken of my father in the highest regard, always wishing the ‘curse’ hadn’t destroyed what they’d had. But now . . . now I don’t know what to think.

That same hollow pang hits me again—that emptiness inside of me that was left by my father’s disappearance, as well as all the deceitful stories Mother told me about him.

Now I truly realize why Mother always warned me about falling in love.

Love is a weapon. Love is a drug.

Roses are red,

Violets are blue.

Be careful, my dear,

Love will destroy you.

| | |

Natchitoches was peaceful at dusk. Despite the harsh winds.

River and Sunny waited for nightfall before heading over to the police station. Officer Galen’s car was there, amongst a few others, crookedly parked within the small lot. But the streetlamps had come to life and stars littered the twilit sky.

River assumed they’d get as far as Sunny’s father’s office before getting caught.

And they did.

River held his breath, afraid that if his father contacted the police about his sudden absence, Sunny’s father might try to take him home. But when the man entered, flustered and upset, River was relieved to find that, though he was angry—when wasn’t he?—he didn’t seem to care that River was there.

“Damn it, boy!” came the gruff and burly voice of Butch Galen, who hobbled out of his office with a face as white as snow, quickly filling with color. “What in blazes are you doing back here? You know this isn’t your own personal hangout. Go home before you get me into trouble, kid—”

River could see the anger in Sunny’s face, and was surprised when his friend’s voice came out calm and collected, enunciated smoothly, like he didn’t want to punch a wall—River and Sunny had that in common; fathers that made everything harder than they had to be.

“We want to see Mrs. Bryar,” he told his father, unflinchingly staring into his dangerous eyes. River had to hand it to Sunny for being as composed as he was, for River would have been trembling if he were in that position.

There was no standing up to his father.

There was no talking to a man who didn’t want to be talked to.

Officer Galen sighed, some of the color draining from his cheeks as a sympathetic look passed over his massive face. “Look, son,” he said, crinkling his nose. “Mrs. Bryar isn’t talking. And Rosie’s still missing.” He lowered his voice and glanced around. “We know nothing more than we did last night. So why don’t you and Mr. Bloome over here get yourselves home?”

Sunny took a step back, moving so close to River that their shoulders brushed. River held out his hand, concealing it as well as he could, and right on cue Sunny dropped a key into his palm. Then, straightening up, Sunny took his father aside to speak, turning the giant-of-a-man around so that his back was to River.

This was his chance.

River took a step back. Followed by another. And then another. Until he was around the corner, making for the door that Sunny had instructed River upon entering would be where Mrs. Bryar would be waiting.

And just as Sunny had said, Officer Galen was the only cop on duty at the office that night.

River trotted over to the door and threw the key into the lock, forcing the door open with his shoulder; he quickly slipped inside and let it click shut behind him. Before him, sitting at a metal table beneath a flickering light, Mrs. Bryar looked drained. Like someone had taken her and squeezed her of all the energy she’d possessed.

She looked surprised to see him. At first.

River had imagined this moment at least ten times that day, and each consisted of him yelling at Rosie’s mother, throwing hateful sentence after hateful sentence at her until paragraphs were piling up around her ankles like the flames he’d hoped on multiple occasions would steal her away.

But the moment she caught his eyes, uncivil and sharp, River’s thoughts fled his head.

“Where is she?” he maliciously asked, gritting his teeth and fisting his hands down at his sides, digging his nails in so deep that he could feel the warmth of blood run down his palms. “Rosie.” The name was heavy on his lips. “Where is she?”

Mrs. Bryar only shook her head. “You’re wasting your time, kid.” Her voice was smooth and beautiful like that of a singer, and something about it reminded River of his mother. “I have no idea where my daughter is. Or when.” She set her head down on the table, using her arms to pillow the weight of her skull; after a moment or two, her dark gaze still bearing into River’s, she let her eyes drift shut. “She’s a lost cause.”

“You don’t even care?” River asked, though he said it as an accusation. Because he knew she didn’t. Not really. Not since Rosie was diagnosed with Leukemia.

“On the contrary,” she whispered in response, never once opening her eyes. “I care verydearly for my . . . my little Red Rose.”

River’s heart beat a pace faster.

Little Red Rose . . .

“But what is there to do now but wait? We’ll see her again. In person, or in a photo of the past, I don’t really know.” Mrs. Bryar laughed a brittle, broken laugh. “Maybe she’s already grown, with a husband and a kid or two.”

This made River’s blood boil.

“So she did time travel, then?” he asked, his stomach twisting into a knot as his head began to swim, his thoughts coming in like static on the radio. River’s knees began to shake so hard that he had to lean with his back against the door, his entire body tremulous with uncertainty.

Mrs. Bryar didn’t answer him. She looked haggard and worn, and when she lifted her head, it looked like it took everything she had not to keel over and die on the floor. “You came to ask me about the curse,” she breathed, pushing up her sleeves. “So ask.”

And that’s when River noticed it.

Dark, pressed beautifully into the skin of her forearm, a tattoo of flowers wove up her arm like lace, seeming far too out of the ordinary to be a simple tattoo.

“It seems as though you don’t know any more than I do,” River reluctantly said, staring at the markings on her arm; that tattoo wasn’t done with normal ink, he quickly realized, but with what looked like the darkest substance he’d ever seen. Like space without stars. Like the shadows without light.

“Correct,” she muttered. “The curse isn’t something that can simply be broken . . . the curse takes the one thing you love beyond life, crumples it up into a tight little ball right in front of you, and there’s nothing you or anyone can do about it.” She chuckled to herself, a chilling series of sounds. But River stood his ground.

“You may think that way,” he whispered. “But I’m going to get your daughter back.”

Mrs. Bryar shook her head. “I spent my entire life warning her about the consequences of falling in love . . . if Rosie’s destined to find her way back to you, to me . . . to us, then we need to let her try. But I would learn to move on, if I were you, Mr. Bloome. We don’t always get what we want—”

“I’ll tell them you killed her,” River threatened, but his voice was quick to betray him; it quavered on the air, broken and weak, malformed from the accumulating terror in his gut. “I’ll make up any excuse necessary to ensure that you rot in jail for the rest of your God forsaken life.” His wild eyes darted back and forth, no less cantankerous and primitive than an ocean’s waves, dark and fleeting.“Or,” River sinisterly said, looking around, tasting the bitterness of the ultimatum on his broken, broken lips, “you can tell me what I want to know.”

Mrs. Bryar, her malevolent eyes flitting over to his, merely smiled; there was no warmth in such a grin, only hues of exhaustion and reproach, colored by spite. “With what proof, River? What’s keeping me from telling them that you kidnapped my daughter? That you killed her.” Her smile faltered, fading into a tight little frown. “Besides. I’ve told you everything I know. If I knew how to break this curse, don’t you think I would have done so a long time ago?”

River shook his head, too afraid that her words might actually mean something to listen to them. “I’ve seen what giving up does to people . . .” He studied the woman, scanning her up and down with his burning eyes. “You didn’t warn Rosie about the curse, you turned it into a legend and yourself into a nightmare. You didn’t prepare her for anything. You just raised her up to let her fall. Gave her a name and a smile and set her up before the slaughter.” River shook with rage, fury boiling the blood beneath his skin. “If you really loved her, you would fight to get her back.

“Or maybe we should let go of the things we love most?” Mrs. Bryar shook her head, a sad, sad smile climbing her lips like a ladder, giving River cause to cringe. “Isn’t that just how life works—?”

“No, it’s not!” he spat. “And you didn’t lose your daughter, Mrs. Bryar. You didn’t let her go. You never even had a hold on her to begin with!” Rage. There was seething rage in his words, however softly they were uttered, and each one, fierier than the last, stirred the flames of an inferno within his chest; a scorching conflagration that teemed with disaster, sending dangerous sparks to mingle with the rheumy shade of green in his sharp, sharp eyes.

River turned away.

“She’ll come back,” he growled.

“How can you be so sure?” Mrs. Bryar wondered at his back. “My daughter’s pretty unpredictable.”

“Exactly,” River whispered to himself; a dark smile nestled between his lips, pressing them to curve and arch, but River fought back the hope that was dancing on his tongue. And then, with a quick glance over his shoulder, his eyes narrowed in disdain, he said loud enough for her to hear, “Because—because I didn’t let her go.”

River started forward and opened the door, turning back around in the glow of the doorway. “I will find a way to save your daughter,” he whispered. River stared at Mrs. Bryar, drinking her in and sipping on all the memories they shared, going way back to when River wasn’t familiar with loss, and Death wasn’t a player in their games; back when sanity was a common chord that tethered him to her to Rosie.

“If anyone deserves to be happy, it’s her.” There was an air of finality about the way River said it.

“And who’s to say she isn’t happier now?”

This stopped him dead in his tracks.

He hadn’t thought of it.

River wondered how such simple words could wound him the way that they did.

| | |

For the first time in forever my skin is colder than the stone beating in my chest.

Jefferson closes the curtains over the windows and aptly starts a fire in the small grate I hadn’t noticed, flush against one wall of the old, wrinkled little cottage. Flames flicker and dart this way and that, drawing me in and holding me close. I’m captivated. Fire always captivates me. The way it crackles and snaps. The way it leaps out at you, wistful in its endeavors, hungrily searching to burn the way a lion stalks its prey, hunting for dinner. For sport.

I stare into its radiating glare for hours, its light dazzling as it splays over the heavy, cool stone hearth. A part of me wants to reach forward and let reality sweep me into its warm arms, burn me alive until I glow; until I’ve finally melted the frost from my heart and learned what it means to be human.

But I’m not human. Not anymore. I’m just cancer.

Jefferson keeps trying to explain things to me.

How he’s my father. How time threw my mother and I away from him, and how he’s spent his entire life trying to get back to us. But I won’t listen. Because I’m stupid and I’m senseless and I’m so sick of pretending like any of this actually makes sense to me.

I refuse to be a party to this nonsense any longer. So I lay my head beneath the heavy silence and simply breathe in and out as time passes, quiet and still.

Jefferson and Violette are curled up on separate sections of the couch, wool blankets from Jefferson’s bus draped over their shivering bodies.

We were supposed to go to the hospital. But the sad truth is that Violette isn’t going to magically be better even if we do go right now. And Jefferson thought it might be a good idea to give her one more night in her own home. In the home that was meant to be the start of something wonderful—the start of the rest of her life.

I couldn’t agree more.

My eyes grow heavy as the fire contracts, darting heavenward.

I don’t move from my spot before the fire, even as the daylight outside the covered windows begins to dip. I don’t even wake when the flames jump from the grate and try to drag me back to Hell.

I drift away to the hiss of the fire in my ears, thanking my lucky stars for an ounce of respite from this terrible, terrible world that pretends to be wonderful.

When I open my eyes, River is lying by my side. His heavenly eyes gleam the same oceanic-green that they always do, only darker this time, like emeralds in the light.

“Hey,” I whisper, smiling. I reach out and take his hand in mine, counting each of his fingers until I’ve overstuffed the folds of my smile with numbers and letters and sounds that reverberate throughout my head.

“Hey,” River whispers in return, squeezing my hand in his. In the moment before his words unravel in my head, churning through my consciousness, I feel myself smile. “Where have you been? It’s lonely here without you,” he tells me.

“I’m trying to get back to you,” I say. “Things have just been a little—crazy. But I’m doing my best.”

“You’re not trying hard enough,” he tells me, and I’m so shocked by his change in tone that I don’t know quite what to say.


“You love it there, don’t you?”

I want to tell him that I don’t. But I can’t lie to him.

“You don’t really want to come back to me, do you?” River’s words are harsh and accusing, burrowing into me and burning me from the inside out. “You just want to lay down and die, and pretend like what we had was never real.”

His face contorts, growing angry.

I’ve seen River angry. But never at me.

“River, what are you talking about?” I ask.

“You’re giving up, Rosie. Don’t give up on me.”

I shake my head, pleading with my eyes. “I’m not giving up—”

“Rosie?” My name on his lips sounds far away, and the image of him warps, flickering like a light in the dark. “R-Rosie—Rosie!”

“What?!” I call out, shouting into the silence.

“Run, Rosie! Run! You need to run!”

“River!” I scream, feeling his hold on me begin to slip.

“ROSIE!” he shouts—

And I wake with a start, finding myself sitting up. River’s words are heavy in my ears until I realize that they weren’t his at all; Jefferson is crouched down beside me, his hands clamped down on my shoulders.

“Rosie, get up! We need to run!”

My eyes snap open and I look around, finally relieved from the cold.

All around us, snapping and crackling like a vivid audience, shrill and unencumbered by reality, flames swarm about the room. The ceiling is already glowing, set ablaze, and it hurts to stare directly at it. Smoke billows in waves, black tendrils grazing my skin like hands reaching out to take me back home. But I won’t go. I won’t. I refuse.

“Rosie, I need you to run,” Jefferson whispers in my ear, obviously struggling to carry me. He helps me to the kitchen, my legs like putty beneath me, and I use an overturned chair to help me to my feet, my limbs stiff and shaky with sleep.

My lungs burn and I wonder if it’s because of the fact that I’ve been exposed to smoke, or if, maybe, possibly, it’s because my lungs are just dying on their own. Like always.

I don’t have time to think about it.

Fight or flight?


Stop, drop, and roll?


I stand in the center of all that’s burning, frozen and still, and I stare deep into Jefferson’s eyes, making note of the way the flames dart in the reflection of his amber-colored eyes; the yellow fire flickers to a beat that outfoxes my own heart, glowing red in places and engorging itself on this once happy resting place.

It’s insatiable, this fire. It’s hunting. And I’m its prey.

“Rosie, we have to get out!” Jefferson yells to me, followed by a throat-racking cough that makes me turn to him, studying the pain in his weathered face.

“What the hell happened?” I ask, my voice hoarse in my throat. I’m only partially convinced this isn’t a dream. I search Jefferson’s fierce gaze as the flames spread their heavy glow across the kitchen wall closest to the door, the orangey gleam flickering almost as fast as my heart, beating in my throat, beating in my legs, beat-beat-beating in my face.

“I stupidly let myself fall asleep,” Jefferson reluctantly grumbles, never once meeting my eyes. He takes me by the hand and squeezes it tight, his thick and ageing fingers wrapped around my own; wrenching Violette to her feet with his other, Jefferson leads us toward the front door, where the light of dawn reaches out for my skin like a life preserver floating atop the surface of the ocean, desperate to rescue me. To breathe new air into my lungs. To make everything better.

Like River.

The front of the house is already orange with flame, so Jefferson leads me out the window in the living room; he clambers down first, kicking some of the broken glass below out of the way.

I move to help Violette—

And I see a glimmer of silver illuminated by the darting flames as she draws a steak-knife from her pocket and drives it up, searching for my flesh; I’m fast—faster than I knew I was possibly capable of being—and I smack her wrist, sending the knife clattering to the floor below, where it skitters across the living room—she must have grabbed it when we were asleep.

“What is the matter with you!” I scream, knowing all the while that it’s pointless; knowing that Violette has no idea what she’s doing—she just wants what she’s looking for, and she doesn’t even know what that is. But in this moment I’m so imbued with fury that I wrap my hands around her throat and force her back against the wall.

Violette fights me, screaming and groaning as the flames zigzag across the barren room—she’s not screaming at me, screaming at the pain of my ever-tightening grip, she’s screaming at the fire, at the flames bleeding through the heart of this canvas with which she’d thought would be her future, her home sweet home.


“Find it!” she yells, reaching out her hands. “Please—”

I choke her. I don’t mean to. I don’t think I do. But I do. I grip her throat and I press my fingers into her flesh until she’s screaming at the pain, screaming at what I’ve done, what I’m doing, and I can’t stop—I can’t stop myself no matter how much I tell myself I need to, I can’t I can’t I can’t but I have to because this isn’t me and I have no idea what’s going on.

But I know that if I let her go she’ll run into the flames.

“Rosie!” It’s Jefferson.

I don’t look at him. I don’t turn around. I just hold Violette and I feel the flames on my back and I think I might be crying, I think I might be losing my mind.

“She tried to kill me,” I say. “She—she tried to stab me.”

And it was justified. And I need to let go.

“Rosie, please!” Jefferson pleads, moving closer. “This isn’t right—this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” He moves closer. Closer. Closer. “She doesn’t know what she’s doing—”

I shove myself back, throwing my hands down at my sides, afraid of these trembling fingers, of these thoughts inside my head, of this heart beat-beat-beating inside my chest. I gasp and I gasp and I try to make sense of these colors blooming in my vision, of the fiery reds and oranges reaching out for me, but I feel myself starting to crumble.

So I hold on tighter. And I remain standing on my feet.

“I—I could have killed you,” I say, breathless and afraid, glancing from my fingers to where Violette stands, panting and gasping, crying out. “That wasn’t me—I don’t know what—”

I turn toward Jefferson and his arms are already around me, holding me to him, pressing me into the warmth of his embrace with some paternal instinct that must reside within his bones.

But he should be helping Violette. Not me. Her.

“I could have killed her,” I say, too astonished to cry.

“It’s okay,” he says to me, holding me tight. “Everything’s going to be okay—”

“Find it!” I hear Violette murmur from the ground. Slowly, holding her fingers to her throat, she looks into my eyes and sees nothing; she’s blind to what stands before her, absolutely blind. “Please,” she says to no one, to the oblivion that holds us all, “please find it.”

And then Violette tries to run into the flames—

Instinctually, without much thought, I break away from Jefferson and aim a kick in her direction; my foot connects with her side and she’s sent sprawling back against the wall, where she smacks her head, hard, against the drywall; Violette’s eyes roll back inside her head as she crumples to the floor with no one there to catch her.

No one’s ever there to catch her, it seems.

“Pick her up,” I demand of Jefferson, stumbling toward the broken window with little to no strength left inside of me. I grab the knife from the floor and toss it into the flames that have quickly crept forward, not watching to see where it lands.

Slowly, without looking back, I swing myself out toward the freedom of fresh air, smacking my feet hard on the ground below; the rush of adrenaline inside my veins is beautiful, and I love the way it presses me forward, takes my hands, and kisses me on the lips.

The bus is so close that I only have to take a few steps before I’m at the doors. Jefferson, an unconscious Violette in his arms, is fast at my heels; he makes his way up onto the bus and starts the engine, worry sharp in his dangerous eyes. Violette, lost in a world of dreams, curls into herself on one of the beds and forces her hands over her face, like it’s that easy to simply shut out the world.

Headcount: Jefferson. Violette. Me.

Do we have everybody?

I count again.

Jefferson. Violette. Me—


“Esther!” I scream, though all the smoke has left me breathless, and the word crawls quietly from my parched lips. Jefferson briefly looks my way before I’m gone. Faster than if I’d merely poofed back in time. Faster than a cheetah. Faster than the rain that isn’t falling.

Actually, because of my cancerous lungs—and, yes, I am blaming cancer—I run slower than a snail; or something that’s slow. My feet slap against the hard rock of the small walkway leading up to the house—and I slow when I see flames claw beneath the doorway, bright and heavy with heat. Without thinking, unbeknownst of whether or not this place has a rear entrance, I change direction and breathlessly book it around back to find a short porch with a back door waiting unlocked.

Skidding to a stop, I check the door handle with the back of my hand before throwing it open, the knob cool against my flesh; the scent of the burning fire stings my eyes and burns my throat, even as I try to swallow it down.

I hurriedly wander into a nondescript space almost twice the size of the living room, entirely filled with boxes, some neatly stacked against the wall, and others overturned, spilling their contents all over the floor.

This wasprobably meant to beViolette’s bedroom, I think to myself.

Putrid waves of smoke coalesce like storm clouds overhead, causing the ceiling to ripple overwhelmingly. Beyond, through the swirling vastness lies the kitchen, half-engulfed in flame, and a stairwell leading up where the fire has yet to reach.

“Esther?” I cry to the best of my ability, calling against the roar of the fire. “Esther?!”

I hear nothing.

Would I even be able to hear a cat over the thunder of my heartbeat racing in my ears? Or the fire? I have no idea.

Leaning against the wall, hardly able to stand, I grip the stairwell railing and kick off the wall, propelling myself up the short flight of carpeted stairs with about the last of my remaining strength.

Upstairs is smaller than the downstairs. A single bedroom, an empty bathroom and a closet at the end of the hallway are all that’s here, but drawings run the length of the entire corridor, both fresh and outdated against the unpainted plaster.

I freeze. I stare. Captivated.

Drawings of roses. Nothing but roses. Some in full bloom and some that droop, isolated and tightly shut. They fill the spaces of the walls, leaving almost no room for more. Both paint and pencil sketches zigzag up and down, flowers twining about each other like they do on my forearm, dark and beautiful. Almost mesmerizing.

“Rosie!” I hear Jefferson call from behind, snapping me from my reverie of roses and fire, and he appears just as I hobble away from the wall and stumble into the bedroom. A single bed lies flush against one wall, small and untouched, the sheets ratty and threadbare. Broken picture frames litter the floor amongst a snowfall of glass and leaves. And there, happy and content in her slumber upon the bed, Esther lies nestled between two tattered pillows.

Esther,” I grumble, not entirely sure I’m speaking English. I grab at the cat, despite its sudden urge to get away, its tiny claws thrashing and lashing, fighting to escape my arms of safety. I keep the cat pressed beneath my shirt, breathing into the curve of my arm, my eyes watering worse than in the dead of winter.

I turn to go, nearly crashing into Jefferson, when something stops me.

It’s stupid to go back. All my life everyone’s always said: “if there’s a fire, drop everything and get out. People can’t be replaced the way the things on you at the time can.” But in this sense, they’re wrong. Because on the floor, a bit crumpled but salvageable, are probably the only photos Violette andJessie had before—before it all went to hell.

Holding Esther tight, I turn back and kneel upon the floor, careful not to cut myself on the glass. I grab as many pictures as I can in one hand, tucking them into my pockets, trembling so unimaginably hard that I can’t believe I’m still able to move. Still alive.

“Damn it, Rosie!” Jefferson pants, bending over to try to breathe better. After a moment he places his hand on my back and pulls me to my feet, ushering me out of the room and toward the stairway. But I go slower than I should. Because there’s something about this house on fire that holds onto me as if the fire and the smoke that’s wrapped itself around this burning home are monstrous things, and the memories that line the walls are its quarry. And I don’t want to see it go. So easily. Like sand through my fingers.

I duck my head as I go, doing my best to escape the sizzle and hiss of the licking flames, leaping out at odd ends and angles, and the swirling black sooty billows of ashen smoke pressed against the low ceiling;it blurs my eyes and turns my vision into a kaleidoscope of kindling chaos. The acrid taste in my mouth is enough to make me gag; I swallow back the bitter tang of oily smoke and smoldering memories, choking on the shattered remnants of a past that wasn’t even mine.

I take the steps two at a time—like an idiot—and stumble and crash to the ground below, hitting my head, hard, against the wall at the bottom.

The ceiling dips and curves as the walls spin around me, encircling me in my sudden rise of delirium. From the craziness of the thunder in my chest and the unceremonious cackle of the crackling flames, I hear Jefferson call my name from the burning oblivion that surrounds us, his voice cold and sweet. But I might as well be a mile underwater.

I try to push myself to my feet but gravity holds me by the wrists; convinces me I deserve to stay.

I’m lost inside, burning in the heart of these little walls, and I don’t know how to breathe when there’s no longer any air left for me to inhale.

The fire dances and grows, feasting on a house that stood the test of time and failed; I watch from afar as the memories that fill this hollow place begin to wilt amongst the ashes and the embers, strewn about across the ground like a field of black roses.

I try to move but the strength has gone from my body. I try to breathe but the air has fled my lungs. I try to be but there’s nothing left for me to be other than what I am right now. Weak.

I was born to die. I’ve always known that.

But there’s something in this effort to survive that has begun to convince me otherwise.


Ismell like I just got back from going camping.

I’m in a hospital.

My eyes are still closed but I’d like to think I have a sixth sense when it comes to hospitals. When I do open my eyes, finding myself enclosed in a tight little room with Jefferson in a chair at my side, I don’t quite remember why I’m here. I’m here so often. This immaculate prison cell, the same milky white as the one in 2015. The floor tiles just as shiny, just as reflective. But now—

Now Jefferson’s here.

I’m not alone.

“Oh my God,” I whisper into the silence, my breath catching in my throat when I remember what’s happened.

I hear the sirens. I smell the smoke. And it all comes back to me, flooding my memories with noise. Bright, loud, unbearable noise. I close my eyes and I see the multicolored lights of the ambulance thrown against the darkness of the wilting day; I see the sky seem to shift as if someone spun it like a turntable, splaying stars across the heavens.

I hold my breath and I hear Jefferson calling my name. I hear the EMTs shouting to each other. I hear Violette’s screams as they take her away beside me, looking lonely and scared. Looking like a fish out of water. A flower growing on the moon.

“How are you?” Jefferson asks, lifting his head. He sets down a book he’d been reading and makes his way to his feet. He smells like smoke. Like fire. Like danger. And I can’t help but crumple back against the pillows of my bed, throwing my sheets up and over my head.

“Rosie—?” Jefferson starts.

“Esther?” I whisper back, pulling the sheets down just enough for my eyes to search the room for the cat.

“The cat’s fine,” he sighs, nudging his chin over to a cat carrier sitting on a wooden table in the shadowed corner of the room, a few strands of red and blue yarn spilling from the openings of the cage. I see Esther’s orangey paw dart in and out, as if reaching out to me, pleading for release. Because, you know, I understand what it’s like to be locked inside a cell.

All at once the air that’d begun to swell within my chest leaves my lips, and relief carries me free of my fearful place inside my head. I push my way up onto my elbows and glance over at Jefferson, blushing ever so slightly.

“I’m okay,” I say at last.

“Where’s Violette?” I reluctantly wonder.

I can’t help but cringe at the memory of my hands around her throat; of her hand around that knife, driving it up toward my flesh.

“She’s in another room. The doctor’s examining her.”

“Can they help her?”

Jefferson doesn’t answer me. There’s something about him that looks different all of a sudden; his eyes are no longer as soft, and when he stares at me he appears lost. And I feel the strongest urge to say something—anything—to help him. But I don’t. Because I don’t know what to say.

“I don’t think there’s anything left of her to help,” Jefferson says after a moment or two, hanging his head. The pain rippling off of him in waves is tangible.

I don’t say anything. I just hold my breath. It’s what I do best.

“Are you sure you’re okay, Rosie?”

I don’t know anymore.

“Yes,” I quietly murmur. “Perfectly fine.”

We sit in silence for a few moments before, glancing between Jefferson and the cat, I say, “Open the cage,” and though he stares questioningly back at me for a moment or two, Jefferson marches over to the table and lifts the latch of the ugly gray catcarrier. Immediately, like a bullet from a gun, a shot in the dark, Esther leaps from the cat carrier and flies to my bed, where she throws herself down on my lap. Eternally grateful.

“I don’t think this is allowed,” Jefferson warns me, and even as he speaks I stare straight through to the fear that’s evidently lurking just beneath the surface of his skin. He rubs the cat the way I sawJessie do, and Esther, her eyes alight with ferocity, chomps at his flesh. “Little bastard,” mutters Jefferson, sucking at the inside of his thumb.

I rub behind Esther’s ears and stare into Jefferson’s eyes. He stares back.

“What did I do?”

“Nothing,” I whisper, my heart heavy in my chest.

“You gave me quite a scare back there, you know. And all for a cat.” He scowls down at the impish creature playing at my toes.

“Weird, right?” I shake my head, sighing just enough for the tension in my chest to begin to dissolve. “I don’t know what came over me—”

“I do,” Jefferson tells me, eyeing the cat with some malice before looking back at me. “It’s because, despite the horror of your exterior—and I mean that in the kindest way, I assure you—you do have a kind heart, Rosie. The moment I laid eyes on you I noticed how bent your shoulders seemed to be. How weighed down you appeared. And even after I figured out you were sick, I was still a little surprised. You don’t hold up the world or the sky, and yet it’s not from trying to hold yourself together. I’ve been around the sick before—Violette, for instance—and I’ve never seen someone quite like you. But I think I understand now.”

“Some offense taken,” I grumble, glaring. “But, fine. If you’ve figured it out, then enlighten me, Jefferson. Tell me what makes me different. Tell me what makes me . . . weak.”

“You’re afraid,” Jefferson says without an ounce of hesitation, though his eyes don’t meet mine, and the words on his lips are soft like he’s trying to shield me from such a heavy truth. “It’s because you’re afraid.”

“You’re wrong,” I say, looking deep into Jefferson’s eyes and then down at the horror of myexterior. But when I notice just how sloppy I look, my hair unwashed and tangled, my skin still cloudy from the smoke and dark with soot, my hospital clothes oddly too small for my body, I simply shrug to myself, accepting it.

“I am not afraid,” I say.“I used to be, I’ll give you that. But I’m not afraid.” I look at him like I’m looking into his soul. “Careful, Jefferson,” I warn him, listing my head to the side. “Just because I have cancer doesn’t mean I don’t know how to fight.” Brutally break you down with sarcasm, more like.

Jefferson brushes my comment away with the dirt from his coat collar. “You’re afraid for others,” he whispers, his gentle eyes gleaming like sunlight. “Afraid of what your beloved River might be thinking at this very moment. Afraid you may have lost the trustJessie undoubtedly placed in you. Afraid for the life of this impish thing,” he says, indicating Esther with a wave of his hand. “And you’re afraid that you might never want to go home . . .” Jefferson looks me dead in the eyes when he says this, catching me off guard, and he smiles when the truth falls wordlessly from my tired lips, keen in my faltering glance. “I see the way you look at things here, Rosie. I see how much kinder the past is to you.”

I open my mouth to speak but remain silent. I don’t know what to say to this. Other than he’s right. It’s true. I’m not selfless or selfish, I just like things a certain way, and the human side of me will do anything to keep them the way they are. Unchanged. Undamaged.

“It’s okay,” Jefferson tells me, the warmth of his eyes assuring me that what he says is true. “Fear is only a foe if you make it a foe. Sometimes, Rosie, fear is one of the strongest allies we have, and it shapes us into who we are in the future.” He pauses. Stops. Freezes. Thaws. “It’s hard, sweet girl, to see the sky for its color when the world is caving in on itself.”

Esther growls, hissing up at Jefferson when he reaches out, yet again, to strike her back.

“I can’t trust anyone,” I blurt out, my eyes sweeping his, gentle and dark, like a kiss from a shadow or the chill of the glass I’ve spent my entire life pressing my hands against, pleading for release. I don’t know why I continue to speak. I don’t know why these thoughts are pulling me back to life, stirring from my lips like an army bent on destroying me. I’ve lost all volition over my body. My mind. My heart. I can’t stop. “It’s the prettiest of roses that hold the sharpest of thorns.” I close my eyes. “The happiest smiles that contain the most scorn.”

I remember Mother telling me this.

I never really understood what she meant until now.

“You can trust me,” Jefferson whispers.

I stare up at him. “Did you ever think about me?” I wonder. “When I was young, I mean. Did you ever wonder where I was? What I looked like? Who I was becoming?”

“Every single day,” Jefferson whispers, nodding.

I nod as well. “Well, then I’m sorry,” I say.


“I’m sorry that you’re such a stranger to me,” I whisper. “I’m sorry that I don’t trust you more than I do.” I don’t meet his eyes. I just shut them and lean my head back against the pillows, pleading for this rollercoaster to come to a stop.

“It’s all right,” Jefferson says. “Your mother didn’t trust me when she first met me, either.”

“Mother,” I whisper, letting my eyes fall open. “Who is my mother, Jefferson?” I ask. But I know who it is. I think I’ve known all along.

Jefferson, the truth heavy on his lips and soft in his words, just shakes his head. “You know,” he grins, letting a peculiar warmth flow through his smile, the way the sun shows through the clouds in the sky.“Violette always said she wanted a daughter.”

Violette Bryar.

My mother.

| | |

Jefferson and I leave the hospital later tonight with Violette in tow. They gave her medicine, a prescription that Jefferson tells me will never work. But, other than a few stitches for the cut on her hand, there was nothing more they could do for her. As for me, I have a mild concussion.

Jefferson takes me to a little log cabin in the woods that I never knew existed, secluded and tranquil, like a slab of serenity broken off and tossed away.

“Home sweet home,” Jefferson mutters to himself, kicking off his boots and carrying Violette’s deflated body to a small bed just off a small little kitchen, where he buries her beneath several layers of blankets to keep warm.

I study the small abode, taking in the wooden walls and the wooden ceiling and the wooden floors, wondering when exactly man learned to bury himself within the remains of the forest’s perfectly plucked gems.

It’s not much, the home. But it’s something.

“You live in a house?” I whisper, keeping my voice low as not to wake Violette. I stare at Jefferson and he looks back at me like I’ve said something stupid. “What?” I ask, shrugging. “Jessie said you lived in a bus. And . . . well, there were beds—”

“Just likeJessie to make me sound homeless,” Jefferson mutters to himself. “No, Rosie. I have a house. I just like to camp out in my bus some nights. Escape the word. Leave it all behind.” He laughs, though there’s no humor in his smile, just sorrow. “It’s just funny how the world keeps pulling me back in.”

Jefferson pulls out a chair for me to sit at the kitchen table, and I take a seat while he puts on a pot of water for tea. “I have a home, Rosie, just like everyone else,” he smiles, taking Esther’s cat carrier from the counter and lifting the latch, allowing the little miscreant to scamper out onto the table. “The bus is . . .” His words drift away. “Never mind. Do you have any friends, Rosie?”

I’m both surprised and suspicious of the subject change.

“No,” I quietly say. I prefer food to friendship, I don’t say.

The lack of hesitance and the blatancy of my response shocks me to the core. Oh, well.

“Well, I did,” Jefferson breathes, not flinching at my answer. He stares off at the wall and I wonder if I should do something to bring him back to the present. After a moment he shakes his head, his eyes never falling, and when he speaks I’m so surprised by the melancholy of each and every word. “I’ve been all around the world. I’ve seen every continent twice over. I’ve met more people than you can count. Made friends. Real friends that brought me closer to what I’ve always been after.” Jefferson drops his gaze, his head appearing too heavy for his shoulders.

“I’m happy for you,” I whisper, holding back the reins of my sarcasm, but it’s starting to slip.

“I purchased my bus a long time ago. Well, to be honest, it was quite a few years from now. I filled it with beds. I packed my bags. I was ready to go. Ready to chase every sunset until I found her again.” Jefferson glances over to the window, where his eyes hold onto the old, dirty bus parked in his driveway.

“I’m confused,” I admit. “What were you chasing?”

“A dream,” he says to me, his response as vague as the truth in his gaze.

The water on the stove boils and he pours me some tea, holding his own glass close to his heart. Esther sniffs at my mug, and upon realization, Jefferson brings the feline some warm milk, setting it down across from where I sit.

Jefferson flits his eyes up to mine. “You know what I was chasing,” he says. “What I’m still chasing.”

I shake my head. I do know. But I don’t want to.

None of this should make any sense to me.

The only thing assuring me of my sanity is the churn of my stomach and the heavy, heavy doubt waiting around every single corner of my brain.

“You’re my father,” I say again for the eighty-eighth time since we left the hospital, a shiver passing down my spine. I shake my head, trying with all my heart to knock this delirium from my skull, but the fog doesn’t fade and the truth doesn’t wither. “This is all so fricking messed up!” I quietly exclaim, running my hands up my face and covering my eyes, as if I can possibly stop myself from seeing what’s right in front of me.

“Violette is my—Violette’s my mother,” I say, my voice quivering so badly that I have to repeat myself. “Violette Bryar is my mother. In the future.” I sink my teeth into my lip, holding onto the sudden distraction the pain causes. But it’s fleeting.

“I don’t expect you to understand right away,” Jefferson whispers, blowing at his tea, sending wisps of steam cascading into oblivion. “But when you’ve seen all that I have, Rosie, you start to expect the unexpected. The peculiar becomes the normal. Fantasy becomes reality.”

“But this isn’t real,” I breathe, running my trembling fingers through my hair, telling myself to stop shaking, to keep still, to freeze, but nothing helps and nothing stops this perpetual shiver coursing beneath my see-through flesh. “This can’t be real.” I feel tears prickle behind my eyes, percolating amongst the tense energy pulsating throughout my body, but I hold them back. Because it’s stupid to cry simply because I don’t understand. “I just don’t know what to think anymore.”


“I’m . . . I’m—I’m only human.”

“You’ve proven you’re so much more than that,” Jefferson assures me, winking, but there’s no warmth in his gaze. No light. Only loss.

I shrug, glancing away. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand this life,” I say, stroking Esther behind the ear, leering down at the cat. “Sometimes it’s just easier to doubt everything than believe in the unnatural.”

Jefferson looks deep into my eyes with that amber gaze that so easily sees right through me, penetrates all the thoughts and beliefs that I hold true, and then leaves me questioning everything. Slowly, carefully, he smiles at me. “Life is not one straight corridor where everything makes perfect sense, Rosie, it’s a labyrinth of twists and turns, and you never know quite where it’s going to leave you. But you keep going anyway. You keep going because fear is a funny thing, and what we fear most is not knowing,” he says, weighing these words like they’re heavy on his lips. “Not knowing what’s lurking in the shadows, and not knowing what could have been if only we’d tried—”

“I am trying,” I quickly say. “But it’s not that simple.”

“Funny,” Jefferson whispers. “I thought by now you’d have finally understood that life isn’t easy. It’s never easy.”

“So why bother?”

Jefferson looks momentarily struck, almost horrified.

“God,” I sigh, “I’m not about to pitch myself off the nearest bridge. I just mean . . . I guess I mean . . . why put ourselves through so much torment when we can just . . . let go?”

“I believe Shakespeare contemplated this same question,” Jefferson says.

“What?” I ask, tiredly looking around.

Jefferson slowly shakes his head from side to side. “Nothing, Rosie. But I do understand what you mean. Why spend our entire lives afraid of getting burned when we can just fall into the fire and get it over with?” He shrugs. “I don’t have an answer—well, perhaps I do. Maybe we continue because we’re too afraid of what might be lurking beyond the vail of life and death to do anything about it. It could be better, it could be worse. There’s no knowing.” He pauses. “Some people have been brave enough—or maybe I should say ‘stupid enough’—to go where no one has gone before, to the edge of infinity and this oblivion we call tomorrow, but I’d rather let the power of inevitability bring me there before I go looking for answers I don’t deserve.”

I stare at Jefferson long and hard. “How are you this wise?”

“Sagacity and stupidity balance on the same thread, Rosie dear. I’d take care not to let it fray.” He glances over his shoulder, and when he faces me once more, there’s a smile scrawled into the patterns of his countenance. “I suppose the world is the way it is because we’re too doubtful to believe otherwise.”

I don’t respond to this.

A few minutes pass before either of us speak; the room is heavy with shadows that leap from every corner, taking their time climbing down the wooden walls and creeping for me the way that cancer often does, slowly in the night, effortlessly choking me.

I don’t fear the dark. I fear what it hides.

“Must have been hard,” Jefferson whispers at last. “Growing up without a father. Always wondering. Never really knowing.”

“For you as well,” I whisper. “But I got by,” I say, unable to meet his eyes. “Though, this catatonic . . . thing,” I murmur, gesturing my hand to the heap that is Violette, lost in a peaceful stupor, “didn’t make life easy.”

“I’m sure,” Jefferson admits. “Being in the wrong time period has its consequences—”

“It wasn’t that,” I say. “I don’t think it was, anyway. She was just . . . she always acted like she’d lost a piece of herself, and because she knew it wasn’t coming back, she didn’t try. Not really.” I lower my eyes, my voice. “She just gave up.”

Jefferson doesn’t respond, but simply hangs his head.

After a moment or two, he nods and releases a long sigh before sipping his tea. “She’s young,” Jefferson says to me. “The Violette I fell in love with was cured from whatever ails her today.” He slowly sips his drink, absentmindedly rustling the cat’s main.

“You’re saying something happens now,” I start, “that makes it so that my mother grows up and falls in love with you, and has a child . . .? And—” I stop, awkwardly forcing myself to look away, color painting my cheeks a bright scarlet. “You’re my father,” I whisper like it’s only just occurred to me.

“I won’t give up,” Jefferson says, ignoring my statement and taking my hand across the table, running his thumb over my knuckles. On any other occasion I would flinch away. But I let him hold me; I let him take my hand and reach through the window that’s always kept him tethered to the past. “I’ve spent a long time fighting for Violette Bryar, Rosie, and I won’t give up now.” He smiles, showing me a weakness in his bright eyes that I don’t fully understand. “Now that I have you.”

I don’t speak for some time, but when I carry our empty tea mugs over to the sink in one corner of the kitchen, I take the seat closest to Jefferson and pull out the pictures I recovered from Violette’s home. Flipping through them, I find a photograph of Violette holdingJessie’s hand, but she’s not looking at the photographer. She’s looking off screen, appearing almost lost.

“What will happen to her now?” I ask Jefferson, looking up at his round face. “Now that she has no house to go back to?”

Jefferson shrugs his shoulders and rises, as if the sight of the pictures is too much for him to bear. “It doesn’t matter anymore,” he tells me, leaning against the sink. “Because I’m not letting her out of my sight ever again.” He smiles over at the body drowning in the sea of pillows and warmth, losing himself for a moment.

“Good,” I say, staring down at my hands. “She needs someone like you in her life. To protect her. To keep her safe. To make her happy.” I don’t look up. I don’t look up. I don’t look up. “We both do.” I look up.

Jefferson smiles, shutting his eyes. “I’ve waited seventeen years to hear you say something like that,” he tells me, retrieving a vase brimming with wilted flowers from the counter at his back, and without looking at me, sets them before the dark window, bright with starlight.

“Care for some food, Rosie?” he asks.

I shake my head. “I’m not hungry.”

There is a first time for everything.

“Nor I,” he says.

“Hey,” I whisper. “Can I ask you something?”

Jefferson slowly nods his head. “Anything.”

“The bus,” I press, feeling like I should let it go, yet knowing my curiosity is stronger than my regret. “You were going to look for her? For Violette? But what about everyone else? Your friends?”

Jefferson shakes his head. “I changed my mind,” he simply says, and I’m surprised to find his lips curved up into a smile. A warm smile. “The plan was to drive the bus through time, you know. To station people all throughout time, all over the world. And people were certainly willing. But . . . I—” He doesn’t continue.

“You were afraid for them,” I involuntarily whisper, hardly realizing it’s me that’s spoken. “Afraid you might lose them?”

Jefferson doesn’t respond right away. And then, glancing once more over at Violette, his rheumy eyes glistening like embers in a fire, he says, “I was asking so much of so many people to help me recover my lost love. To help me find my happy ending. But I had to consider their happiness, you must understand. Their happy endings.”

He grips the edges of the sink and stares out through the small window just above it, where a strand of moonlight cuts through the checkered curtains and a wall of dust. “I couldn’t afford to be selfish, even if I was fighting for Violette.” Jefferson meets my eyes once more, a glint of gold residing within them like a speck of sunlight in the coolest, truest sky. “I was afraid of losing more than I could gain.”

I nod but Jefferson doesn’t see, and I have nothing left to say.

Then, like a shot fired from the darkness of my head, a question bubbles from my lips. “Why haven’t you asked me to take you home to Mother?” I ask him, staring unblinkingly into his calming eyes.

“For the very same reason that you haven’t asked me to take you there, I suppose.”

I smile, blushing, and my mind wanders back to River. Is he my Jefferson? Am I like Violette, so tethered to the past that I’m going insane? Or have I truly gotten it so wrong as to mistake comfort and warmth for love and forgiveness?

I stare out the window because I don’t know what else to think.It makes breathing a little bit easier.

“I think you’re brave,” I whisper to Jefferson. “For handling all this on your own for all these years.”

He gently smiles. “There’s a difference between bravery and what I’ve done. You’d be wise not to forget that.” He lowers his head, staring at the floor before asking: “Ready for bed?”

I nod.

He leads me to a back room, completely empty save for a bed and a small side table, and I quietly curl up beneath the soft quilt, drifting away before Jefferson has even left the room.

At some point in the middle of the night, I open my eyes and find that I can actually breathe. So I just lie here, breathing in and out, inhaling the past and exhaling my future. Because, for the first time in forever I actually can.

I trace the shadows with my eyes until I begin to slip away, following the dark up through a glass skylight in the ceiling that I didn’t know was there until now; suddenly, like hands grasping me from the night, I’m caught by a sea of stars that glimmer in the sky, bright and brilliant to the point where I’m left wonderstruck.

At peace, a smile caught between my teeth, I close my eyes and drift away once more, knowing all the while that River’s out there somewhere, watching with the stars.


Iwant to train you.”

Jefferson’s words still bounce back and forth within my head the way the stars bounce across the twilit sky above in the subtle glow of the moon. It’s amazing how something as simple as a handful of words can either build us up or cut the rope and let us fall. Like: “I have cancer.” Three words. It’s the truth that’s held me by the throat for years, running me straight into the ground day in and day out. And then there’s: “I want to train you.” Five words. A second chance. A glimmer of light from the dark.

A breath of air in my lungs.

Hardly a day has passed since the fire and I still feel weak—weaker than usual.

Every time I close my eyes I see the fire. The flames. I smell the smoke and I hear the sirens; I taste the heat and I begin to shiver.

“You really want to teach me?” I repeat, raising a single eyebrow, attempting to contain my smile. “To show me how to go back and forth in time?”

Jefferson doesn’t respond at first, his eyes scanning the sky from where he sits on his porch, rocking back and forth in a black wicker chair. Clouds have gathered overhead and it looks like rain, but, despite how much I detest the rain at times, I don’t give it a second thought.

I slump down in the seat beside him, relishing in the soporific warmth of the afternoon; a biting breeze rolls through the surrounding trees, sending quiet crescendos shooting from the darkness of the outlying silence.

“I want you to learn that what you have isn’t a curse unless you let it become one. Your ability is like a wound in reality, and if you don’t take care of it, nurture it, it will become infected and it will bring you pain. But if you let me teach you . . . if you let me help, Rosie, I can show you just how much of a gift our abilities really are.”

I don’t hesitate. I don’t even think of it.

“Teach me. Train me.”

Jefferson holds his hand out to me.

“Where are we going?” I ask, pushing up my sleeves and extending my hand out to him, revealing my markings; the black ink seems to have grown, spreading up my forearm and down to my wrist, coiling towards my palm and up around the inside of my elbow.

Roses. Just like the drawings on Violette’s wall.

Roses. Just like the design on Mother’s plate.

Jefferson shrugs his heavy, heavy shoulders, and then, his eyes attaining a light glow that seems to absorb all the luminosity from the sky and expel it from his gaze, he whispers, “Care to attend a wedding, Rosie?”

I answer by twining my fingers through his own.

But we don’t disappear this time.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“It’s your turn,” says Jefferson, smiling down at my hand in his. “I’ve showed you what it’s liked to travel through time. The lightning in your veins. The addicting delirium that comes with it. It’s unforgettable.”

“Yeah,” I nod, staring straight into his beautiful, beautiful eyes. “Unforgettable.”

“Okay,” Jefferson tells me, “what you gotta do is close your eyes and pretend like time is something that’s moving around you. Like the wind or the rain. And you must project that same lightning in your chest,” he says, tapping his own sternum with his fingers. “Expel it like it’s light from your skin.”

Easier said than done.

I nod and do as he tells me, squeezing my eyes shut. But again nothing happens. So I reopen one eye and peek up at him, curiously studying his face.

“Try again,” he tells me. “This isn’t something you can simply ask for. Time travel—you have to want it. You have to feel like it’s more than just a part of you, Rosie. It’s the part of you that makes you who you are. The part that you can’t imagine living without.”

And I do.

I shut my eyes. I throw away my thoughts.

I listen to his words streaming on repeat through my head. And then, as if I’m on the edge of a cliff, I take a leap of faith and find myself plummeting from the place I’m convinced my echoes used to ignore me from.

Lightning strikes. An inferno unfolds.

Hope and possibility and opportunity hold my hands.

And then we’re gone.


Jefferson’s hand never leaves mine as we fall, drifting down with the reflections of rain that still bleed across my skin, never to be washed away.

Darkness wraps its soft hands around me, holding me tight. The ground slips away and the colony of butterflies lying dormant in their cages in my chest suddenly breaks free all at once, fighting for retribution, and they all swarm down into my stomach, fluttering about until I think I’m going to be sick. But a good sick. Like when I get over excited.

I tumble down, falling forever through the dark, feeling time climb over my skin like a warm breath of wind, gently tossing me from side to side as I make my descent; the sensation is undefinable, indescribable, breaching my flesh like a needle, filling me with an everlasting IV.

Slowly, carefully, the butterflies in my stomach fly again, and this time they fly away for good; the cautious shadows lightly caressing my flesh retract any light from the crevices of my soul, a new needle pulling all the air from my lungs and the color from my being, and reality douses it so effortlessly.

“LET GOOOOO!” thunder claps, filling every vacant cavity within my entire body with sound that reverberates deep into my bones and shakes me to the core.

But I listen regardless.

Jefferson’s fingers slip through mine, despite my reluctance to let him go—because he won’t be the one that got away. Never.

The whooshing in my ears begins to waverand I know we’re about to hit the ground. So I tuck in my legs and pretend like this might somehow soften the blow.

I hold onto the dark with my outstretched hands, forcing myself to slow in my descent the exact way that a child slows themselves on the sides of a plastic slide.

I plead for a safe landing but instead find myself coming to on a pile of overturned chairs, my hip aching from contact. The same sickening feeling tears through my body, but this time it’s less intense. Almost bearable. And I don’t vomit. Not this time.

Jefferson’s at my side, tears streaming down his face with laughter, and when the vertigo fades and I’m released from the delirium of time travel, I punch him in the shoulder as I slowly climb to my feet.

I’m not as unstable this time. It’s getting easier.

I don’t know whether or not this is a good thing.

“You did it,” Jefferson says through a laugh.

“But how?” I wonder. “This isn’t even my memory.”

“It doesn’t have to be.”

I part my lips to question him further but Jefferson is already moving onward, his dead eyes set on the distance. I follow his gaze until I see what he does.

Before us sits a flowery enclosure of chairs, and a crowd ofblack-suits and pink dresses waits before an elevated altar, upon which, looking more beautiful than I imagine an angel up in Heaven to look, stands Violette.

Her entire body is concealed beneath several layers of an elegant white dress that seems to run from her flesh in glittering waves, like snow from the heavens, luxurious and sweeping; the more that I stare, somewhat mesmerized by the fairly brash drapery, I notice a pattern of swirling roses depicted across her untraditional glittering garb,from Violette’s waist down to the hem of her dress.

A snow-white veil, what looks to have been spun straight from a spider’s web, still shiny with morning dew, muffles the beauty of her complexion, but only slightly. Her rosy-red hair is cut short and styled in a way that gives her a halo of curls, a look radiating such pure, unadulterated, unmitigated perfection that I have to look away, though it’s not long before I’ve returned to my ogling of Violette’s faultlessness.

Around Violette’s wrist is a silver band that catches the light and throws it across the lavish enclosure of gathered familiarity, bright and beaming; something about it, as well as the rest of her ensemble, matches the sophisticated decorum of the small wedding. An engraving, I quickly realize, snakes across its surface, though I can’t possibly read what it says from such a distance. I wish I could get closer.

Before long I start to wonder if this will ever become of me.

Will I live long enough to marry? To convince myself I’m not holding the sky on my shoulders all on my own? Will I—

I shake the thoughts from my head. This is not the time.

Beside Violette, looking devilishly handsome, stands Jessie. The very first thing I notice about him is not his extravagant attire, nor the way his sea-green eyes dance and glimmer, reminding me of the waves of a distant sound, sharp and cantankerous in their sunlit-framed flow; they pierce me even from such a distance, breaching the surface of my flesh and looking straight through me, deep down to the person I tell myself I’ll never ever be.

No, the first thing I notice is how he holds himself, standing taller than I’ve seen him yet, like he doesn’t have to try so hard to keep himself collected. His hand is held out to Violette and he looks somewhat astonished, like he’s confused as to why such an angel agreed to marry him.

He wears a pitch-black suit that looks as if it could have been made straight from the shadowed tucks and folds of a storm cloud, and a black hat is clenched in the hand that’s not tangled through Violette’s, revealing a head of short, neatly slicked back hair.

It’s weird to think Violette is my mother.

It’s weird to think Mother ever looked so beautiful.

It’s weird to think any of this is real. But it is. I know it is.

Behind the quiet ceremony, standing like a hand reaching up to shoo away the bad weather and the darkness of cloud cover, one of the biggest oak trees I’ve ever laid my eyes on rises from the dark water of a pretty little pond. Several birds sing from its splayed branches, calling out to me amongst the low-hanging Spanish moss like a warning, telling me that this is the calm before the storm. The rise before the fall.

“It’s beautiful,” I whisper, awestruck, momentarily unable to look at anything but the tree. The big, big tree.

The unoccupied body of water softly glimmers, reflecting the sunlight reaching down, bright like fire. A little ways away a barn looms off to the east at the crest of a short incline formed by acres upon acres of amber waves of grain, running beneath the blue-blue sky; the land is ornamented here and there with small slabs of conjoining sun-struck limestone, sparkling in this glorious, unadulterated light.

The russet-painted old oak walls of the barn are warped with age, and beams of sunlight tear through its skeletal frame, filling its heart with brilliance that illuminates the vines and other creeping plant life that hangs within, flush against the shadows of its interior. But it fits the scene. It’s rustic, downtrodden appeal intensifies the beauty of the surrounding scenery.

Behind us, thick and heavy with beauty, the trees of a thriving forest run into the deep of the wispy grassland, snatching determinedly for any signs that a city exists above the clouds. A small cottage lingers within, and from a break in the woodland, an alley of cypress trees and age-old oaks give way to a trail of untouched violets; they stream out across the wind-blown field and run beneath a floral archway made entirely of white and pink magnolias.

When the wind blows, a warm relief against my skin, flower petals fall from the sky like snow, and I can’t help but reach up and let their graceful beauty run through my fingers and brush against my flesh.

Absolutely beautiful.

Jefferson and I stand beneath a white tent far away from the ceremony, but close enough to see what’s happening. Right away I search out Evelyn and BillyBloome sitting beside little Mary, who stares up at her brother with pride, and I pull my sleeves back up despite my exposed markings, gently smiling in the confines of a warm breeze stirring the day back to life.

This is how the world should be. Not too hot. Not too cold. Just perfect.

“What is this?” I ask, knowing perfectly well what this is. “Why did you bring me here?”

Jefferson, looking more disheveled than an elegant person such as himself can possibly look, merely points to the ceremony. Instructing me to keep watching. And his hands are shaking, his trembling fingers slowly balling into fists, while eyes like ice are frozen on the unfolding scene of the wedding.

The Bloome-Bryar wedding.

“Something’s about to go wrong,” I say, looking past Jefferson to where Jessie stands, unaware of our presence. Of the storm brewing in the daylight. “Everything’s about to change, isn’t it?” Jefferson doesn’t say a word. He hardly even seems to be breathing. “For better or for worse?”

Silence. Nothing but silence.

Something comes over me and I do something I don’t normally do. Ever.

I reach out and take Jefferson’s hand, squeezing his fingers tight. Letting him know that I’m here. Letting him know that this clumsy mess of a person beside him, broken and still breaking, is here for him.

Jefferson, reluctant to look away, glances down at me, his eyes wet with tears—and I wonder when exactly his faithful smile of laughter and glory withered to this state of emptiness and disaster.

I hold his gaze unlike I’ve ever held anything in my entire life, softly and securely, as if I’m holding the eyes of a stranger ready to crumble rather than my father unwilling to grow. To move on.

My father.

The thought still churns my stomach.

It takes my breath away.

“You showed me one of your worst memories,” Jefferson whispers down to me, taking off his jacket and draping it over my shoulders even though I’m not cold and even though I didn’t ask him to. “A life changing memory that’s shaped the person you are today, Rosie. So let me do the same.” He pauses. “Let me show you one of mine.”

Jefferson speaks as though this wedding is a rerun of his least favorite TV show, and he’s afraid of what’s about to happen. Because he’s memorized the entire tragedy. And he’s not able to let it go.

Not yet.

He looks haunted. Daunted. Deeply troubled.

There’s a type of enchantment about the way he looks, as if the trepidation rolling off of him in waves is really all inside my head, and the real Jefferson is waiting beneath the many layers of my fancifully crafted illusion.

I part my lips to speak and try to assuage some of his pain, but Jefferson lets my hand slip away and I feel like I’m a child who’s just lost her favorite balloon, forced to watch as it floats away, too far gone to ever reach again, but far too special to ever replace.

They say that time heals. But it doesn’t. It just forces you to bury the past beneath the present until you don’t quite remember how much it hurt to lose whatever you’ve lost. That’s not healing. That’s forgetting. And that’s the absolute worst part about growing up—forgetting the person you used to be. The places you used to go. The people you used to see. The things that made you who you are.

Time is like the stone you throw when you’re angry. It’s unrecoverable—or maybe it used to be . . .

I shrug on the coat and grin, thanking Jefferson with a brief nod of my head, even though several moments have passed and he’s no longer looking down at me.

I study the amber of hishabitually-empatheticeyes, the refraction of the daylight glinting therein,slightly enlivened by the straits of black etched into the sharp color of his fleeting gaze; when he does glance down at me, quickly, like he’s afraid I might see right through him, his look is penetrating, piercing, and I know a simple second is all it takes for him to know me head to toe, by heart, as if I’m the back of his hand.

“This is your worst memory?” I quietly ask, doing my best to contain my brimming curiosity and failing. “Jessie marrying Violette?” I wonder, glancing back to the altar. “That is what this is, correct?”

“Correct. This is their wedding. But that’s not why this is my worst memory, Rosie,” repudiates Jefferson, though it’s evident to me, aided by the realness of the pain in his shaded eyes, that some of his denial is considerably insincere.

Jefferson slowly shakes his head from side to side, a sad sort of smile playing at his lips. “It’s what happens next that’s always haunted me. The one thing that also saved my life, I guess.” He peers out at the crowd, seeking one man in particular—himself, I suspect. “I had spent so many years tracking down Violette, and when I’d discovered her younger self was engaged toJessie, I couldn’t go through with ruining their wedding. I knew something would stop it. I knew—I knew because of you,” Jefferson breathes, grinning ever so slightly. “Because I had a daughter.”

I gently smile up at him now, trembling at the thought that I’m somebody’s daughter.

I part my lips to ask another question but think better of it.

We watch the officiate smile and grin at Violette andJessie, in which time Mary, swathed in a pretty little dress, waltzes up to the alter with the rings. The couple says their vows. But I don’t listen to them. Because the only vows I ever want to hear are my own.

I can’t help but warily glance around, somewhat fearful of what’s to come. Everything seems so perfect, between the trail of violets and the flower petals in the breathtaking perfection of the air, to the dazzling, sun-struck location that’s too brilliant to think otherwise.

Ten minutes pass us by where I make sure I’m at ready at Jefferson’s side for when the air changes and the clouds climb the bright and sunny sky and sits like a fat head blocking the movie at a theater and everything goes wrong, wrong, wrong.

The storm arrives gradually, to my dismay, though just as dismally.

A stranger in the front row of the enclosure sees it first, and he stands. From such a distance, his orangey hair curling and neat, I presume him to be Jefferson’s younger self.

Violette is shaking like a Chihuahua. A broken Chihuahua. No, not simply shaking. Trembling like nothing I’ve ever seen before, her entire body convulsing atop the glorious alter. She takes a step forward and stumbles, her balance quick to leave her; Jessie reaches out to steady her but she pulls away.

Hastily, thoughtlessly, Violette draws up the snow-white sleeve of her dress, revealing a series of markings that not only cover her forearm like mine, but spreads up to her shoulder and goes as far as to twine about each finger, dark and beautiful beneath her skin.

The markings seem to shimmer, causing the shadows to glitter.

“Vy?” Jessie whispers, reaching out to help her once more. But he’s not fast enough. And quickly, with a look out at the crowd, Violette’s knees buckle and time begins to slow as she tumbles down the steps of the small altar, landing in a heap of white on the ground below. Like a dove that’s forgotten how to fly. Like a cloud that’s forgotten what it means to be a cloud.

Her head hits the ground with enough force to nock anyone’s lights out, but Violette’s eyes remain open wide, staring at where Jefferson and I stand from so far away.

“Close your eyes,” I hear Jefferson whisper to the wind, his words soft and gentle, like cotton on the breeze. Each word creeps across my flesh like all the scars that have made me who I am today, tiptoeing with the gooseflesh that trails in their wake. I can’t help but stare up at Jefferson’s long face, wistful to move from his place in the shadows and run to Violette’s aid and hold her and protect her and shield her from any future chaos that will ensue. “Just close your eyes. And when you open them again,” he says, letting his head hang, “everything will be okay again.”

Alarm spreads like a wildfire through the small crowd, and amongst the arising pandemonium, shouts of fright and panic blooming into a crescendo, I see Evelyn push her way to Violette’s side, desperate to see her soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Desperate to comfort her. Desperate to be the mamma-bear she’s meant to be.

Desperate to take all the pain away.

Jefferson, glancing down at me once more, turns away; turns his back on the frenzied scene that so effortlessly holds my gaze.

“Where are you going?” I ask, my heart pounding inside my chest.

It’s weird the way horror works, unfolding like a car crash we’re not strong enough to look away from, and when our existence grows peaceful and still, we long for an ounce of tragedy to give our lives purpose again, and to remind us that we can feel anything other than happy. That the scars on our hearts are more than just memories, but survival stories.

I reluctantly walkbackwards, still unable to take my eyes off of Violette’s fallen body. The bundle of white. The angel that’s tumbled straight from Heaven above.


“Just wait,” he calmly says.

And I do. Because I don’t know what else to do.

I follow Jefferson up the path of violets wending through the timberland to the small cottage in the forest, meandering through the thick of the woodlands until we’re back in civilization. A payphone sits across the road from the home, almost completely absorbed by a peculiar green bush.

“What are you doing?” I call after him.

I stop in the center of the road. A car could come. I could get run over any minute now. But for some reason I stop and I don’t budge; for some reason I don’t care if the sky falls and crushes me and breaks me into a million pieces because I’m standing here, and after seventeen years of wondering what my father’s like, here he is. Just another person. Just another sac of bones and decision and emotion and perfection and it’s hard to pretend like this man—this man I always imagined differently—is anything but who I’ve always wanted him to be.

“Jefferson!” I shout, standing my ground, letting my voice surface with the confusion and the curiosity tying my stomach into knots. “What are we doing here?”

Jefferson—ignoring my question or far too deep in his own little world, I do not know—continues onward and crams his way into the phone booth, slipping some change into the slot before reluctantly spinning the dial of the rotary phone.

Three seconds of silence pass between us.

Three breaths in my lungs. Six beats of my heart.

A tragedy at my back. An action at my front.

“I require an ambulance,” Jefferson says into the phone, and though I don’t hear most of what he says, I can tell he’s speaking to some operator. He gives them an address. A name. A description of what’s happened but I only hear every other word.

I just stare at his back through the foggy glass after he’s hung up, and I hold my breath, silent as the wind on my skin. I don’t say a word because I don’t know what else to say. So I remain standing in the center of the road.

Breathless. Wordless.


Until I realize that if Jefferson hadn’t just called an ambulance then it might have been too late. Violette’s illness may have destroyed her.

Jefferson might have just saved her life. Again.

And by doing so, saved mine as well.

“Ready to go?” Jefferson nonchalantly asks me when he finally exits the phone booth, somberly glancing around. But I don’t answer. How can I? What else is there for me to say after what I’ve just seen? After everything that’s happened over the course of these last few days.

“Rosie?” Jefferson asks, looking momentarily taken aback by my stillness in the road. He starts forward, his eyebrows lifted in question. “What’s the matter? Rosie—?”

And I run and I leap and he swings me into his arms, catching me the way you catch a cold, fearful and terrified because it’s heavy and gross, but happy about the fact that you’ll get to miss school and work.

“You’re brilliant,” I say against the fabric of his shirt, breathing into his shoulder. Still spinning, his arms entrapping me in the best way possible, Jefferson smiles down at me like nothing’s happened.Like he didn’t just save my mother’s life. Again.

Like nothing’s changed.

“I learned from the best,” I hear Jefferson say, but I don’t have time to wonder what that means because we vanish, blinking out like a light bulb with a short or lightning striking in the dark.

One moment we’re there. The next we’re gone.

Kind of like everyone who’s ever entered my life.

But not Jefferson. Something tells me he’s here to stay.

Even if my life doesn’t last forever, I have faith in the indelibility of his hold on me, and nothing, not cancer, not death, and certainly not time, will ever change that.

I don’t believe in a lot of things. I hardly ever believe in myself. But I believe in Jefferson. And I believe in his love for my mother. And I believe in his ambition to get back to her.

Jefferson swings me around in the darkness of oblivion, and even when the same dizzy delirium that so often wraps around my throat appears just beneath the surface of who I’ve always thought I was, I don’t tell him to let me go.

I’ve never ever cared so little about the possibility of death in my entire life.

Come on, world. Give me a reason to be afraid.

| | |

Jefferson and I fillhis bus with food and clothing,and we start for the forest early the next morning after I’ve showered and eaten a bowl of stale cereal. I wear one of Violette’s old skirts and I play with the hem when I walk, a little surprised by the fact that I’m parading around while showing so much skin.

“I like to spend certain days away from home,” Jefferson always says in response to my questions, though a part of me suspects there might be an entirely different reason for why he doesn’t like to spend the nights alone at his house.

I’m silent the entire ride back, down roads and past houses and shops and buildings. Thoughts flood my brain, distracting me from seeing what’s right in front of my face.

I sit with a sleeping Violettein the back of the bus, Esther’s lumpy body in my lap, thinking to myself, thinking out loud, and thinking I might be going insane. But it’s not my fault. It’s Mother’s fault for never telling me about what really happened to her. But I must know: would I have believed her? Or would I have just seen her as the lunatic I thought she was becoming.

I have so many questions but none compare to my biggest question yet: who saves Mother? I mean Violette. She goes from being crazy in 1959 to living in despair, normal but annoying, in 1990-something. So who saves her? Who rescues her?

“Where is it?” Violette whispers to herself, shaking me from my thoughts. Slowly sitting up, waking from her slumber, she glances around, evidently curious as to where she is like a newborn puppy. “Who’s taken it?”

I turn away from my questions to study Violette.


My mother.

I don’t see myself in her. I don’t really see anything in her. She’s just a chaotic voice behind a mop of hair . . .

“Where’s what?” I ask, speaking softly so that Jefferson doesn’t hear. But when Violettedoesn’t answer, her eyes unseeing, I try again. “Where’s what—”

“Time. Time. Timetimetimetimetimetimetimeis here. It’s here. But it’s not. It’s there. It’s somewhere. It’s at the house. House. House. House.” Violette’s up and she’s fidgeting on the bed, writhing like a dying animal, groaning and gasping, clawing for something in the distance. Until she sees me. Until she pushes her hair away from her face. Until she meets my eyes.

“Jessie always said it was his favorite,” Violette whispers to me.

I stop. I freeze. I’m entirely frozen.

“Did you just . . . I mean . . . did you just make sense?” I try to hide my astonishment but there’s no point. Not after these last few days.

“It was the rose,” Violette calmly whispers. “The rose. The rose. The rose.”

Instantly, as if someone flicked a switch, Violette reverts back to her crazy self and her words are left to linger on the air like knives in my heart.


| | |

“I don’t understand.”

These three words explain my entire life.

“I don’t know,” I admit. “But Violettespoke to me!” I quietly exclaim, running frantic fingers through my frizzy hair and breathing. Because for some reason I can kind of do that now.

Jefferson shakes his head until he looks like his only option left is to trust the unbelievable. “What did she say, then? Violette—” he says, his breath catching in his throat.” He lists his head to the side and breathes, shutting his eyes against the pain that is reality. “W-what did she say to you, Rosie?”

“‘The rose’,” I whisper, staring up into his glowing gaze. “She said it was the rose. Does that mean anything to you?” I wonder before I glance away, letting my eyes wander down the road, past where the bus is parked on the side of the abandoned street, and straight on to where the sunlight grazes the distance.

We stand in the shade of some sweeping tree branches, relishing in the warmth of the day, though I still remain wistful for the temperature of the day of the wedding.

“Jefferson?” I murmur when he doesn’t respond.

I glance back up at Jefferson, who, standing on the side of the road, the gentle breeze blowing his orangey hair to the side, looks much older than I originally thought him to be. It’s there, soft and subtle, buried beneath the color of his gaze that I see so much agony.

“It’s, uh . . .” Jefferson runs a shaky hand down his face, breathing heavily, his skin paling evermore. “Rosie . . . why haven’t you asked me what we both know you want to ask?”

I’m startled by the sudden change of subject, but I can’t help but wonder what he means. “I don’t understand,” I tell him, though even as the words leave my lips, I realize what he means.

“I’m a time traveler,” Jefferson whispers, his face looking solemn, grave. “And yet you haven’t asked me to take you home. To take you back to 2015. To your mother and River. Why is that?”

He looks genuinely curious, his keen eyes searching mine, and I can’t help but blush, a part of me self-conscious of my response, while another remains far too headstrong to care. “I thought it was because you liked it here too much,” says Jefferson,“but now I think it’s because you’re afraid.”

“I’m not afraid,” I say for the second time in just a few days. “Why is that always your first assumption?” I angrily ask, scowling. “I fear stupid things, Jefferson. But I’m not afraid of this. Of going back. I’m not—”

“You’re afraid of what might happen to Violette. To me. ToJessie.” His eyes darken and I don’t know why. “You’ve grown attached.”

“I . . .” I shake my head, worrying away at my lower lip. “I don’t know. I do want to go home, I do. But . . . look, a single kiss brought me back in time! One kiss. That’s all it took. I can’t just go back to my old life without knowing how to ensure that it will never happen again.”

“Stupid,” Jefferson grumbles.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re just like your mother, Rosie. If you’re not hiding from the word, from its problems, your searching to be invisible rather than invincible.” Jefferson’s eyes narrow, and I hate the reproachful way he looks at me. I hate that he’s judging me.

“No one can hurt you when you’re invisible,” I whisper, glancing away, finding it way too easy to stay quiet than get loud. I run my fingers through my hair to give me something to do, and I glance down at my feet because I feel like I might start a fire with these burning eyes of mine.

“And no one will ever dare try to if you choose the latter,” he tells me, lowering his voice. “You just—you want to learn to control your ability just to tuck it away and hide it? That’s like a painter mastering the art of . . . well, art, and then never ever painting again. It’s stupid.”

“You are wrong.” I tense. I grit my teeth.

I stand my ground.

It’s weird how some words seem to mean so much more to us the louder that they are. That’s why we teenagers crank our music up so loudly. We not only want to hear the sick beats pump-pump-pumping through our ears, we want to feel them trickling through our bloodstreams, real to us the way thatoblivion is real to the existence of everything. We so desperately covet a sense of high that we can only ever get off of the requiems that our independent hearts spin to evanescent perfection inside our own heads that sometimes we don’t even know we’re addicted until it’s too late.

But these three words that so quietly leave my lips mean so much more than anything I’ve ever said in my entire life. Even more than: “I have cancer”. Because they represent the fact that I’m willing to challenge Jefferson; the fact that I’m willing to try. Willing to defend myself. Willing to fight.

“A painter doesn’t have to fear losing everything—”

Bullshit,” Jefferson snidely says. “That is absolute bullshit, Rosie, and you know it. Everyone on this God forsaken Earth fears that they may lose everything at one point or another—”

“They don’t go to sleep at night wondering if they’ll wake up in some other time period with no way home!” I exclaim, for the first time in a very, very long time using my voice the way I’m supposed to. Because it’s there. And regardless of what other people say, I like the sound of it.

“Hey,” Jefferson says after a moment or two. He reaches out and tips my chin upward so that our eyes are level. “I found you once, didn’t I? I won’t lose you again.”

I wish these words assuaged my fear. But they don’t.

I found you,” I tell him, glancing down. And then back up again. Because I should know better than to hide my eyes. “If you can promise me right here, right now,” I say, searching his eyes ,“that tomorrow I won’t open my eyes to discover that I’ve magically transported myself to a different time period, Jefferson, then maybe I can find it in me to try to learn to feel so invincible. But you can’t. So I won’t.”

“Are you happy, Rosie?”

I stop. “Am I happy?”

Jefferson sighs and nods his head. “If you knew ahead of time that you had the opportunity to come back to 1959, would you do it? Or would you stay?”

“I . . .”

“You hesitate,” he says.

“That’s because I’m thinking.”

“You shouldn’t have to think, Rosie. You should already know.”

“But I don’t know!”

“Why not?!”


“Because why?”

“Because tomorrow I could be dead!”

This stops Jefferson. Freezes him.

“Rosie,” he begins, “I—”

“Ever since I can remember I’ve been dying,” I whisper, turning away and staring down the road, doing my best to distract myself as these sharp, sharp words bleed from my broken, broken lips. “Every chemo session, every time Mother told me I wasn’t healthy enough to leave our sterile house, every single day of my life I’ve been waiting for some force of nature to sweep me off my feet,” I say, balling my hands into fists as my voice begins to waver. I clench my teeth to sturdy it. “And now that I have—” I shake my head. “I want to enjoy my vacation from reality while I can. And when it ends, Jefferson, you’ll need to let me go—you’ll need to let me burn my bridges.”

Silence falls between us, steady and dark.

I hate it.

Fortunately for me, so does Jefferson.

“And . . . what? I’m just another bridge to burn?”

“You don’t have to be,” I whisper. And then I turn around. “I don’t want you to be.”

Jefferson doesn’t answer for several moments. “Okay,” he tells me, not a smile to be seen upon his lips. “Fine. Let’s just—let’s put a pin in this for now, okay. We have to talk about Violette—”

“No,” I say, shaking my head. “I want to talk about this now.” I quickly glance around, scanning the sun-struck Louisiana landscape. “Look . . . a part of me is happy here. Living in 1959. I could be happy here. I could die here,” I tell him, prepared to find him unable to meet my eyes, for the talk of death is often too much to bear, but Jefferson’s watching me so intently and I don’t think he’s ever stopped.

“But if I teach you, Rosie, you never have to be alone. You can take River back to—”

“No,” I whisper. “I want you to teach me how to control it. But I’ve forced River to suffer enough. I won’t make him leave his life behind just for me. Just so I can be happy when I die. I want to go back. But I want to be ready to give this all up when I’m done, and I’m just not ready yet. I think about it all the time, the future. I’m just not ready to let go.”

Jefferson nods his head. “That’s . . .”

“Stupid,” I whisper, looking away. “I know.”

He shakes his head, quirking a smile. “Not at all. I was actually going to say that it’s brave of you, sacrificing your own happiness to ensure that of another. But . . . life goes on, and if River isn’t prepared to give up his life for you, then maybe it isn’t love.”

I shrug. “Then maybe it’s not . . . but it’s the closest I might ever get.”

“Then . . . challenge accepted.”


“Challenge accepted,” Jefferson says again. “I’m going to prove to you that love is worth fighting for.” With that, and without another word, Jefferson marches back toward the bus, where, from where I stand, quiet and alone, I see a shadow watching in the window despite all the newspaper clippings and the paint.

A part of me wants to believe that when Jefferson climbs the steps of the bus, he’ll find Violette the way she used to be. But then I hear her begin to scream and I close my eyes. I shut them tight. Because it’s easier believing the world is still a wonderful place when there’s nothing left to see of it; when there is nothing left to convince you otherwise.

Why don’t I want to go home? Because. Home is where the heart is. And I don’t think my heart is anywhere anymore. Anywhere but here.

“But what about the rose?” I ask, chasing after him. “What if that’s what Violette is looking for? Something to make her sane again?”

“You’re wrong,” Jefferson says, sure of himself. I only wish I knew why.

“But—look, I don’t know what you want to believe, Jefferson. But Violettespoke to me. So what if I could help her? What if I’m the one who’s supposed to save her?”

Jefferson parts his lips to speak but doesn’t say anything, his eyes sharp with pain.

“If I could help her I need to know,” I say, pulling up my sleeve to reveal my mark.

Violette, awake once more, see’s my arm and runs at me. She snatches up my wrist before I can stop her and runs a finger down my forearm, her skin colder than ice. Her eyes wide and her voice even colder than her skin, she whispers, “Roses are red, violets are blue . . .” She looks into my eyes, her beautiful gaze partially hidden behind her tangled hair. “Be careful, my dear. Love will destroy you.”

I freeze. My breath catches in my throat.

Jefferson is so astonished by the sound of Violette’s voice and the realness of her words that I think he might fall down. I grab his arm just in case, and he reaches out, his fingers splayed, grasping for Violette like she’s a phantom, a ghost of his past.

“Violette, my dear?” I’m not at all surprised by the weakness of his voice.

Violette looks up, her curious gaze searching, sweeping, fighting through the mass of hair running down her face weary face. When she finds Jefferson, tears gleaming in her bluer-than-blue eyes, she appears as though she’s only just woken up from a simple midday nap.

“Hello, sweet, sweet, Jefferson,” Violettewhispers up to him, holding his eyes the way the universe holds the earth; there are stars in his eyes, orbiting a sky that only Violette will ever reach.

I stare, struck silent.

This girl—this broken, messy girl standing in front of me—is my mother. She’s the one who, in just a few years from now, will make my father the happiest man of his life.

And then she’s going to vanish.

She’s going to lose him again.

For a single moment, reunited after all these years of searching, praying, searching, and praying some more, it seems almost too good to be true. Because it is.

“Violette,” Jefferson slowly whispers, gasping, his rheumy gold eyes glinting unbelievably bright. He reaches out, his hand outstretched—but he stops. Freezes. Because to him, to me, this can’t be real.

None of this can possibly be real.

This is just a dream.

A dream.

It has to be.

But I’ve already felt the lightning of time travel. I’ve already bit too many bullets in my lifetime. And I know, dream or not a dream, real or not real, this is happening. So I can crumble to my knees, hide my head in my hands and wish for it to be real, or I can tell myself that it is.

I can convince myself.

I am a good liar, after all.

Jefferson takes a step forward, looking lost.

“Oh, how I’ve missed you,” Violette says, cupping Jefferson’s face in her small fingers; he holds her hand to his face, pressing it to him like it’s a promise she made him many, many years before, and he kisses each of her fingers until his eyes are brimming with tears.

“Run,” he says to her, his voice shakier than I’ve ever heard it. “I should have told you to run . . .”

“Don’t,” Violette says, holding him tight. “Don’t blame yourself for my decision to stay—”

“How?” he gasps, breathing heavily.

Violette pulls his head down to hers, and she rests her forehead against his. “Because,” she murmurs, “I’m here now.”

“For how long?”

“Not long enough, I fear.” She closes her eyes.

Jefferson holds Violette by the arms like he’s afraid she might topple over any second now, and his hand travels down to where her mark sits, dark and wonderful like ash in snow; he only lets her go when she draws away, her movements swift and elegant, and not at all like I expect.

Turning to me, Violette’s eyes travel down my body until she finds my mark—the roses woven deep beneath the skin of my forearm—like she knows what it means. “The rose,” Violettesays, smiling. She meets my eyes. “It’s the rose.”

And then, without warning, she collapses into Jefferson’s arms, lost in an instant.

For a second I completely forget how to breathe. When I glance up at Jefferson, expecting to find pain in his eyes, I’m surprised to find a smile holding him together—because this time he was there to catch her.

Simply, peacefully, like nothing’s happened, Jefferson sweeps his ageing arms beneath Violette’s thin frame and lifts her up against his chest, carrying her back to bed.

But something is different about Jefferson. Something is there that wasn’t there before—something’s awakened in him.

“Roses are red,” I hear him sing to her, his voice carrying to my ears like a hopeful whisper, telling me that it’s not over. That Jefferson knows exactly what “the rose” is. That he knows how to save Violette’s life.

“Violets are blue. Sugar is sweet, and so are you.” Jefferson pulls up the sheets of the bed to cover Violette’s limp body, and he places a gentle kiss upon her brow. “I won’t give up,” I hear him whisper down to her. “No matter what.” Slowly, like the moon climbing the sky somewhere far, far away, Jefferson looks over at me. “Nothing will stop me now that I’ve found our little Red Rose.”

The rose?

The rose.


We’re not tellinghim,” Jefferson tells me with an air of finality, pacing about in the back of his bus with his hands clasped behind his back. Esther walks back and forth, nudging at his heels, but Jefferson doesn’t notice—which is weird because it’s been kind of hard to get his attention off the damn feline.

“Well, why not?Jessiehas a right to know,” I demand. “The girl he’s in love with—the girl he thinks he’s lost, mind you—is finally found. If you have even the slightest idea of how to reverse whatever’s been done to Violette—to my mother,” I say, pausing, still a little unnerved by the reality of it all, “you have to tell him.”

“And that’s where you’re out of your depth,” Jefferson says without facing me, his words like ice, slip-slip-slipping down my spine. “You’re still new at this—”

“I’ve learned enough.”

“You haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.”

“Then tell me,” I press, and Jefferson stops at this, his back rigid, his muscles tense. “I don’t know what you’ve been through. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know why you fell in love with my mother. I don’t know why when Violette vanished you didn’t just let her go. You could have moved on with your life and actually become something bigger than this. But you chased her. You’re still chasing her.”

“If you say you know love the way you do, Rosie, you wouldn’t question it.”

Maybe,” I acceptingly nod. “But what you feel inside,” I say, taking Jefferson by the hand and wrenching him back around, holding his reluctant gaze the way I’d seen him hold Violette’s. “Everything that’s drawn you to Violette, Jefferson; everything you see when you look into her eyes, and everything you want to become just because you’re beside her, just because you know you can be whatever you want now that you’re with her—that’s whatJessie feels. Perhaps not to that extent, no. Perhaps he’s only just discovering what love really is. But he’s young. And he’s lost her once.”

“I’ve lost her twice,” Jefferson whispers.

“Then you should know what it’s like.”

Jefferson stares deep into my eyes, not for the first time. He looks beyond the surface of who I am to a different level, a secret level, a level of being I never knew I contained. It’s like he’s staring back at his reflection in a mirror, trying to come out on top in a staring contest, all the while knowing he’ll never ever win.

“We have to tellJessie the truth.”

Hesitating, Jefferson slides a picture from his pocket and holds it out to me, his reluctant eyes fighting mine. I stand my ground and accept the photo, at once glancing down to marvel at its contents.

There, like a ghost come to stay in the present, Violette andJessie stand with their hands intertwined; a single burn mark from the fire cuts its way across the photo, divergingJessie from Violette.

“This one wasn’t so lucky,” Jefferson explains, clearing his throat. “Sometimes, Rosie, it’s difficult to understand why one thing must fall so that another may rise. Though I have my reasons for distrustingJessieBloome, I don’t distrust his love for my future wife. But it’s not this petty hatred that forces me to deny the truth, dear girl.”

Jefferson sighs and I want to understand why but I don’t. I don’t. “He deserves the truth,” I say again. “After everything, he deserves so much more—”

“He deserves to be happy!” Jefferson shouts, and I’m so startled and astonished that I take two steps back, shrinking into myself. “We all deserve things that will never ever come to us. But I can’t lasso the moon, no more than you can hold the stars. Don’t you understand? You were correct, insinuating that I am, and that I forever will be chasing my past, but I can’t do that ifJessie knows the truth.”

“Can’t you see how destroyedJessie is?”

Jefferson shakes his head, his voice falling to a whisper once again. “You give him one answer andJessie will want more. Why? Because greed is strong enough to drive a man mad, Rosie. Think about what you’d be doing. Think about how this will affect him. Affect me and your mother. Think about the future. You have to. I have to.”

“I haven’t stopped!” I nearly scream.

“You haven’t even started! It’s easy, I know, to lose yourself in the past, dear child, but this isn’t our home! Not if we meddle as you suggest we do. Not if we unravel all that’s spun together over time, woven on through the years. Tell him, Rosie,” Jefferson coldly says, his eyes reverting back to daggers. “Be my guest. But don’t think for even a second that you wouldn’t have made an enemy out of me. And that I won’t be there to stop you.”

I freeze at this. At such a threat from someone so calm, so cool and collected.

“Don’t lose who you are,” Jefferson whispers to me, dropping his voice and squeezing my hand. “I know what it’s like not being able to stop things from happening. But we must think of the greater good before we think of the hearts we might break in our paths.” He looks at me again like I’m something real but something he never thought he’d ever lay his eyes on, like a million dollars.

“Tomorrow I’m going back in time to 1859. This is the year that I first met your mother, Rosie.”


“You may accompany me if you would like. Help Violette. Or you can chase afterJessie. Tell him everything. But you can’t choose both.” Jefferson stares deep into my eyes. “So what’s it going to be?”

“I choose you,” I say without hesitation. “I choose Violette. And I choose the future. But you’re crazy, Jefferson, if you think I’m about to choose between living and running. I’ve already wasted seventeen years of my life trying to decide.” I shake my head, narrowing my eyes. “I will do whatever it takes to help you. But I won’t letJessie fall just so that we can rise.”

“Then you’re even stupider than I thought.”

“But I’m smart enough to know where I stand.”

Jefferson doesn’t say another word on the matter and turns away. He buckles himself into the driver’s seat of the bus, pulling it away from the side of the road despite its loud, audible protests.

“I stand with you,” I tell him. But he remains quiet, brooding in the silence. “Whether or not you believe it, and whether or not you believe in my capabilities or agree with my beliefs, Jefferson,” I murmur, wondering if he’s even listening to me, “I stand with you.” I glance to Violette. “I stand with both of you.”

Blood is thicker than water, I can’t help but think.

| | |

“So 1859?” I break the silence of the bus a few minutes later, doing my best to defuse the nearly palpable tension in the air—the idea that my parents first met on a day that’s one-hundred-forty-three years before the year I left behind is still a little unbelievable. Or a lot unbelievable. Or completely unbelievable. “How did you two meet?”

“A ball.”

“A ball?

“It’s a type of dance.”

“I know what a ball is,” I snarkilysay. “But what happened, then?”

“We danced. We kissed. She poofed.”

“She . . . what?”

“Poofed. Popped. Vanished out of thin air. Whatever you’d like to call it.”

“And you’ve chased after her ever since?”

“One year at a time until I found her, the exact same age as myself, living in 1973. We grew attached to one another, and I came to know her unlike I’d known anyone before.” He pauses, looking longingly at the window. “She often talked of a stranger from a few years back who had helped her. So when she vanished once again, arriving in 1997—it was 1997, correct? You were hardly a month old before you’d gone, which means, if you’re seventeen now, that your final year would have been spent in 2015.” He shakes his head, dispelling the thought. “I spent the last of my youth searching for her. You see, it didn’t even occur to me to go back in time and investigate the stranger and Violette’s time in Natchitoches until just a few years ago, I fear.”

“And the stranger?”

You, Rosie,” Jefferson says. “I’m guessing, anyway.”

I stop, taking a seat on the edge of the bed at Violette’s side. “You’ve spent seventeen years just trying to get back to us,” I whisper. “Just to find that the key to finding us is that I might just find you first.”

“Peculiar, isn’t it?”


“My theory, Rosie, as I’ve stated before,” explains Jefferson, “is that perhaps everyone is born with a sort of compass in their souls. You know . . . let’s use you as an example, Rosie. You were born in the year 1974. This shouldn’t have been correct, you understand. Your mother and I were both born in the late nineteenth-century. This leads me to understand that the markings on your arm,” he open-mindedly says, grabbing at my wrist,“and the illness you bear are all repercussions.”

I want to laugh at how stupid it sounds.

I was supposed to live in the 1800s? I was never meant to have this life? I was never meant to meet River or grow up in a world where people breathe technology like it’s air? I was never meant to taste a meat pie?

I was never meant to have done any of this?

I glance up at Jefferson’s face in the rearview mirror before running my fingers over the black markings on my arm. “Repercussions for leaving my time zone? For growing up in a different century all together?” My eyes go wider than I knew they could go, my breath catching in my throat as realization boils my blood beneath my skin. I flit my eyes up to Jefferson’s. “You’re saying that the only reason I have cancer is because I was . . . because Mother time traveled with me? Because I didn’t become the person I was meant to be?”

“Exactly, Rosie.”

Fear and horror sends a shiver down my spinedespite the sweat forming on my brow.

“Violette, you see, stayed in one place for too long,” Jefferson whispers back to me. “Thus justifying her ailment. But I, on the other hand, never truly stay in the same place for long. Even though I’ve lived in Natchitoches for quite a while now, I often go out searching in different time periods for your mother. I never sit still. Not really.” He pauses, his eyes dropping low. “And you—you’ve felt more alive since you’ve arrived here, haven’t you?”

“Yeah,” I nod, trembling from head to toe. “I do feel stronger.”

“It’s because you’ve gotten closer to your real time period,” Jefferson astutely elucidates. “Your inner compass is still searching, Rosie.”

He’s right. I am still dying. But I don’t think I’d still be alive if I hadn’t time traveled.

“Then . . .” I look at Jefferson’s reflection, and it’s as though our minds are working in sync. “You’re saying all we need to do is bring Violette back to the past—to eighteen-hundred-whatever and she might go back to normal?”

“No,” Jeffersoncalmly whispers. “But I am suggesting that perhaps by bringing her something from the past, like a rose plucked from the earth,” Jefferson smiles, wiggling his eyebrows, “we may be able to reverse the effects of the curse.”

“So it is a curse. I am cursed.”

“Only if you believe you are . . . only if you can’t turn your gift into something wonderful.” Jefferson looks at me, deeply, and I want to shrink into myself, to run away and hide. “Our nature is simply that, Rosie. A part of nature. God gave us these . . . abilities—if you will—and it’s up to us to decide what we become because of them. Sure, I lostViolette twice. Sure, you were forced back in time. But there are a lot of things in this world we don’t understand, Rosie. Sometimes you just have to decide for yourself what’s good and what’s bad, and what’s worth fighting for.”

I drop my head, keeping silent for a moment or two.

“What do we know?” I ask him, and when he doesn’t meet my eyes, I repeat the question. “What do we know, Jefferson? We know thatJessie and Violette were set to get married. We know that you appeared and she started to lose her mind. And then, years from now, Violette gets better and she has a child with you. So we know someone, somewhere in-between, helps return my mother to her wits. So . . . I mean . . . do youreally think that could be me?”

The rose.

“I think time travel is a dangerous game,” Jefferson says, “and one that doesn’t always present a winner.”

“Then let’s play,” I whisper. “Let’s play and let’s win. Take me back in time to 1859. I want to see my mother before it all started.” I pause. “I want to help.”

“It’ll be dangerous,” he murmurs. “We shouldn’t be in the same room as our past selves . . . it’s not good.”

“Then we won’t be seen,” I say. “But I never knew my father until now . . . so give me this, Jefferson. Let me see when you meet my mother for the first time. Let me have this one night.” I catch his gaze and I pause. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll find something that will help.”

“You know, Rosie,” Jefferson whispers to me, looking over at where Violette lays lonely on a bed. “Sooner or later you’re going to see that we’re all just memories . . . and then you’re going to have to learn to let us go.”

I pause.

I shake my head.

I smile.

“That’s like telling someone to hold onto very important words but telling them to forget the voice that made them real,” I say, my voice so quiet I wouldn’t be surprised if Jefferson doesn’t hear me. “But you are real. All of you. So I’m not letting go.”

I won’t let go. I will never let go.

Until I’m queen.

“I will say goodbye to the Bloome family tonight,” I say. “And then you’ll meet me in the morning, right? Then we’re off to 1859.”

“Not tomorrow, no,” says Jefferson.

“Why not?” I wonder.

“Tomorrow you’re spending Easter Sunday with the Bloomes,” he tells me like he’s reading some invisible calendar. “Jessie’s mother called me and asked if you’d be attending their traditional picnic—a lovely little banquet, I tell you. Evelyn’s a wonderful cook, and—”

“I don’t want to go,” I whisper. “I’ve never even really celebrated Easter before. So there’s no point in starting now.”

“You’ve never ever celebrated Easter?” Jefferson incredulously asks, watching me in the rearview mirror like I’ve said something completely absurd.

“Not in the traditional sense, no.”

“That’s too bad,” admits Jefferson, lowering his already quiet voice. “But, well, you have to, Rosie. It would be rude not to.” And then, after a moment or two, he inconspicuously adds, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

I choose to ignore this. “Will you be there?”

“I can’t say that I will, sadly enough. I’m afraid Jessie Bloome no longer sees me as proper company.” Jefferson scowls with eyes oh so like daggers that I feel them pierce the placid air, the unmitigated asperity of which sends a shiver tumbling down my rigid spine. “With fair reason.”

I dolefully sigh and turn away from him as not to show my disapproval, bashfully displaying my disappointment to the shadows at my back. “Fine,” I bitterly relent, “I’ll go.”

“That’s the spirit,” Jefferson says by means of feigned merriment, tucking my reproach away like it’s not obvious that I don’t want to celebrate my seventeenth Easter in a row without my father.

I ignore this. “You’ll come for me the next day, then?”

Jefferson gently nods his head, thoughthere’s an expression of sorrow folded into the faint undulations of his unnaturally composed face, as if he’s sad to see me go, and sadder yet to know that he won’t see me again tomorrow.

“We’ll go to 1859,” he drowsily confirms, voicing his excitement with discolored amusement. “We’ll find what we need to save Violette, if such a thing is in existence. And then, Rosie Bryar,” previses Jefferson, my name a ghostly echo on his elder tongue,“I’ll take you home.Jessie will never know Violette is back to normal, and she’ll fall in love with me in the future like she’s meant to.” He stops. Looks me in the eyes. “Then we’ll go to 2015. Together. And I’ll find her again.”


The way he says that word single handedly cuts me open, and I see that when I look at him, it tears him open as well—her name is like a dagger that’s repeatedly struck, and now it’s back with vengeance caught between the letters that make it real, for it’s the force that’s broken his glass time and time again; and yet he says it so profusely, so calmly, like it’s the one thing that will pull Jefferson from the darkness of the past.

“AndJessie will marry and have children?” I ask. But it comes out as a quiet revelation. “Because life goes on.”

“Exactly,” Jefferson intones. “Life goes on.”

Of course it does.

It’s funny. I’ve spent almost every minute since I arrived in 1959 worrying about River. And now I can’t stop thinking about how, afterJessie went out of his way to help me, I’m just going to leave him behind like he’s a photo from a past that was never even mine—but it is my past, I suppose. It is now.

“IfJessie doesn’t move on,” I say, thinking, “then River will never be born. And if he comes with us—if he helps us, if he saves Violette, they’ll marry and everything that’s happened will just fade away. Because I won’t exist. I won’t—” I clear my throat and refuse to finish my sentence. And then, when I’m weak and unfocused, it abruptly pops from my lips.“I wouldn’t have been born.”

Jefferson doesn’t have to say anything. I can tell just by the sadness in his eyes. “I’ve always admiredJessie in a way,” he says, curling his lips into a tight smile. “He’s protective, that one. It’s a good quality in a person, I believe. It’ll be sad to deprive him of his love for Violette.”

I shrug and danglemy heavy head over the oblivion I’m oh so afraid of falling into, and when the words gently gather on my lips, I restlessly implore, “What other option is there?”

“That’s just it. There isn’t one.”

| | |

River wasn’t angry. He wasn’t mad. He was just holding a heavy book and the wall looked like it wanted to play catch.

A cloud of dust followed the thunder of the book as it smacked against the wall of the library, crashing to the ground in a heap of torn pages. Falling into a crouch, River ran his tired fingers through his hair, pressing them into his temples before dropping to his knees.

Two more days had passed. Two blessed days of using the Goodheart’s shower. Of fitting into Sunny’s clothing. Of eating leftovers from Sunny’s fridge. Of waiting and wondering and worrying. Two days of trusting that everything would be okay. That when he opened his eyes after falling asleep everything would go back to normal. And Rosie would be at his side.

Two more days passed and nothing changed.

“It’s been two fricking days,” River said into his hands, pressing them flat against his face. “And we’ve learned nothing. These books won’t tell us anything about how to find Rosie.” Slowly, carefully, brimming with frustration, River picked himself up, allowing his eyes to find Sunny’s across the room, where he sat before a computer.

His friend looked worried. Which only made River’s frustration level skyrocket. River didn’t need anyone to worry about him. He could take care of himself.

“I trusted you,” Sunny suddenly whispered, looking out the window.

The blue sky had begun to darken as clouds warped its color, harsh winds pressing against the sides of the library like it wanted to come in; like it wanted to read. Like it just wanted to be accepted.

River thought he heard Sunny wrong. “What—?”

“I trusted you,” Sunny repeated, louder this time. “You told me that Rosie vanished. That it was because of a curse. You told me you kissed her and she simply disappeared. And you asked me to trust you. To believe you.” Sunny nodded, standing to his feet. “I did. And I do. So you need to trust me.”

River shook his head, letting it hang, heavy on his shoulders. “I don’t know what to think anymore.”

Sunny just shook his head. “Maybe these books won’t tell us anything. Maybe we don’t have a plan. But I trusted you. So now you need to trust me when I say we’re going to get Rosie back.”

Sunny turned away then, his gaze drifting down, and for the first time River saw doubt in his friend’s eyes. But he also saw trust. Belief. Determination.

Sunny Galen was the only human being in the entire world that River cared for as much as he did Rosie Bryar. And it was that fact—that truth—that made River trust him. Believe him.

They would get Rosie back. They would. They just had to try a little harder.

“I trust you.”

“Good,” said Sunny, slapping a hand down onto River’s shoulder and squeezing. “Because we’re going to get her back,” he repeated. “Understand?”

I nod my head, overcome with so much doubt that it hurts to even think of lying like I do. “Understood,” I whisper, glancing down. “We’ll get her back.”

A part of River told him they wouldn’t. And another told him that even if they did, Rosie would never be the girl River lost. She would be different.

He saw the girl who used to curl up into the crook of his arm and watch TV and then fall asleep in his arms; he saw the girl who didn’t do anything to impress anyone other than herself, like when she would spend weeks at a time in baggy clothes and never ever brush her hair; he saw the girl who didn’t care about anything other than him, her happiness, and her comfort.

River saw Rosie’s reflection in the mirror on the wall, and when he ran his touch over its glass, she did the same, their eyes momentarily meeting. But then, just when River thought he finally had her back, she turned and walked away until she was just a ghost merging with the foggy distance.

Rosie was gone.

Gone, gone, gone.

| | |

Thoughts unpredictably cascadeacross my mind like colors blooming in the sunlit sky, and indecision drowns me in lilac and violet, pressing moonstone-grays down my throat and wrapping me in matte-black shadows that break me down and cut me open until I’m bleeding scarlet. Crimson. Ruby.

Boulevards of color seep from my skin, roadways and alleyways and thoroughfares that make way for all these thoughts, all these words and sentences and feelings to emotions I never even knew existed in this world; emotions I never even had a clue I possessed beneath this ink-scrawled, paint-splattered, empty, empty, empty shell of who I used to be.

Everything is red and blue and orange, and these uneven conflagrations split and fracture and transform the pages upon pages upon pages of words and sentences and feelings that take me by the hands and lead me deeper into such unforgettable, unbelievable, unimaginable agony.

Everything is bleeding red and frozen blue and raining gray and growing green and sun-grazed yellow and broken, splintered, shattered violet.

I can hardly breathe, and when I do, these shades of pain tear into me and fill me with these broken, broken hues until I’m wondering how I possibly could have lived my life in black and white the way I’ve always done.

I don’t know what to think.

I don’t know what to decide.

I’m so overstuffed, so overloaded, so overflowing with all these senseless thoughts that spin me in circles but don’t mean anything more than what they did the first time they tiptoed across my heavy, heavy mind.

I’m ripped. I’m torn. I’m frayed and ever-fraying.

Everything is gray. Ash and smoke and stone.

And I’m sinking in these colors. These thoughts.







And they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

And they are right.

And I was right when I said words will destroy me.

They will.They alreadyhave.


Jessie is waiting on the veranda, watching like a ghost from high above the Bloome estate. He doesn’t wave or smile like I expect him to but stares past me, at Jefferson, who salutes to him from where he stands in the open doorway of the bus. His gaze is sharp but somehow welcoming, like in a way he’s trying to protect me—from Jefferson, from his teachings, and from becoming like Violette.

Evelyn is braiding Mary’s hair with meticulous fingers on the porch, and when I approach they smile so brightly I half expect to find a much pleasanter person standing at my back. But I’m alone. And when I do decide to glance over my shoulder, I see Jefferson drive away, and a shadow writhing in the back of the bus tells me Violette is awake.

I stare after them, my family—and I can’t stop the images of Violette with that knife in her hand from surfacing before my very eyes. I try to blink them away but it’s not easy. It’s never easy.

“Yadoin’ all right, dear?” Evelyn asks when I pass her by, clutching Esther’s cat carrier in one hand like a suitcase full of disdain.

Am I doing all right?

No. No, I’m not. Because I’m dying and I don’t think I want to die anymore and I don’t think I want to leave this place and I know Jefferson has already asked me to and I don’t know what to decide, Jefferson and Violette and River, or Jessie and the Bloomes and this heartfelt home in 1959.

I don’t answer right away. Not to be rude, though I am a rude person in general. I just don’t know what to say. When I don’t respond, Evelyn stares up at me with big rheumy eyes and takes my hand without my permission. “What seems to be th’ matter, dear?”

“What do you mean?” I ask, opening the gate of the cat carrier and watching as Esther hops down onto the steps in front of Mary. “I’m perfectly fine.” I lie, trying for a smile—it’s a lot easier to smile when Jefferson is around.

“Dear . . . yer cryin.”

I’m crying?

A part of me didn’t even know I could do that.

I reach up and wipe my face, blinking away the sudden bleariness.

“Oh, honey, pop a squat,” Evelyn tells me, drawing me down to her side. I don’t hesitate. “Mary, dear, why don’t ya go sit with Pa fer a few? I kin finish yer hair later, all right?” She smiles and the young girl, without uttering a word of protest, silently rises and runs into the house with Esther in her arms, hardly ever glancing in my direction. “Now,” Evelyn whispers, looking deep into my tear-filled eyes. “Why don’t ya tell me what’s wrong?”

I shake my head. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m fine.”

Lies. Lies. Lies.

“Oh, dear,” Evelyn whispers, running a warm hand down the side of my cheek. “It’s this here curse business, ain’t it?Jessie’s bin tryin’ to explain it to me all afternoon, ya see. So either yer afraid ya never gonna get home . . . or yer afraid yer not strong enough to break this here curse, am I right?” she asks, a reluctance to her weakly uttered words.

For a moment I’m struck silent.

There’s so much humanity in her eyes that I flinch when I see my own empty gaze reflected back at me.

Not everyone would be as calm about this as she is.

I shake my head, the world spinning, gravity pinning me down while reality takes me by the hair and forces my arm behind my back, expecting me to scream out, expecting me to break. But I don’t. I’ve put up with enough of leukemia’s shit to be brought down now.

If cancer’s given me anything, it’s the ability to tolerate so much more than I would have been able to otherwise; it’s given me the nerve to bite as many bullets as I must to get the truth out.

My voice is gentle and unobtrusive when I speak, no more than a strained murmur on the quiet, quiet air. “I’m afraid of what I’ll lose if I do,” I say, and I wonder why it’s so easy for me to hand over the truth to her when Evelyn doesn’t even press me for it.

“What you’ll lose? Now, what d’you mean? Ya won’t lose anythin, really, bein from the future an all. My family ain’t gonna be round to help ya through yer days, sweetie, but that ain’t too big of a loss. An I’m sure ya got lots to look forward to, honey. No one knows what th’future’ll bring—” She pauses, her head hanging low on her shoulders before her eyes climb back up to mine. “Well, I suppose that ain’t entirely true, now ain’t it, Miss Time Traveler? But really, what is there to be afraid of losin?”

“I can’t explain it,” I say. “Here I am happy. Here people are still people and the world is still spinning. But in my reality . . . in my world, everything seems to be coming to a halt. And I have no one. No family. Just a boy. Just River.”

“Well, now that cain’t be true? Where’s yer family? Yer friends?”

“You tell me,” I joke, trying for a smile and failing, only now remembering that I’m not funny. “The only thing the future holds for me is River. So I have to choose between him and my happiness and I don’t know what to think—”

“You’ll choose him,” Evelyn says to me. “Yes, Ma’am. If he’s worth it, you’ll choose him. Cuz ya cain’t bury yer head in the sand of the past an hope fer things to git better. No, sugar. There’ll always be that there single question naggin at th’ back of yer mind, always whisperin: what if I didn’t stay? What if I’d done chosen him instead?”

“I do choose him,” I breathe. “I want to choose him.”

She places a hand on my leg and pats it twice. “You’ll make the right decision in the end, honey,” she whispers, a brightness to her wandering gaze, somehow easing the tension from my muscles. “I gots faith in ya. I trust ya—”

Why?” I can’t help but ask, my heart beating to the echo of my faint inquiry. “Why? Why, when I’ve given you no reason to?” I force myself to glance over at her, finding her watching me like I’m a ghost. Like I’m nothing she’s ever seen before. And yet she’s still smiling, unafraid.

This woman is my hero, just for having taken in a stranger from a different time zone. But what makes her stronger than any of the people I’ve come to know in my own time period is that she doesn’t make me want to leave.

“Well, cuz,” Evelyn says, growing far away, her voice tightened by an ounce of severity, an indefinable grimness. “Rosie, you’ve gone an spent every moment since yer stay here in 1959 fightin to get back to him . . . to defy th’ laws of nature jest ferhim. Yer even prepared to take back a life of illness, of fightin each an everyday, never knowin what may come. A life where yer never guaranteed another tomorrow. All for love.”

But I haven’t been fighting to get back to him, have I? I’m afraid I never want to leave.

“No one’s guaranteed anything in this world, not really,” I breathe, shying away, becoming just as distant. I shake my head, shrugging ever so slightly; I let my gaze wander over to the horizon where the light is so thick and hazy that I want to leap into its embrace and never ever leave. “Sometimes fighting for the unknown . . .”

I stop. I freeze.

I start again, praying my voice doesn’t betray me; praying it doesn’t break and shatter on the air the way it always does. “Every breath I take has been for myself, for my own comfort. Because I’ve never cared if I see another tomorrow or not. But I see now . . . by fighting, by chasing tomorrow, I at least know I can be comfortable dying in the life I was given.” I smile, or at least I try to, wiping away the tears that stupidly cover my cheeks. “I can be comfortable with River even if I don’t wake up tomorrow.”

“But kin ya be happy?” Evelyn stares at me from where she sits, speaking carefully like she’s afraid she might scare me away; I try not to lose myself in the candor of her eyes, catching like fires and burning away the lies that bloom from my lips, but I’ve already begun to slip. “Love? Yes, Ma’am, love is a curse,” Evelyn says. “A weapon with the potential to destroy.”

Just like memories.

I nod, glancing away, desperate to catch my breath. “Love is my punishment. And while I know I can be comfortable dying with River, I know I can be happy living here in 1959. Not to escape my problems. But because I feel like I belong here.” I pause. “You guys make me feel like I belong here . . .” I look back at Evelyn. “If I’m gone tomorrow or the next day, I want you to know how much I appreciate everything your family has done for me. If I’m gone—if I’m gone tellJessie that just because Violette is lost, doesn’t mean there isn’t someone else—”

“Why don’t ya tell him yerself?” comes a voice from just inside the house, and I look up to findJessie standing in the doorway. “Yer leavin, then?” he whispers, looking pained.

Evelyn, glancing between us, lowers her head and quickly bustles into the house. But after a few steps she turns and looks back at me, smiling a sad, sad smile. “I hope ya find what yer lookinfer, sweetie,” she whispers. “We may not always realize what we want until it’s too late.”

I don’t respond to this and she leaves us to a very awkward silence.

Jessie sits beside me and I can’t help but hold my breath. Cancer has been preparing me for this moment my entire life, or so it seems. “I don’t want ya to go,”Jessie whispers, unable to look into my eyes. “I know,” he says, “stupid, right?” He smiles, shaking his head from side to side. “I’ve only known ya a short while, an yet . . . I feel like ya belong here, Rosie.”Jessie pauses to look down at the steps beneath his feet.“I don’t think one person can make ya happy th’ way livin here in 1959 can. This is th’ life yer meant to live.”

“The life I was meant to live? That’s back in 2015—No, if everything went in a straight line and this curse didn’t tear my family every which way, I probably would have been born a long, long time ago,” I whisper, tiredly avoiding his curious gaze. “But I understand what you mean.”

“Good,”Jessie says. The silence is quick to catch us as we fall, but I spent the first seventeen years of my life in near silence, so I think I can handle this. I think.

“Kin I show ya somethin?” he asks me, glancing in my direction as a gust of wind blows the wispy strands of my rosy-red hair out of my face, giving way to my eyes. And he stares straight into me, his cool, icy gaze completely overtaking me, unmitigated and relentless in a way that leaves me absolutely wonderstruck.


I shrug, hesitant to look away. “I guess so.”

Jessietakes me by the hand and leads me into the house, up the stairs and into the bedroom I’d been living in. The bed is made-up and the air seems fresher, cleaner. Breathable. And through the windows, bright and glorious, the evening light sets the room ablaze.

For a moment I’m afraid.“Jessie . . .”

Jessie stops, glancing between me and the bed. “Don’t git any ideas, Miss Bryar,” he says, dropping my hand and smiling that smile that makes my knees buckle beneath me. “I don’t know ya that well.”

Relief floods my body and I blush, brimming with embarrassment. I part my lips to speak but quickly shut my mouth, knowing nothing I say will make this moment any better.

Jessie sits down at the piano and I marvel at how shiny it appears, its surface free of any sign of dust or age. The place is immaculate; it’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever known before.

“You’re going to play?” I ask, taking a seat beside him on the bench.

Jessie nods. “I’ve bin workin on this piece for a—well, a long, long time. An then ya came along an I ain’t bin able to think right. Who knew my lack of thinkin would be th’ perfect museferth’endin to my piece?” He blushes, glancing in my direction.

“You’re saying . . . I’m the reason that, uh—”

“Don’t speak,”Jessie whispers to me, his voice soft and calming as he quirks his pale-pink lips up into a smile. “Just listen.”

And I do. And I didn’t think it was possible to drown in such beautiful, beautiful noise.

Jessie’s fingers dance over the piano keys in a blur, moving from one end to the other the way a star shoots across the twilight sky, gracefully without fault. The sound reverberating up from the keys causes my bones to throb in a way that can only be described as serene, drawing me from the harshness of cancer and curses, and leaving me to float in such an ethereal place as to take my breath away.

The velvety melody seems to draw the light in through the windows, where it pools around our feet like water, slowly climbing our bodies until our heads are just beneath the surface. I’ve never been so happy to be out of breath. The soft, leathery climb of such a mellow note echoes in my head, swimming like my sanity, and the world, like magic, becomes a kaleidoscope before my eyes.

Mellifluous, the feathery music overtakes the entire house until both Evelyn and Billy are standing in the doorway, their hands on Mary’s shoulders, marveling at the talent bleeding from Jessie’s touch.

Jessie doesn’t notice their presence and I don’t tell him he has an audience because I’m selfish and I’ve never wanted anything more than to live in such a sound; to burrow down deep and make a home out of the harmonious undertones still sweeping through my mind, crisp and clear, sewing a new reality out of the strands of perfection in its sound.

I want the treasure all for myself.

I can’t help but look from his hands, now just a blur of white over a checkered playing field, to his sea-green eyes, discovering them to be shut tight.Jessie’s heart is beating, every pulse pounding in every feverish note, but if I didn’t know any better I’d say he was dead.

Jessie’s gone pale. The untrammeled color of his soul has dripped into the metallic tinkling of his resonating cadence, and I watch, fettered to the oblivion he’s so effortlessly crafted out of nothing, as his body slowly begins to wither away, his life force draining into the composition.

He’s like a painter, throwing scattered hues and pigments into a mixture in the air, drawing the ether from the atmosphere and pulling it to him, bending the way of the universe to his very will. And while he does so, so painlessly and so simply, I don’t dare speak. I’m not sure I could even if I wanted to, and I don’t. I don’t. I never ever want to speak again if it means sacrificing such a beautiful melody.

Jessie’s music is a paradox. It’s calm and playful, but bleeding though the thickness of the room in a brooding tempo that sends a shiver down my spine. He hardly moves his body but everything about his playing is absolutely sublime, almost febrile, like the wordless beauty of the noise has taken me by the hand and it’s leading me to something terminal. And I’m not afraid of being just another casualty.

Cancer has trained me for this moment, I think again.

The sound curls into the hollowed out spaces of my being and fills me the way the sun does the shadowed vacancies of the world. I like the way it makes me feel, the way it battles my cancer like all of the pills and the shots and the transfusions and the clinical trials.

It’s so prodigious, so rich. So achingly, achingly impeccable.

It reminds me that I’ve been to war and I’ve lost the battle, and the fight inside my body is drawing to a close. But such sound—such beautiful, unexplainable sound almost gives me a reason to rise again, unfettered to reason and unchained to sense. And it reminds me that, though I may not go down in history, I will always go down with my ship. Whether it be cancer or a bullet to the chest, I will be true to myself. I will be loyal to the hulking shadows in my wake.

I will be happy. Whatever that means. Whatever it takes.

Surviving was always the biggest item on my bucket list. Maybe now I’ll make it my future.

Jessie curls his fingers and presses in, and something about the subtle change in his sharp facial features tells me this isn’t just something he learned to do overnight. He didn’t just sit at a piano and decide he was good. He made himself this way. He grew this way. And he bloomed. Flourished.

It’s hard not to feel hypnotized as the urgent, almost sonorous tune glides towards its climax and then rushes back down to a sweet, sweet trill, swirling and energetic, pulling me away and wrenching me back until I’m not sure how to survive on my own.

I feel the clockwork of my salvation chime to an end when it all comes to a close, slow and gentle, just as quickly as it began; it recedes into itself like the waves of an ocean, folding up and shutting down, and where Jessie’s sound held me warm and tight, the acrid air of reality is quick to overtake me, cold and dark and ugly.

I suddenly wake up back in theBloome estate, drawn with a start from the delusive reverieJessie’s music lulled me into. Slowly, slowly, I glance around, feeling somewhat like I misplaced the Earth and spent the last hour underwater, lost amongst the warrens of beautiful breathlessness.

I part my lips to speak because I know a sensible person would complement another human on such a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, but all I do is lower my head, my chin hovering above my chest, and begin to cry. Harder than I’ve ever cried before. Harder than I knew I was capable of.

“I don’t know,” I whisper, knowing perfectly wellJessie didn’t say anything, but also knowing perfectly well that he didn’t have to; the question we both have been wondering now loiters at the forefront of our minds, our thoughts churning in faultless synchrony.

“I don’t know why I would ever go back,Jessie. But I am. I have to.” I pause and wipe my eyes on the backs of my hands, clearing my throat in an attempt to harden my voice. “Someone told me you’re all just memories. And sooner or later I’m going to have to move on and l-let you go,” I hiccup, blushing, growing furious at myself for sounding so weak.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Jessie doesn’t say anything at first. But when I’m about to move to my feet and walk from the room, still breathless, he grabs my hands with both of his and places them on the piano keys before us. Twigs against a battlefield of black and white.

So many keys. Two different colors. Black and white. Yet they both make the sweetest sounds when put together. How ironic.

“Have ya ever played before?”Jessie asks, appearing unfazed.

I think of telling him that I always wanted to learn, and that Mother had even scrounged enough money together when I was seven so that she could hire me a piano teacher. But I just shake my head, wordless and silent, breathing through the tears in my throat.

“Would ya like me to show ya?”

Jessie’s eyes are open but it’s like looking at a field of snow. They’re so filled with color and darkness that they look almost empty, devoid of anything. But I stare into them regardless, ignoring the sharpness of his cheekbones and the rigidity of his facial features. Thestrait of his jawline. The curve of his lips.

I don’t answer and he doesn’t mind.Jessie lifts my hands, his skin cool against my burning flesh, and gently presses my fingers into the keys, sending sound shooting into the silence. It’s harsh and metallic, like that of a bell tolling in the distance, but I like the way the keys feel beneath my skin. I like the emotion they unlock inside of me.

For a moment I feel absolutely untouchable. Unstoppable. Unbreakable.

I feel invincible.

I pull away fromJessie and look into his eyes before glancing back down at the piano and running my fingers up and down the rows of keys. Sound, both harsh and beautiful reverberates from deep within this large, glossy music box, and I love the way I have control over it. My life is as much under control as a giant toddler running amuck in a Christmas ornament store. But here, now, with sound bending at my every whim, I feel like the wind, curling the grass beneath my touch, or the rain, washing away the darkness of yesterday.

It’s peculiar, sound.

At the same time that I play, or what I consider playing,Jessiepresses his fingers down onto a few keys and together, like lightning and thunder, and wind and rain, we become a storm with complete control over the silence we victimize with our sound.

We are the epitome of eternity and nothing is strong enough to break the beauty in this music. Everything about this feels right, starting with the way I feel every single note tiptoe across my skin until my flesh is taught with goosebumps. Even my eyes are closed and I never close my eyes because I’ve always found that I can see as much darkness as I want when I’m dead; because I’ve never ever had a reason to keep them closed before.

But there are some things in this world that are so beautiful you just have to shut down every nerve and every thought in your entire body until you’re just a living, breathing lawn ornament and the world is at your feet and the sky is at your head but you have the ability to be one with nature, the way a drop of rain spills from the heavens and soaks into the ground.

Every single piece of who I am is thrown apart in these melodious moments, and this music is the only thing holding me together.

I’m slip-slip-slipping and the world is slur-slur-slurring until my heart is beat-beat-beating and I love the way my interior feels like the center of a pretty little jukebox, bathed in pretty little sound.

My head is swimming with rippling undulations of different degrees of perfectly imperfect resonance, climbing several decibels and building into a thunderous crescendo that holds me the way the clouds hold the rain. And then it all begins to cataract back down my throat like water on a windowpane, coming close to flat-lining while my heart does the complete opposite.

I look up atJessie, parting my eyes for just one moment, just one breathless second, to find him doing the exact same thing. We never stop playing, our fingers furious on the piano, molding our music into something unfathomable. And I don’t know what happens next. Just that my eyes are closed and he’s kissing me.

He’s kissing me and I don’t feel so dead inside. I don’t feel like a cancer patient or a time traveler lost in the past. I just listen to my heart for the first time in my entire life because there’s absolutely nothing left for me to do but listen and listen and listen.

I listen until the music stops and his fingers are beneath my chin, cupping my face. But I don’t even notice because I still hear its song, pressing into me, beating and writhing, fighting to escape my chest. I feel it in my sternum, my ribcage, my collarbone, and I still feel it even as it moves up into my face, sending waves of panic into the silence and pulling me out to sea before I know I’m ready to leave the shore behind.

His hands are in my hair and my fingers are on the crisp fabric of his shirt, feeling the underlying washboard-current of his stomach just beneath.

Jessie kisses me harder like he’s drowning and I’m all the air in the world, and I refuse to be stolen without a fight. His touch is hot, boiling, blistering over my naturally cold skin, and it melts away the chip on my shoulder, causing my blood to boil beneath my skin.

When his hands—simultaneously gentle and firm—slip down my neck, climb over my shoulders, effortlessly shimmy downthe ladder of my spine, and come to ahalt at my lower back, I feel the exact same sensation as I did when I first time traveled. Lightning courses through my veins and I go from being a loose wire, unplugged and unconnected, to a torrent of electricity fumbling through time and space, brilliant and free.

I’m unstoppable.

I’m a tornado and nothing will stand in my path.

Not even cancer. Especially not cancer.

In this enraptured bliss, my blood having congealed beneath my skin the second the music started, I feel harder, thicker, stronger than iron. I feel like my bones are made of stone and my heart is made of marble and my head is full of gravel. It might be for all I know.

I run my fingers along his unshaven neck and stroke my thumbs in circles down his smooth jawline, sharp and curved like a lopsided crescent moon, reveling in the heat of his glorious smile.

Jessie kisses me softly at first, holding me close like he’s cradling all of his hopes and dreams. His skin is hot to the touch, his body a perfect flame flickering in my grasp. It’s like I’m a thermometerand he’s blowing my temperature through the roof. We dance in silence without ever leaving the piano stool, his lips leading a simple masquerade until all the walls we’ve constructed around ourselves come crashing down, and I no longer seeJessie the way a bird sees the world—so distantly, like it’s a beautiful monstrosity too close and too far away to ever chance myself with.

Now I’m the one drowning, searching for air on his lips, and for the first time I don’t want to be saved. Because I know that ifreality forces me down, hope will always be there to pull me back up again. And here it is, tap-tap-tapping on my lips.

I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to fall into Heaven, and now I understand. Completely. It’s like I’m sailing the seven seas without ever touching the water, and flying through the vast terrains of every cloudscape, getting lost here and there in the glimmering stars and the darkness in-betweenwhile remaining on the ground. I almost feel like I’m falling, but if I am, I know I’m falling into something perfect; something worth letting go of the life with which I carved my name in stone for.

He kisses me and I see stars. He kisses me and I see thousands of different galaxies. He kisses me and I memorize the entire universe until I know it by heart.

Right now, our worlds colliding like the darkness and the light, I know I’ll spend the rest of my life risking the world to set a smile straight across his lips. I’ll do whatever it takes. So long as I’m allowed to live in such effervescent music, such harmonious notes as constructed byJessie’s heart; such glorious, glorious heat.

I don’t love. I don’t know how to love. But this—this is everything I’ve ever dreamed about. Everything I’ve ever read about. And all I want to do is close my eyes and hold onto this moment and every other moment of this breathlessness.

Jessie kisses every inch of my lips like the hands of a clock as they kiss the front of every single second slipping through my fingers. And much like a flower in his grasp,Jessie has complete control over me; he has the ability to see to it that I flourish in the sunlight or wither in the darkness, and I’m putting all my faith and trust in him.

I’m unsteady. Heady. Withering.

What does it look like in Heaven?

I’ll tell you as soon as I learn to breatheagain.

But all of Heaven’s doors close at some point. And there’s one thing in the entire world that forces my eyes open. One thing that pulls me away fromJessie.

And I stand—I stand so fast that the world whirls around me in a dizzy haze, and the piano stool nearly topples over, leavingJessie to grasp at the piano for balance. He watches me, watches the horror that slowly blooms in my cheeks like the roses in my lungs and the lilacs in my eyes.

I can’t.


I can’t.


I can’t.


I’m gasping but I still feel his fingers on my neck and I have to take a moment to steady myself. I grip the piano for balance, pressing my fingers into its velvety-black surface, ushering cancer back down. But this—this isn’t cancer.

This is a repercussion of my astonishing stupidity.

This is my downfall.

I look around me, searching for something strong enough to keep me from falling to my knees, and I’m thankful to find that the rest ofJessie’s family have fled the scene—though it makes me wonder when they left.

Jessie stares at me like I’ve struck him; like I’ve taken a knife and swiped at him. A part of me wonders if, to him, I have.

River,” I whisper, though the word comes out like a revelation, a threat, and a reminder all at once. “River,” I repeat, hating myself for forgetting, for believing I had everything in this moment; for convincing myself I was happier than I’ve ever been before.

I hate everything about me.

“I’m—I’m sorry,”Jessie whispers to me, his eyes wider than I knew eyes could get. “I—”

But I don’t hear what he says next. Because I’m gone. I’m running from the room and down the stairs and out into the front lawn, where the sun is just starting to dance beyond the horizon.

I let the warmth of the tall grass envelope me as I collapse onto my knees, and I don’t care that the ground is damp beneath me.

I don’t care. I’ve never cared. Caring is for schmucks.

I look up at the sky in hopes that I might see stars, the moon, anything that will tell me River might be looking up at the same thing I am and remind me how much I want to go home; how much I need to go home.

Home. Home. Home? You can say it over and over and the word just kind of begins to deteriorate.

“Rosie,” a small voice whispers from behind. It’s so quiet I almost think it’s in my head. But when I turn around I findJessie at my back. He’s followed me out into the yard, and now he’s here, staring at me, watching me, waiting for me to learn to breathe again so that I may run again.

But I’m too tired. To run. To fight. To make things right.

I’m broken down and there’s nothing left to remind me of why I need to go home.

“Rosie,”Jessie says again, and I look up at him just as a cloud is blown out of the way of the sun, and I swear it’s like looking straight at an angel; he’s framed in golden luminosity that breaks me wide open and tears me apart. But the brilliance of the evening’s glow draws the darkness from his eyes, and I’ve never been so sure of the color of his gaze than in this moment.

“Stay away from me,” I try to say, but I don’t think the words ever leave my lips.

I take three deep breaths as the world falls silent—and I wish I could have lasted longer, could have fought a little harder—before throwing myself at him, wrapping my arms around his neck and swinging, twirling like a star in the atmosphere above the bluer-than-blue sky hanging overhead, learning to hold on without shooting across the heavens.

“Don’t let me go,” I whisper up at him while my heart pleads for him to let me go. To forget about me. To throw me back into the crick he rescued me from.

I don’t deserve to feel so enraptured. So blissful.

“I won’t let go,”Jessietells me back, holding on like I’m a life preserver and we’re going under. He presses the tender warmth of his lips against my neck, breathing my name the way the pages of a book breathe the words of the paper. “Rosie, just hold on,”Jessie says into my ear, into my heart, into my soul until I’m nothing but a puddle in his hands. “Just hold on.”


P l E A S E, N O.

I’ll never let you go.

L E T M E G O.

Hold me tight.


Never ever give me up.

I gripJessietighter and try to pretend like I’m not slipping away. Like I’m not suspended above the world and if he lets me go I’ll plummet to my doom.

If I’ve learned anything in this world, it’s not simply that every rose has its thorns. It’s that every rose needs its thorns to survive. And I’m doing a pretty shitty job.

| | |

“You watch those time travel shows, right? So how do those people usually go back in time?”

Sunny paused, as if giving himself time to think, though the answer was evident to him the moment the question was asked. “A time machine,” he suggested, and it was clear to River that, though his friend was skilled in the art of sarcasm and snarkyness, as was he, Sunny was doing his best to sound sincere.

“And how do you think we go about getting one of those?” River asked, searching the fridge before moving about the Goodheart’s kitchen, making himself a PB and J sandwich. He hit his head three times on the overhead lamp, causing it to sway. “The Internet?”

Sunny shrugged, slumping down across from him on a stool at the kitchen island. “Who knows, River? Maybe you’ll get one for Christmas. I hear there in for 2015. I can just picture it, too,” he smiles, spreading his fingers and gesticulating a visual. “‘Santa brings fugitive time machine—runaway found dead in woods’.”

River rolled his eyes, licking the peanut butter off his knife before tossing it into the sink. “It’s weird,” he said, his teeth sticking together. “Usually I spend the month of December counting down the days until Christmas. And here we are, just days away, on vacation, and all I can think about is Rosie.”

“Because you generally think of much else?” Sunny mocked, peeling an orange that he stole from the fruit bowl sitting in the center of the counter. “But, yeah, I get it,” he eased up. “It must be hard.”

River nodded, staring off at the wall. Thinking.

“What are you thinking about?” Sunny asked.

River, absentmindedly biting into his sandwich, shook his head. “Rosie always talked about leaving this town.” He swallowed and sighed. “She hated it here because it reminded her that she was going to die. It wasn’t open enough, you know? There were too many walls for her mind to roam. Too many people to see her and look at her with sympathy; to ask her about her health. All she ever wanted, more than anything in the world was to be happy somewhere far, far away.”

“Okay?” Sunny murmured through a mouthful of orange slices.

“Well,” River shrugged, setting down his sandwich and wiping his hands free of any crumbs. “What if Rosie’s happy? What if the past or the future is the place she’s spent her entire life dreaming of? What if she’s not coming back? Because she’s finally happy. I mean, well, I don’t want her to come back if she’s finally at peace. If she’s found what she’s searching for. I just—I don’t even know,” River admitted, crossing his arms and leaning back against the kitchen counter, letting his mind wander until he wanted to shrink back into the shadows of his frustration.

“And what if she’s not? What if she just needs a little time?” Sunny asked. “Who knows, River? Maybe she’s just around the corner, waiting for you. Just like you’re waiting for her.”

And what if she’s dead? But River didn’t ask this. How could he? Even the thought threatened to destroy him.

Sunny knew River too well, for without uttering such a fatal inquiry, his friend knew exactly what he was thinking.

“She’s not,” is all that he said. “She’s not.”

“I know,” River said, over and over until it felt real to him. But he didn’t think it ever really would.

River wistfully looked to the window and stared, a smile playing at his lips as if Rosie were waiting for him out on the front lawn, standing in the rain. River imagined that she was, her hair messily curled about her finely freckled face; her clothes wrinkled and old, her feet firmly planted so that she was standing to one side, while her dark eyes scanned his, unafraid and beautiful.

Absolutely beautiful.

When River blinked, the wind took Rosie away like all the sound from the room, leaving him to stare up at the dark, brooding clouds, beckoning him closer like an ominous hand. River found that he could do nothing more than comply until he was out on the front lawn, the rain heavy on his skin.

“I’m coming, Rosie,” he whispered, beaming despite the piercing cold, his eyes alight with hope. “Just hold on a little longer.”

Just a little longer.

But the storm was already upon them. The calm had officially gone. Gone like Rosie. Gone like yesterday. Gone like any light of day that would pull River from the dark.

Gone, gone, gone.

River shut his eyes and smiled up at the pouring rain.

| | |

“Do you know why I love the rain?” River once asked me as we took a stroll down by the river, walking hand in hand, observing the birds that crooned to one another in the branches of the distant glade.

“Why?” I so casually wondered. At the time I didn’t really care. But now his words hit me tenfold, worming their way into my heart and detonating like individual grenades set on blowing me away. And they succeed.

“Because,” I recall him saying as he kissed my cheek, “even when you tell me not to look at you on your worst days, Rosie, I still see your reflection in every surface, and it’s beautiful. I already see you every time I close my eyes, but when it rains I never have to miss a thing. I never want to miss a thing.”


“Echoes bind us to the words that define us, my grandfather once told me,” River had so easily said. “I never really understood what he was saying, but now I realize what he meant. The things that stay with us, the things that haunt us, and the things we can’t live without define us as the kind of people we’ve allowed ourselves to become. And you, Rosie,” he told me, “will always be the resonance to my voice, the sound to my lips, the reflection to my refraction, and the truth to every one of my lies.” He paused, I remember, and looked down at the ground—at the puddles in the earth, and my reflection therein—and smiled. “You’re my echo.”


“You’ve made me who I am . . .”

These six words linger inside my head and never give me peace of mind.

I am a monster.

I clamp my hands down over my ears and pretend like it’s not pouring outside. I close my eyes and I bury my head into the blankets of my bed, and I don’t listen to the thunder ricocheting off the walls I’ve built up around myself.

I never want to miss a thing.

I’m bleeding and I never knew anything could hurt this much. Agony reverberates throughout my body and I jolt like the recoil of a gun, tormented by the memory breathing down my neck.

You’re my echo.

I’ve never hated the rain more than I do now.

I’ve never hated myself more than I do now.

Just hold on.

{Part Three}

Saved By A Light

| | |

The light of day won’t always illuminate the path we want to take. It might even show us a million paths before it shows us which way we’re truly meant to walk. But I will spend a lifetime searching in the light before I even think of taking a single step in the dark.


I’ve never celebrated Easter before.

Every year on Easter Sunday Mother would sit me down with a couple pieces of chocolate and make me waffles, which was good enough for me. But that’s like taking a bite out of plastic and saying, “hey, that’s pretty good for plastic”. But it’s plastic. It’s not real. It never ever was.

I initially walked into the church entirely unsure of what to expect. Mother took me to church for the first five years of my life and stopped shortly after cancer began its stay in my lungs. I don’t recall most of it. Just the uncomfortable pews. The smell of old leather. And being forced to sit through a lecture where a man basically listed the reasons why we’re going to Hell.

But this is entirely different. This is peaceful.

I sit between Evelyn andMary, and throughout the entire time I don’t once glance out the window and wonder how many more minutes I have until it’s over.

The pasture speaks for a while, inviting members of the crowd to speak their minds, and we pray. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed before. Not really. Not like I do today.

Church ends shortly thereafter, and we shake hands with those standing in front of us and behind us, smiling and whispering, “it’s very nice to meet you,” and meaning ever single word of it.

“So?” Evelyn asks me whenwe descend the steps to where Billy parked the car on the curb. “What d’you think? Nice, right?” She turns and smiles back up the short hill to the church. “It’s like a second home to us, I believe.”

I wish I could feel that way.

I wish I had a home that actually felt like a home.

But I’ve got to stop wishing.

“Very,” I say with a grin, fighting the urge to look back over my shoulder at the edifice on the hill the way Evelyn does, like it’s a hand suspended out for her to take rather than what I see, four walls and a roof. “It wasn’t at all what I expected.”

I swallow down all my sins and wonder if it’s too late for me; I wonder if I’m far enough into this dark forest that haunts me day in and day that it would take the same amount of steps to go back as it would to continue into the light.

Can I be forgiven for my selfishness? For my lies.

For everything I’ve convinced myself will put distance between me and the rest of the world I’m trying so hard not to be a part of; the world that’s prettier from far away.

“Ya don’t go to church that often?”Jessiewonders, shocking me from my brief reverie.

“No, I—” But I don’t finish this sentence because it occurs to me that I have absolutely no idea where it’s going. So I stop. Drop my head. And pretend like no one is watching me as I count the lines on the pavement.

“It’s okay,”Jessie says, placing a hand on my forearm. “Not everyone finds God in a church,” he tells me, and I think of asking him what he means when a voice I’ve never really had the chance to memorize suddenly calls my name.




I turn around.

“Rosie?” It’s Billy.

“Yes?” I ask, facing him while the rest of our small party falls silent—Billy has a voice that, though soft in itself, seems to climb beyond all else until only his words infiltrate the fortifications I’ve built up to defend myself.

We all listen as this man’s taciturnity sails away without him. “D’you mind if we have a quick word in the house of our Father? It won’t take long, I promise.” His eyes plead for me to say yes while his voice sounds gruff and annoyed, almost unwelcome.

I freeze, momentarily astonished by his request. When I try to speak I find that no sound comes out and all eyes are on me and I feel like a spot on a wall that’s known for standing tall but all I want is to crumble to my knees and take a nap.

“Sure,” I say, trying not to make it sound like a question. But it does. “I mean yes,” I say, doing my best to put some certainty behind my voice.

“Hon,” Billy says as he turns to Evelyn, “you take th’ kids home an Rosie an I’ll catch a ride with one of th’ neighbors, all right?” He kisses his wife and bothJessie and Maryreel in disgust, causing me to laugh an awkward laugh that I hate.

“Sure thing, sweet pea. I’ll see ya when ya get home.” Then, turning to me, she adds, “See you soon, kiddo.” Evelyn’s smile doesn’t fade from my mind—it’s the smile of a mother; a friend; a saint.

Billy hands Evelyn the car keys, and while I watch, a little reluctant to turn around and face whatever it is Billy wants to tell me,Jessie smiles at me and gets into the car. And that one smile—that one upturn of his lips—sends a burst of energy through my veins.

I’m buzzing.

We watch the car disappear into the Natchitoches distance before making our way back up the steps to the church. Billy leads me through a small family huddled near the door, and we sit towards the front of the small nave, now completely empty save for a few stragglers still praying in the back.

“D’you know why God is great, Rosie?” Billy asks me after almost a full minute has passed us by in absolute silence, looking anywhere but at me.

“N-no,” I sadly admit, glancing around, unsure of what to say or what to think.

I glance up at the statue of Jesus hanging from the cross on the wall and I gulp down the fear accumulating in my throat.

“God is great, Rosie dear, in my eyes, fer three different reasons.” He glances over at me now, his gruff features folding back to reveal two glorious blue eyes like that of his son’s, shimmering with such perfection that I’m momentarily shocked to silence.

“Would ya like to know what they are?”

“Yes,” I whisper, holding my breath. “I do.”

“He’s selfless,” says Billy, holding up a single finger.

“Selfless,” I repeat. I don’t know why. I’m just awkward.

“Yeah, selfless. He didn’t hafta create all of humanity but He did, okay. He loves us regardless of what we say or do cuzour mistakes were born from the clay He forged us with, okay. Our scars anour faults are His fingerprints in the surfaces of who we are, bleedin through.”

My cancer, I think to myself.

Billy, roving my face with unseeing eyes, smiles down at the ring around his finger. “We love cuz God first loved us, Rosie. Oh, we love cuz God first loved us.”

I hang my heavy head at this because I still don’t know what love is really supposed to look like. Feel like. Hurt like. And the idea that someone is watching over me, waiting for me, loving me from afar—it’s not stable enough for me to rest my head upon. I wish it was. Maybe it will be. Soon. But not yet. Not yet.

“Number two?” Billy holds up another finger.

I trace the weathered patterns that wend their way across his wrinkled flesh until I see a man of motely malformations, sewn back together through the years, rather than the untouchable man I thought him to be—I taste the bitterness of my distorted first impression and stare at him more thoroughly, wondering with eyes wide open why someone so deformed by reality can be so . . . hopeful. So . . . awake.

“He’s a father,” Billy continues. “He watches over His creations, His children, anbestows ’em, not with gifts of vanity or object, but gifts that somehow lift ’em higher up th’ steps to Heaven.”

Gifts, I think to myself. My ability to time travel.

“And number three?” I don’t know why I’m eager to understand.

Three reasons.

Three fingers.

Three seconds of silence.

“God is great cuz with Him nothin is impossible.”

He’s selfless. He’s paternal.

Everything’s possible with him.

“What do you think?” Billy wonders to me.

I want so badly to object. To tell him that no amount of praying will ever dilute the cancer from my body, but I don’t. Because there’s nothing quite as immoral as degrading one’s faith, especially to their faces. But his thoughts lay heavy in my own head, and the truth on my lips stings to swallow back down. But I do it anyway.

“Why, if I may ask,” I say, “are you telling me this?”

Billy folds his hands and leans over the pew in front of him before turning his beautiful eyes on me, searching my face like it’s a map he’s having trouble reading. “I brought ya here, Rosie Bryar, cuzth’ fact that you are here with me now is proof that God is great. You, an impossible specimen from the near future, come to stay in th’ past.” He pauses to smile. “God ain’t always forward with his messages, my dear. But they’re always there. Ya jest have to look fer ’em—ya jest gotta read between th’ lines.”

I lower my head and do my best not to blush, gritting my teeth to try and wake me from this numbness; this unadulterated lack of emotion I’ve trained myself all my life to hold so dear to me. “God didn’t send me here,” I tell him, letting my voice raise the slightest bit. “I’m just a fluke.” I’m just a mistake. “I don’t belong here.” I don’t dare glance up at Billy when, with an air of finality, I add: “This isn’t my home.”

“No,” says Billy, “but it could be.”

I stare up at him and see warmth in his eyes—warmth unlike any kind I’ve known before, almost familial. He runs a hand down his stubbly chin and sighs, though his eyes never fail to lose their glow.

“We didn’t do things th’ right way with Violette,” Billy murmurs. “We lost her cuz we were too set on th’ idea that there was a way to get her home. Home to her life in th’ past. Home to her family. An Violette, jest like ya, Rosie, saw herself an outcast. How could she not? But we lost her cuz she didn’t know where she belonged. And we don’t wanna lose ya too. Even if we’ve only just met.” He paused. “Even if ya don’t trust us yet.”

“You’d take me in?” I look up at him now.

Billy doesn’t answer my question. “It ain’t hard to see Violette Bryar when we look at ya,” he quietly says, staring into my eyes. “It’s hardest onJessie. I see th’ way he looks at you.”

I blush and look away. “Oh,” is all that I say.

“That’s why I wanted to talk, okay,” Billy says, turning to face me once more. “My son never did git over Violette, despite his attempts. An it ain’t easy havin her jest down th’ street. It ain’t easy on any of us. Evelyn included.” He stops. He stares. “It’s kind of like we lost a daughter. So it—it jest ain’t easy.”

A daughter, I think. Is that what Evelyn sees in me?

“I can imagine,” I whisper. But I can’t. I can’t imagine falling hopelessly in love with someone and then losing them the wayJessie has, knowing they’re just a car ride away but entirely different from who they used to be. Entirely gone.

I can’t imagine losing someone and then running into a mirrored image of them a couple years later. I can’t. I just can’t.

“That’s why he looks at ya th’ way he does, Rosie.”

I know.

“It’s cuz of Violette.”

I know.

“Every time he sees ya he expects ya to be her.”

I know.

“But I’m not her,” I whisper, suddenly feeling sick to my stomach. “I’m never going to be her.” This revelation settles on my shoulders and I hate how heavy it is; how familiar its level of pain is to me.

“That is what ya need to tell my son,” says Billy. “He needs to know that you are different. That jest cuzViolette found happiness here in this time period doesn’t mean you will.”

“And what if I do?” I ask him, shocked by my own response. “What if I am happy here?”

“It don’t matter,” Billy tells me. “Ya still ain’t gonna be th’ girl he lost. No matter how much ya look like her. You ain’t Violette.” He clears his throat and drops his head. “You ain’t ever gonna be Violette.”

He’s right. He’s so right.

“I’m sorry I had to drag ya back up here to tell ya, Rosie, but ya needed to know.”

No I didn’t. I could have spent the rest of my short life not knowing and falling in love withJessie and getting lost in this pretty little world I’ve never really known and wasted my entire life hurtingJessiein a way that would have destroyed him. But we could have been together. We could have belonged.

Selfish doesn’t come close to describing what I’ve become.

“Thank you,” I whisper, biting back the scream percolating inside my chest.

I feel a wave of tears press at the forefront of my skull and I swallow them down as best as I can, the way I’ve taught myself to. I look away, running my fingers through my hair and pressing them against my temples, wondering when the hell all this hair in my face became the one thing in existence I could ever associate with perfection.

“Come here,” Billy tells me, and before I know what’s happening he’s pulling me into the warmth of his side, draping an arm across my shoulders and squeezing me tight. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said anythin,” he quietly tells me. “Maybe I’m wrong.”

I shake my head and part my lips to tell him that he’s not wrong. But no words come out and I don’t force them because I know that if I do I’ll start crying. So I just shake my head over and over until it’s time to go.

I stand in the doorway a moment and glance back, imagining Easter Sunday as Violette, sitting and smiling at the front of the church, praying to God up there in Heaven for things to change. For things to get better.

“Come now, dear,” says Billy. “We don’t wanna keep th’ others waitin.”

Silently, closing my eyes and lifting my head, I pray that things will change. That Billy is wrong. ThatJessie doesn’t see me as Violette, the girl that got away. I pray for a better life. But I wish on every star that I know exists above the clouds for a do-over. A rewrite.

I wish to start over.

Because wishing is all I’ve ever done.

But as I open my eyes and look around the church, I ask myself: if God never answered my prayers before about dispelling the cancerous force crushing me from the inside out, why would he answer me for something as small as this?

I follow Billy out of the church and down the road. We walk to the soda fountain in utter silence and he buys me a quick drink before one of the neighbors gives us a ride back to the Bloome estate.

I think aboutJessie the entire time.

Just hold on.

| | |

I spend most of the day hiding in my room.

At three o’clock in the afternoon Evelyn asks me to wash up for dinner and I do, scrubbing all the tension and the pressure from my bones until I remember that I can’t wash the scars and the memories from my skin as well.

It was worth a try.

I take my time getting dressed, slipping into the dress Jefferson was kind enough to drop off for me this morning while we were away at church. Standing before the bathroom mirror, I flatten the smooth fabric of the dress against me and breathe, wondering when my life changed so much that I went from wearing sweatpants and baggy sweatshirts to dresses.

I stare into my eyes and try to grow a smile from my frown, running firm fingers down my face and playing with the glow of my grin. I play with my hair until I’ve settled on the idea that nothing I do with it will make a difference, and then an idea pops into my head.

I search under the sink for a pair of scissors. I find it and hold it in my hands, glancing from the scissors to the mirror and back again, snipping the air between its two cutting edges.

“Rosie?”Jessie’s voice calls through the door. “Are ya almost ready?”

“Yes,” I say in return, making my decision. “I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”

| | |

I set downthe scissors and step back to observe what I’ve done.

Scarlet curls cover the basin of the sink and I stare at them, remembering the promise I’d made to myself just months before about how I would never ever cut my hair again. But that was before. Back when I was afraid.

Now when I look at the mirror I don’t see cancer. I see what I’ve become because cancer got in my way. Something not as vacant. Something not as broken or cracked. Something that’s less ugly and afraid than it used to be.

I clean the hair from the sink and walk back to my room, finding a small pillbox hat with a stunning black veil and a pair of long, pearl-white gloves waiting by my pillow.Jessie sits at the piano but doesn’t play; he simply sits and watches out the window, staring up at the sunshine filtering through the glass.

“Jessie,” I whisper, slipping on the gloves and pulling them up to my elbows, relishing in the warmth that they provide and wiggling my fingers in the satin material.

He turns, then, his eyes slow and beautiful, as if he’s waking from a dream. And I forget to breathe. Because I’m stupid. And now I’m coughing and spluttering and dying.

“Rosie . . .”

Jessie quickly stands. From the vacancy of the piano stool on the far side of him,he pulls up a bouquet of orange and yellow daffodils blooming to perfectionand holds them out to me, his smile bright to match the beauty of the flowers—though, with the wondrous reflection of the daffodils in his eyes, sits an unmistakable tint of despair and grief. Like a part of him has died and he’s mourning its loss.

“For me?” I stupidly ask, taking the flowers.

Jessietowers over me in his church shoes, and when I let my eyes wander down his freshly-shaven neck to the pastel-colored shirt clinging snuggly to his shoulders, appearing as if the sun has shed a tear and it landed inJessie’s clothes, I find a tie hanging crookedly from his neck.

“Picked ’em fresh this mornin,” he says with a nod.

“Thank you, they’re pretty,” I say, trying not to sound like I hate them. Because I don’t. I actually do find them rather pretty, I suppose. Even if I’m not, and never will be a flowery-princess-and-unicorns type of girl.

Jessiefidgets with his tie, trying to loosen it.

“Can I help you with that?”

“You kin tie a tie?”

“I can,” I whisper, and even though he hasn’t asked me to, I reach forward and start at work onJessie’s tie, first unraveling the knot at the nape of his neck and then starting fresh. “It’s weird,” I say to him, “how much trouble I have putting on dresses, and yet I can tie a tie easy-peasy.”

Jessie’s eyes slowly dance down the front of my dress and I blush with embarrassment, running a tremulous hand down my face, pretending like I didn’t notice.

It’s pretty, the dress. And it hugs my skin in a way that no clothes, not even little Mary’s, ever did; I feel like I’ve finally broken through my shell to find a much better home inside my own skin. I’m comfortable in something other than sweatpants. And I’m happy.

“Yer father taught ya?”

I pause before shaking my head. “I actually never knew my father until just recently.”Jessie looks down at me and inspects my face, his dark blue eyes roving, but I’m thankful in this moment that my visage doesn’t betray me the way it always tends to. “It’s all right, though,” I add after a moment or two. “I know that if there was any way to change things he would. But it’s not his fault.”

“It sound like it is,” saysJessie, his tone bitter.

“Well, it’s not.” I finish his tie and brush away the invisible dust marring its surface, flattening it against his chest and feeling the heat of his skin pressing through the bright fabric. “Not everything’s that simple.”

A sliver of silence passes between us, and in that time I find myself slowly drawing farther and farther away from him.

“I’m sorry ya never got to know yer father,”Jessie says to me, reaching out his hands and pulling me closer, reeling me back in—so he notices the distance just the same. “I’ve spent each anevery day of my life with Ma an Pa, an it’s hard to imagine a life without either one of ’em.”

“No,” I say, “I can’t imagine that it is.”

Jessie stares into my eyes and the tense energy running beneath my skin instantaneously pulls taught, causing my entire body to straighten like a stick.Jessie notices and I flush. When I try to turn away he pulls me back.

“Tell me about him?”

I start to shake my head when an image of my father passes before my eyes. The image of who he was before I met him—the image Mother painted in my mind. “He’s tall,” I say, “with large glasses and brown hair. He’s got freckles and dimples and a stare that could kill. And he’s nice. A gentleman.”

“He’s good to ya?”

“He is,” I say, nodding. “I wish he could be here with me now.”

“Me too,” saysJessie.

“Oh, yes,” I say. “I’m sure you too would get along just nice.” I try for a smile but for some reason it doesn’t come. Maybe because Jessie has been nothing but loyal and honest to me since my arrival, and here I am, once again, lying to his face.

I clear my throat. “Never mind that, though. It was River who taught me how to tie a tie,” I say. “It took a while. But I’m a fast learner at times.”

“How nice.” Jessie suddenly sounds disinterested.

“So,” I say, spinning around and showing him my dress until I’m dizzy and his eyes hold mine, dark blue and sparkling like an ocean at night. “What do you think? Too much?”

Jessie parts his lips to speak but is at a loss for words; the light coming in through the windows illuminates the darkness of his gaze, and he stands before me, limned with an almost iridescent burst of gold, so bright and shimmering that I’m stilled by the beauty of it all.

“That good, huh?” I say mostly to myself, admiring the pattern of roses on my arm, each bound to the next by a single intertwining stem of thorns; the darkness of the ink is captivating, and my markings seem to glimmer when I move, as if tiny stars remain tethered to the shadows of the meticulously scrawled designs.

“Shall we go eat—?” I begin to say.

But I don’t get that far.



Jessieplants his hand beneath my chin and raises my lips up to his as he gazes into my eyes; the same shade of fear and exhilaration is reflected in his eyes as my own, a sparkling tinge of dazzling blue that sooths like the reminiscing of the grass with the wind, and the fold of sunset intervening from above.

I don’t even think of pulling away until after he’s already let me go, and when he takes a step back to admire me, scanning the outline of my frame with crystal eyes, I feel my heart stutter inside my chest, whirring like a broken machine. “Sure,” Jessiesays a little breathlessly, looking down at me with a smile caught between his teeth; his long finger’s still rest on my chin, simultaneously soft and callused. “Let’s go.”

I a Ms T i L l. F r O z E n. B r E a T h L e S s.

ToOaStOnIsHe Db Y tH e TaSt E o F hI s JoY o NmY lIpS tO tHiNk StRaIgHt.

Billy’s words come back to me and I want to tell Jessienot to kiss me again. But more than that I want to tell him to kiss me and never ever stop. Because maybe Billy was wrong. Because people change. So much. They change so much. Like me.

People used to be to me what air conditioners are to the environment. They were hazardous. But now people are to me what drugs are to junkies; what food is to the gluttonous; what words and parchment and colors and canvasand clay and glass are to the creative. They’re addicting. And there’s something about the way their presence—Jessie’s presence—distills the loneliness in my lungs that makes me want more. And more. And more. Until the thought of isolation becomes just that. Isolated.

He grabs my hand and leads me downstairs before I can even think the words tying my stomach into knots, and though I’m deeply submerged in this odd delirium that constantly surfaces within me when I’m withJessie, and not at all surprised by how light and airy I feel, I am a little put off by the fact that he draws me out onto the back lawn instead of the kitchen.

But it’s there that I see it.

A magical, almost fictional spectacle.

In the glorious shade beneath a great, towering oak, sits close to thirty-five wooden picnic tables, each adorned with red and white checkered tablecloths and enough food to feed an entire town. And off to the side, down by a little body of water glistening in the radiant sunshine, waits the town.

A hundred people, if not more, bask in the glow of the wonderful Easter morning. Children run amuck through the tall grass, and when I scan my eyes about the scene, I come across a few colored eggs hidden here and there, waiting to be discovered by the hunting wildebeests that sometimes bounce.

Some people stand down by the crick and fish, while others spend their time merrily chatting away with drinks in their hands, or sit in circles, reminiscing.

I’m so unbelievably dumbfounded by the scene that, whenJessie tries to bring me closer, I’m left frozen to the ground—frozen still.

“What—what is this?” I ask, looking up atJessie.

“This,” he says, spreading his arms, “is Easter Sunday at th’ Bloomes. People from all across Natchitoches come down and help us celebrate this here glorious celebration.” He smiles and shakes his head, taking it all in. “This glorious, glorious time of year.”

“April?” I wonder.

“Spring,” saysJessie. “The time of rebirth.”


It’s actually funny how reborn I feel. How free I feel.

Like I cut away cancer with my hair.

“Come,” saysJessie, leading my reluctant self over to where Evelyn and Billy stand together in the shade of the trees, watching Mary and the rest of the children scout the lawn for colored eggs.

“Oh, Rosie!” Evelyn exclaims, taking my wrists and stepping back to look at me. “You look swell, my dear! Doesn’t she, Billy? Absolutely swell!”

“Stunning,” says Billy, sending me a smile.

“Well, now that yer here we kin eat, darlin,” Evelyn tells me, and she leads me over to one of the many picnic tables and sits me down besideJessie. “Every year we invite th’ town to come an dine with us so long as they help set up. It’s nice ferth’ kids an we love spendinth’ day with our neighbors.”

Evelyn retrieves a knife and a glass cupfrom the table, and sparing a smile to her loving husband, continues to strike the glass until strident echoes bite the air of the afternoon, drawing everyone’s attention.

“Gather round! Gather round!” she happily exclaims. “Let us feast!”

With that, everyone notified, Evelyn sits, scoots in her seat, and digs in.

Every table is heavy with food of all different kinds, and the quiet din of forks against plates echoes into the afternoon. A wonderful spread of seasoned ham stretches the length of the table, decorated with thin pineapple rings and fresh, strong smelling strawberries. Slivers of glazed sweet potatoeswhittled down to look like Easter eggs nestle amongst beds of salmon and diced chicken, and plots of salad lay garnished with beautifully carved orange slices in the shapes of birds or bunnies or maybe nothing.

Unique flower arrangements adorn each and every table, and along with the flowers, happy faces smile to each other and chitchat about life and happiness, and I’ve never ever experienced something soglorious.

I flit my eyes back and forth until I’ve memorized every detail of this afternoon. This perfect, perfect afternoon.

“It’s so kind of you to open your home up to the town,” I say after I’ve nearly finished eating my third helping. I smile through my matte-black veil and find Evelyn beaming back at me exactly like I expect a mother would her daughter.

She shrugs a shoulder and shakes her head. “I suppose, sweet pea. But in all truth, Rosie, I like knowin I hardly hafta cook a thing,” she says with a laugh, blotting her lips with a napkin.

“Don’t be modest, dear,” says Billy. “Yer an invaluable member of Natchitoches, might I remind ya.” His eyes twinkle like stars.

“Thank ya, honey,” she says, kissing him on the cheek.

I smile and glance away, returning to my food.

I spend most of the day caught up in conversation with members of the town, andwhen I’m not talking, I’m sneaking food off of other people’s plates because I’m not fat and I’m not skinny butI’m always hungry—I’m always hungry.

Something’s died inside of me and it’s come back to life hungrier than ever, this insatiable essence balking at the emptiness I’ve only really ever been familiar with.

I isolate myself from the people at one point, and I sit in the grass and stare up at the house, at the series of walls and floors and ceilings that make up a home I so wish I’d grown up in. I study the way the sun tiptoes across its roof, igniting the lanai and the jovial faces waiting there, bright and glowing.

“Ya look as if ya never saw a house before,” Evelyn says to me, taking a seat beside me in the grass, pressing her hands in the dirt and leaning against them—enjoying the warmth of the sun. She smiles at me when I look over at her, and before I can even think of a response, she says, “I take it ya didn’t come from a . . . traditional home.”

“Is that your way of asking if we were poor?” I wonder with a laugh.

“Hey, it ain’t like we’re rich, sugar,” says Evelyn.

“Could have fooled me.”

Evelyn sighs, still smiling. “Th’ rich, th’ connoisseurs of expensive taste an th’ well-to-do members of Natchitoches, they thinkthey’re poor cuzothers have more money than ’em. They see themselves as less fortunate cuz their diamond encrusted commode ain’t as shiny as their neighbor’s. Butth’ poor—well, now, th’ poor, an I ain’t speakinfer all of ’em, believe they’re rich cuzthere are those with less than ’em.” She smiles, listing her head to the side and enjoying the breeze, letting it stir her hair and flutter her skirts. “It’s jest a matter of how ya see things, Rosie. Jest a matter of perspective.”

“I’m rich,” I subsequently whisper, hanging my head. And then I glance back over at Mrs. Bloome, roving the face of such a motherly figure, wondering what it would have been like if Mother was like her—if Mother had stayed like her. “Because of you. All of you. For accepting me into your lives like I’m one of your own.” I can’t help the joy that causes my voice to quaver. “You could have left me out in the rain. But you didn’t. You took me in. You didn’t have to. But you did.”

“Keep those pretty eyes open, dear,” Evelyn tells me. “Yer finally wakin up.”

| | |

At some point during the afternoon I meander away from the light din of the day’s festivities, and I take a stroll through the pastures and the trees, humming along with the songbirds fluttering in the sky.

“Happy Easter,” I tell myself, bending down and plucking a flower from the earth, letting the breeze steal it from my fingers and watching as it flies away with all my fear.

I don’t deserve this day. This wonderful, wonderful day.

I’ve done nothing to deserve this.

| | |

Jessiecut his uninteresting conversation with the neighbors short and wandered around looking for Rosie, casually kicking aside some stones that lied in his path. The sun was hot on his neck and he liked the way it made him want to simply sit and look around as the world turned around him. Slowly. Quietly. Beautifully.

Removing the cap from his head, Jessie placed it on the head of a child running by and slung his coat over one of the many lawn chairs that bedecked the back lawn; the breeze caused his shirt to ripple, and he liked the way it filled his clothing and made him look stronger. Like the last few years hadn’t left him weak and destroyed.

Appearance was everything for him. It always was.

“Hey,” Mary said, walking up beside him.

“Hey,” Jessie said, smiling. “Havin a good day?” He slung an arm around his sister’s shoulders as they walked, and Mary leaned her little head against him, sighing; he watched the sunlight sparkle in her kind eyes, observing the way it spun circles around her bluer-than-blue irises.

“Yes,” she replied many moments later.

“Tired?” There was something about her that seemed off.

“No, it ain’t that.”


“No, I jest wish everyday could be this way.”

Jessie nodded, taking in the warmth. “Me too, Mary. Me too—”

“Hey, Jessie!” a familiar voice shouted from behind.

Jessie turned, his arm still around Mary, to find Douglas Smith chasing after them. Douglas was a friend from the neighborhood; he was no small thing, and that day he wore a shirt that looked like it was getting ready to pop. With slicked back hair and a crooked nose, Douglas was the epitome of ugly.

So it was a good thing that looks didn’t matter.

“Hey,” Jessie said, grinning. “Happy Easter—”

“Yeah, yeah, Happy Easter,” Douglas said, breathing rather heavily. “Look, yer never gonna believe this but I jest saw Violette!”

Jessie froze. “Violette?” he said, looking all around.

Why would Violette be here? Had something happened?

His heart did three flips inside his chest.

Douglas nodded. “She was here—with red hair! I saw her walk off into th’ pasture jest a few minutes ago!”

For a moment there, Jessie’s heart had swelled.

Now it was deflating.

“Violette?” Mary whispered. “But—”

“That ain’t Violette,” Jessie sighed, letting his head hang. “That was Rosie?”

Douglas’s eyes narrowed. “Rosie?”

Jessie shook his head. “It’s nothin, Doug. I should go,” he quietly said, scanning the distant fields with his eyes for Rosie. “Mary, tell Ma and Pa where I’ve gone, will ya?”

Before Mary could even respond, Jessie was gone.

He was always leaving her, it seemed.

Jessie ran off into the pastures, delving deep into the sunlit distance where all sound seemed to cease existing; cotton fell like snow about his head, tumbling in the wind, soft where it flecked his flesh. But even as he went, moving hastily through the thick grassland,Jessie could still here Douglas when he asked, “Rosie? Rosie who?”

“Rosie Bryar,” Jessie said to himself. “That’s who.”

| | |

I’ve never felt so reborn.

A gentle breeze tugs me toward the east and I go wherever it takes me, stirring like the cotton drifting through the air beneath the nearly cloudless sky and all the leaves finally beginning to sprout atop the trees.

I spend almost an hour just breathing.

Breathing the air.

Breathing the stillness.

Breathing the color.

And then I run.

I run, pumping my arms at my sides, letting my legs work together until my feet are pounding against the earth in perfect synchrony. I run and my heart becomes a force to be reckoned with inside my chest, a bird on the verge of breaking free.

Adrenaline grips me tight, and my bones and my muscles and my tendons all begin to steady, sending power straight through to the sinew holding me together, piece by piece.

I run and the world wraps around me, and when I can’t run any longer, I spin and I spin and I spin with my arms outstretched at my sides, letting the light of spring burrow into every single nook and cranny of my being.

Light zigzags across my flesh and dances with the wonder in my eyes, helplessly bleeding through my soul and pressing through the black vat of pitch that is and always has been my heart; color breeds new hues into the oblivion that is this world, and when I send my joy in the form of unadulterated laughter up to the clouds, each pigment runs and slips and slides and slurs until the star-spangled, sunlit firmament above is glistening with strokes of grandeur.

I spin and pretend this moment will last forever.

I spin and tell myself that this is happiness.

I spin and I’m no longer the house of cards I used to be.

I spin—

And then two hands grab mine and we’re spinning and the world is just a blur that holds me in its arms and nothing so magical and wonderful has ever taken the time to turn me like a top. I’ve never ever felt this light, the world at my feet while I turn like clouds in the sky, gathering larger, just ready to come undone in the most beautiful way. And I love this.

I’m captivated.

I’m just another casualty to the dangers of perfection.

And I don’t care if his hold on me is fatal the way that my smile is poison. Because I’ve spent my life on the verge of anything and everything. And this is everything. Everything to me.

I wonder if this is what it’s like to fly through the sky.

“Beautiful,” comes Jessie’s voice, so soft and so lyrical that I initially mistake it for the wind. It breathes me in and breathes me out, lifting me up and pulling me back down, wrapping me up in a bow of helium and splintering my walls the way nothing in this world other than his music has the power to do.

Blue eyes pierce my flesh.

Gray clouds gather in his gaze.

Time slows and these moments that gather beneath our feet are something else—something we have complete control over like sound and stillness, and I’m caught up in this echo of enchantment, and he’s still here, still holding me, still spinning me, his endless smile close enough to touch.

Words bleed from his lips, pretty and golden, but I don’t dare string them into anything more than the senselessness that these silly seconds of slowness refrain from translating into my language of sarcasm and stupidity and cancer.

Leukemia is no match for these moments.

“You’re stunning,” Jessie sings inside my head.

And then I let him go. And I learn to float away.

Because what’s the point of the sky if humans weren’t born to fly?

And then.

And then.

And then.

And then.

And then.

I come to a stop. I’m frozen by the wind on my face.

By the golden light streaming through my veins.

Jessie holds me in his arms, keeping me stable the way the ground steadies the sky, and when I reach out to him, afraid that this might all just be a dream—a magnificent dream—he runs his fingers beneath my face, his touch so, so soft, and flicks his ebony lashes, revealing two azure eyes, bright and perfect.

And then he presses his lips against mine.


I glow.


I ignite.


I catch fire.


I blaze.

Here I am, once again, spinning a million miles a minute while standing completely still.


I feel unbreakable. I amunbreakable.


This is the invincibility that Jefferson was talking about.

He kisses me and his lips say a thousand words and I hear them in my heart.

He kisses me and I want to tell him to stop.

He kisses me and I want to tell him so much but I’ve lost my voice and all the monotonous words resting on my quivering lips begin to crumble asJessie eviscerates the space keeping me from him; relief crashes into me with such brutal force that all the air in my lungs vanishes, leaving me gasping as my lips touch his, breathlessly pleading for just one more minute—just one more second—of this indescribable enraptured bliss.

I twine my fingers through one of his hands while he runs the other beneath my chin, pressing his lips into mine with more force than I expect, blowing me away.

I study the sun-grazed contours of his face, trace the curve of his smile with my fingers until I know it like the back of my hand; where one would expect the light to glitter in those cobalt-blue eyes of his, the darkness of his gaze seems to hold the glow of the day’s fading luminosity and play with it in a pulsing, rhythmic manner—it goes along with the sensual arpeggios of his piano music, still ringing in my ears like a kiss left to linger.

I examine every feature of his face. His smile.

It’s amazing how different one can look just by a change of view. How the sharpness of the eyes can fade, and how the weathered smile I once thought to be a tad duplicitous was really the repercussion of a lost love—it’s ironic, I suppose, how the light can misrepresent oneself with the exact same level of deceit that they say only comes from lies and shadows; it’s amazing—the complexity of gradual change in evolution of first impressions.

I don’t blink. I don’t think. I never blink. I never think.

I forgot how.

Life is like my heart. It’s uncontrollable. Unpredictable. But I’m pretty damn happy with it in this moment.

Time turns so slowly in these moments—slower than slow.

Molasses has got nothing on these moments.

“Rosie,” Jessie whispers, and I smile at the sound of my name. Such a pretty, pretty name.

Slight mortification blooms within my chest when I realize just how long I’ve been staring at him, balking at the way the sun doesn’t just tiptoe over his profile, but sends shadows sprawling in the hollowed out dimples of his cheeks and sets the darkness of his silhouette ablaze; I savor the heat of his hands, smoldering the malleable petals of my flesh, singeing me wherever his fingerprints fall.

I taste fire on hislips when he kisses me, an indelible heat that lingers with the sun overhead, igniting the pasture and illuminating our chaotic form, moving like lightning through the plains of Natchitoches.

Jessie pulls away for just a moment and I know he’s having trouble adapting to this new way of life—this pattern of ever-changing clips and snippets of something beautiful and critical and dangerous; this intractable, incalculable, indefinable series of heart-pounding, non-stop steps to a dance neither of us know how to perform.

Is it possible to fall in love in only a handful of days?

I think it might be.

He kisses me again. And again.


Vivid colors burst to life beneath my fluttering eyelids with the same level of vehemence as all the words Jessie has ever said to me, painting the darkness with an evocative array of pigments that leave me momentarily aghast in a tremendously unexplainable way.


I go rigid in his grasp.

Where the sun brushes its touch over Jessie’s brown hair, it glows a gossamer gold, iridescent like shot silk; I run my fingers through the lightness of his gilded locks, soft and lengthy, and Jessie bristles, flinching against my fingers before settling into the warmth of my hold.

He hungrily explores the vast landscape of my frail spine with spindly fingers,roving the expanse of my torso until my back is hitched and the breaths in my throat are shallow and shaky; Jessie’s weathered touch, unshaken and pure, coaxes me from my shell, and I love the view from here—everything so bright and in focus; everything so peripatetic and unyielding.

Vulnerability creeps from the shallow dimples of my lower back, from the hollowed out spaces of my being; Jessie’s eyes flit back and forth from my lips to my eyes, wandering the bitter asphalt of my face, broken and marred by years of self-ridicule, and I’ve never been so sure in my entire life whether or not to be thankful for the inch of fabric keeping us apart.

“You’re beautiful,” Jessie breathes into the distance that shouldn’t wound me like it does; he pulls away to observe me further, and I’m quick to run my fingers through his hair and pull him back to me, the heat of his smile melting the tender chill of my perpetual scowl.

“Shut up,” I tell him, breathless.

Caution tells me to slow.

Caution tells me to yield.

Caution tells me to come to a complete stop.

So I kiss caution goodbye and swing my legs around his waist, and Jessie spins me, my slender frame flecked with a conglomeration of glints and glimmers from the unbound strands of daylight eddying in the gentle breeze—something inside of me tells me to let go, only to feel my wings unfurl and to be caught by the wind, just like when we were swimming in the reflection of the sky what seems like all those years ago.

Teach me how to fly.

“Run away with me,” Jessie suddenly whispers to me, his voice zigzagging straight through my blood stream like a shot of adrenaline. A shot of ecstasy. A shot of perfection I didn’t know I coveted the way that I do.

Jessie leaves a graceful strand of kisses down my neck and I bite back the question bubbling with my blood. It comes regardless of my consent, evoked without my volition until I hate the taste of it, and I wince. “Why would I do that?” I wonder against his smile—why would I run away?

There’s an instinctive touch of venom to my words, but he’s quick to leech them of any bitterness, leaving a frail inquiry to wither on the air.

Jessie’s fingers run down my neck and caress my shoulders, his fingers hot to the touch, tiptoeing across my flesh until I’m dreaming and he’s searching and he’s about to discover me in this illusory oblivion I’m tethered to.

He seems unchanged by my question.

“We kin be long gone before anyone notices that we’re gone,” he tells me, pouring so many sentences and words and letters and syllables down my throat and into my lungs, expecting me to keep breathing. “We kin leave this town behind, Rosie,” Jessie adds. “Nothin’skeepin me here.”

Nothing—the word catches me off guard.

Your family. Your friends. Your life. Your past. Your future.


“We kin jest . . . leave it all behind.”

I want to.

Nothing would make me happier.


Take me far away from this town.


Don’t let me go.

“Rosie,”Jessie murmurs in the depths of this delirium.

Ya still ain’t gonna be th’ girl he lost.

Billy’s words come back to me and I want them to go away.

That’s why he looks at ya th’ way he does, Rosie.

They circumnavigate all the walls I’ve built aroundJessie and I, and they shatter every inch of glass that separates us from reality until I’m choking on regret.

Every time he sees ya he expects ya to be her.

“No,” I say, pulling away, wincing at the virulence in my voice. “I don’t want to,” I lie—I lie so, so easily, discarding the truth there on the ground at my feet—because I can’t run away with him; I can’t turn my back on the future. I . . . I can’t.

Sometimes the things that hurt us the most remind us why we need to move on.

“I can’t. I-I won’t.”

Slowly, slowly, slowly.

Jessie breaks.

He shatters.

H e C o M p L e T e L y F a L l S a P a R t.

Because this is the second time this has happened to him.

“I can’t,” I repeat, marveling at how fast something as saccharine as his smile crumbles; his roving eyes burn me, and I realize how this lack of distance between us must destroy him, and I try to move away—but he grasps my forearm and holds fast to the marks that twine across my flesh, as if he’s able to reach straight through to the thorny vines beneath and pull me back into his arms. But he can’t. And he knows that. And my thorns tear his heart right open.

I attempt to steady my breathing. I fail.

“I can’t. I—this town is my home—”

“This town is yer prison—”

“And there’s a difference between breaking free and running away,” I say, surprising myself more than I do Jessie, taking as many steps back as it takes until I feel like oceans divide us—and I’ve never hated water than I do in this moment. “I—I can’t, Jessie. I just can’t.”



He sees me stiffen. He observes the way I refuse to look at him. He sees straight through me to the truth that lies within, broken and battered but just as strong—he must see the truth; he must understand what puts these empty, empty spaces between him and I.

“Violette, what is it?”Jessie steps forward.

I stumble back.

“Violette—?” He seems to catch himself.

Violette? He—he called me Violette . . . twice.

Jessie must see the pain in my eyes because he moves to sweep me back into his arms, to hold me before my cheeks are wet and guttered with tears.

“Don’t,” I growl, freezing him in his tracks.

My head swims with stupidity. It often does.

When I’m given two choices, I have a proclivity to choose an outcome where I’m most susceptible to pain and heartbreak, but I thought I’d finally overcome that obstacle—I take a shuddering breath and try to slow my pulse.

Jefferson was right, wasn’t he?—right about everything.

I break.

I shatter.

I c O m P l E t E l Y f A l La P a Rt.

Violette?” I whisper into the daylight. Then again, only this time in revelation rather than in question, “Violette.”

“Rosie. I meant—” Jessie stops. “Rosie. I meant Rosie.”

“No,” I shake my head, blinking, suddenly furious with him. With myself. “You didn’t.” These fractured words are broken on my quivering lips, honed by the ache inside my chest.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

I shake my head again and again because I can’t think of anything else to do. My hands, firmly fisted down at my sides, begin to tremble. “It means that I can’t run away with you.” My voice splinters on the air, causing me to flinch. “It means that I need to go.”

I spin away, frazzled and uncouth—

And I nearly walk face-first into Jefferson.

Jefferson?” I say, shock blooming from the soil of my voice. “What are you doing here?” I stare up into his sturdygaze and try to blink away the tears in my eyes before he notices. But I’m too late. And one slips free of the clouds fogging my gaze, and he watches as it glides down my cheek.

Jefferson reaches out and wipes it away, looking more hurt and lost than I’ve seen him look before. Even if I haven’t known him more than a few days.

“You!”Jessie shouts, jabbing a finger, but he doesn’t move from where he stands, shaking all over.

“I warned you,” Jefferson says to me, and when he drops his hand I catch it and hold it back up to my face, attempting to flash a smile through the tears and failing because there’s a reason the sun doesn’t shine when it rains.


I’m so confused, so confused, so hopelessly confused.

“Didn’t I make it clear, Rosie dear?” he whispers, his words so slow, like none of this is real and his voice is only in my head and not pushing me and punching me and bruising me and beating me down the exact way I hoped with all my heart that it never ever would. “You had a choice, my little Red Rose.” Jefferson glances past me, over to whereJessie stands, wonderstruck and petrified by what’s unfolding before him. “And you chose wrong.”

His eyes are gleaming gold. I stare up into them, awestruck and trapped by the hurt I see squirming in his cold gaze; his sharp eyes drop to the floor where the truth lies in dusty tatters, and I try to pick up the pieces but it’s too late. It’s too late.

Why is it always too late?

“No,” I breathe, and all at once I lose the most important person in my life. “Jefferson—” I say, but he keeps walking, shrugging me off like I’m just dust on his shoulder. Like that’s all I’ve ever been to him this entire time. “Jefferson?” I call, starting after him—

Jessie grabs my arm and wrenches me back, keeping me still.

And I shout Jefferson’s name again. And again. But he just shakes his head. And then he vanishes.


Gone. Like my heart.

“Jefferson!” I shout into the wind, letting my voice echo for once in my lifeas it floats with the clouds throughout Louisiana. But it doesn’t make a difference. Because my father’s gone. He’s just left me here on my own. With no way of knowing what to do.

“Rosie,”Jessie says, grabbing my hand and pulling me around. “What is he talkin about? What choice? What is goin on?” He stares deep into my eyes and tries to swim in the tears that glisten on my cheeks, as if somewhere inside of me the answers lie. But I don’t have anything to say.

I’m. Empty.

“Rosie?”Jessie says into my ear, whispering it, not like it’s a question, but more like a promise that he is there and he’s not going anywhere and that fact—that single fact—scares me more than I care to admit.

Because we’re not meant to be together.

BecauseJessie is supposed to grow up and have a life.

Because tomorrow he might wake to find that I didn’t.

That I never will ever again.

I pull away, horror wrapped around my throat. “I can’t,” I manage, shaking my head as tears flood my wavering gaze and splinter and shatter when they crash against the surface of my dress. “I can’t,Jessie. I—I just can’t.”

I can’t breathe.

I can’t speak.

I can’t even stand.

“Rosie!”Jessie shouts after me.

But I’m already gone. I was gone a long time ago.

I run as far and as fast as my legs dare take me, delving deep into the sunlit distance and crumbling to the earth somewhere along the way, long after leavingJessie in the dust. And I don’t move until the sun goes down and the stars come out to play. Because the stars hold a promise. A promise that breathes through my body, once unbreakable.

Three stars.

One truth: I will see River again.

And now? Now there’s no reason to pretend like I ever will.

When the clouds gather and the sky cries with me, I pick myself up and I don’t stop walking until I’m back in the Bloome house, sopping wet.

I spend the night out on the veranda, screaming into the dark, letting my agony and my anguish mix together with the lightning zigzagging across the heavens, igniting the reality of my pain unlike how the stars above only ever disguise it.


Such a stupid name for such a stupid girl.

Jessie steps out into the pouring rain and wraps his arm around me, and I don’t push to get away this time. No. This time I let him hold me and I burrow my face into his clothes and he kisses me—he kisses my lips and my forehead and every inch of my face until I’m swimming in the warmth of his touch.

I’m stupid. So stupid. To think this is right.

“Everythin’s gonna be okay,” Jessietells me.

“Nothing’s going to be okay,” I whisper to him.

I’m dying and I don’t want to. I think I’m in love and I’m not allowed to be. I want nothing more than for my father to open the door of the veranda and call me his little Red Rose just one last time. But he won’t. Because he’s gone. And he isn’t coming back.

April is the cruellest month.

Winter has kept us hibernated away from all this pain blooming from the earth, numb and oblivious to it all. But now we’re waking up, slowly but surely. Now we’re looking around and we’re no longer numb, and everything beautiful is just as cruel as the sunlight after weeks and weeks spent in the dark.

I am more afraid of the violets and the roses that will grow from this tarnished Earth and its endless fields of dead land than I have ever been or ever will be about cancer and death and tomorrow—and the lack thereof.

I’ve spent my entire life telling myself that my skin is nothing more than a straight of land where my stupidity grows and flourishes, budding to imperfection along with all my faults and mistakes; a flooded sound of error, where only my scars know how to float. But I was wrong.So wrong. And when Jessie calls my name, I know it’s true.

“Here,”he says to me, standing to his feet.

I flinch at the sound of his voice and glance up to find him towering over me with a hand extended down, proffered with a fatal, fatal smile that I know will be the death of me. I shake my head at him. I don’t want to go inside. I don’t want to be warm and comfortable and feel so breakable inside those brittle, brittle walls.

“Rosie,”Jessie persists, and when I don’t answer he bends down and grabs my arms, forcing me to stand; he holds me so tight, so tight, so tight that I think I might shatter in his grasp—more so than I already have. I go limp. I don’t strain to get away. I don’t even try.

“Please,” I whisper when he hugs me against him, enveloping me into the warmth of his arms; I shiver against him, against the heat coming off his flesh like sunlight from the shadows, and when I look up, I can’t help but trace the contours of his sensual lips with my eyes. “Just let me go.” Four words.

I don’t even hear myself speak.

Never.” One word. One promise.

And then we’re dancing, swaying left and right, back and forth. I hear music—not any clings and clangs of mismatched melodies, but Jessie’s piano music—which makes no sense because he’s here with me, his hand on my hip and the other wrapped around my own, and we’re slowly rocking back and forth to the sweet, sweet requiems of this evanescent darkness, drowning in the rain. This beautiful, beautiful oblivion.

Oblivion holds me tight. Oblivion never lets me go.

“I dunnoth’ right words to say to make everythin magically better, but I swear to ya, Rosie Bryar,” Jessie says to me, “I ain’t gonna stop till I find ’em.” He rests a kiss upon my brow but I just stare up at him, languid and weak in his arms.

“Why waste your time?” I hoarsely wonder. “Why—?”

“Don’t do that,” Jessie so quietly says, squeezing me tight.

I quirk an eyebrow in the rain, too tired when I ask: “Do what?”

Jessie reaches out and tips my chin up so that I can’t look away from the blue crystals staring back at me, and I’m caught, somewhat afraid of the glow that illuminates me. “Don’t make it seem like yer welfare is a burden to me. It’s not.” He pauses. Looks away. Looks back again. “It never will be.”

Give it time, I think to myself. It will be.

I don’t say this.

I just gently rest my head on his shoulder and stare out into the darkness that leads off through the Louisiana fields, swirling with rainy shadows that amble this way and that, searching for me the way that I search for them; we rock from side to side, Jessie and I, shivering in the rain until the trembling of his skin and the chattering of his teeth matches mine in perfect synchrony.

But I like this cold. I like this numbness.

“Happy Easter,” Jessie whispers in my ear.

I’ve completely forgotten that it’s Easter.

I close my eyes and Jessie squeezes me even tighter as mortification spider-crawls across my back, down my spine; my muscles tense and my fingernails bite into the flesh of my palms and I can’t look at him, I can’t look at him, I can’t. I ruined his Easter. I can’t look at him. I can’t. I-I—

I look at him. And I see that it doesn’t matter. Because today is just another day. Just like yesterday. Just like tomorrow. And every moment is precious.

And Jessie’s choosing to spend his with me.

“Happy Easter,” I say, surprising myself.

Jessiespins me in the spotlights of lightning, twirling me about until I don’t care that I’m dizzy or wet or lost and confused because I’m dizzy and I’m wet and I’m lost and I’m confused but I’m not alone. I’m never alone when I’m with him.

Loneliness used to bully me. Tease me. Hurt me.

Now I’ve got the upper hand. And I’ve never been so sure that I’m melting, sinking into the broken mold of forever.

“Ya kin stay with me,”Jessie whispers, pulling me back into his arms and holding me close, the colors of his smile bleeding like that of dye, shading the darkness with hope and patience and love. “Ya don’t haftago back—”

“I don’t think that I can,” I tell him.

“Ya cain’t stay, or ya cain’t go back?”

I don’t say anything.

“Yer silence speaks volumes,” Jessie so hesitantly whispers.

“Echoes bind us to the words that define us,” I tell him, feeling hollow inside for repeating River’s words, for so thoughtlessly releasing something that felt so confined to ourselves.

“What does that mean?”

I shake my head. “It just means that there are absolutely no words on the face of the planet to define exactly what this world has turned me into.”

“Yer right bout that, Rosie,” Jessie says. “Yer indescribable.”

I don’t respond to this.

I just stay silent and let the spring rain water all the mistakes I’ve ever made, and I hold on tight as the streaks of lightning bisecting the night sky provide enough light to see every single one of my bad decisions grow from my skin until I’m a garden of stupidity.

Spring, I think to myself. The time of rebirth.

It’s amazing just how dead I feel inside.

Jessie holds me until the break of dawn shatters the clouds above the glistening veranda with a conflagration of blues and oranges and greens—and every color that has ever made me feel like I have the potential to be something beautiful.

Come morning light, I feel torn.

Come morning light, I feel cancerous.

Come morning light, Jefferson doesn’t come for me.


I am not an optimist. I don’t know if I ever will be.

The cup is always half empty with me, and it’s been that way ever since I can remember. Something about the cancer in my body, the inevitability of death inside my lungs, the oblivion in the distance, makes it harder to see the good in life—because most of it has been trampled by the greedy and the healthy.

How can I be happy—truly, truly happy—when I feel as though I’m still imprisoned behind the cold glass window of that white-walled, tile-floored, sickly-medicinal-scented hospital room I’ve only really ever known, held captive to the stillness that plagues that place?

How can I be happy with Leukemia sitting on my chest?

There was a time when the talk of death never met my lips—a time when I was a child and bedtime stories were my friends; when clouds would paint the midday sky, and I would lay in the grass and count them, trace them, envision myself floating atop their wispy backs. Alone. Isolated from the rest of this topsy-turvy world.

But here I am. Ruined. Without a place to belong that cancer or reality won’t find me—they always do. They always will. Because I’ve never had a safe haven to return to. A sanctuary to hide from the somber glow of Leukemia’s torches bearing down on me, telling me to confess, to burn, to die for ever being born—for ever being happy.

I so stupidly thought I found that here—a sanctum all of my own, where up was up and down was down. With Jefferson. With my father. I so stupidly thought I’d finally discovered my sanctuary, my place of solitude and reservation. But here I am. Once again. Lost and confused. Sitting still. All on my own. Because what I so effortlessly mistook for a daydream was really a nightmare, and what I so willingly believed to be mysa fe h avenquite possibly might be theas y l u mI’m still not convinced I don’t belong to.

I am not an optimist. But I do know what it’s like to be happy. And here I am today, broken and exhausted, haunted and miserable, unsteady and tremulous. But here I am waking up. I’m on the ground. Defeated. All the strength gone from my muscles. But my eyes are open. Wide open.

I am still alive. I am still—


| | |

River often spent his time staring out the window of the Goodheart’s home, watching the cars that passed in slow motion, watching the snow that fell but didn’t make it to the ground, the leaves that still stirred on the Louisiana breeze.

The stillness inside the house was palpable whenever Sunny went home, and River let it surround him, let the walls close in and the ceiling slide down on invisible girders until he felt encompassed in its warm embrace.

Something about the stillness made it feel . . . less real.

It was a nice change. But it wasn’t home.

River didn’t have a home.

Don’t do this,” a voice said inside River’s head, and when he turned, an illusory manifestation of Rosie stood before him, just as beautiful, but lacking that sarcastic glow that seemed to lighten both their hearts; her hard eyes were a shade lighter, and the shadows in her skinny-frame seemed to leak luminescence, a brightness that only existed in River’s head.

“Do what?” he wondered. “There’s nothing for me to do.”

“Don’t hide,” Fake-Rosie was quick to respond. “Don’t sit here and wait for me.” Her eyes met his but it wasn’t the same; they didn’t make him melt on the inside, didn’t still his heart inside his chest. “You can’t torture yourself like this.”

“I’m not,” River grumbled. But that’s exactly what he was doing. He was the reason Rosie vanished. He deserved to endure the pain. The torture of not knowing.

“What if I don’t come back—”

“You’ll come back.” Three words so feebly said.

“You don’t know that.”

“No,” he whispered. “I don’t.”

River stood up from his place before the window and walked into the kitchen to fix himself something to eat, the desire for a distraction weighing heavily on his heart; he searched the fridge but found nothing that interested him, so he just stood there in the open doorway, listening to the calming hum of the machinery and savoring the cool breath of air on his brow.

“You need to go home,” Fake-Rosie quietly said.

“I don’t even know where that is—”

“Don’t say that.” Her voice was so soft. So, so soft.

“I said it because it’s true.”

“Your home is with your dad.”

“That’s never been my home.” It was a lie. But it felt true.

“Not unless you try—”

“I am not going back there!” River yelled, and the sound of his voice as it echoed off the walls frightened him, the faint growl that hinted at his tone made him shiver; he shrunk back, shying into the shadows of the grand room. “I’m never going back there.”

Fake-Rosie remained persistent. “I cannot just stand here and watch you lie to yourself—”

“You’re not real, Rosie!”

“But what if I was! What if it were the real Rosie standing in front of you right now!”

“Then we wouldn’t have a problem.”

“We’ve always had a problem, River.”

The truth. Cold and real.

“You cannot pretend like I am what’s keeping you from going home. You don’t think I know you spend half your day sleeping in your car. Or at Sunny’s house? You don’t think I know you’ve spent the last few years hiding away because you are too afraid to face your father and go back to the way things used to be—!”

“Stop!” River exclaimed.

But Rosie didn’t stop.

“You’re afraid that if you forgive your father for everything then time will start and you’ll be forced to face—”


“—the truth that your mother is gone and she’s never coming back,” Fake-Rosie continued. “She’s gone—”

“Enough!” River roared, slamming his fist down onto the kitchen counter; he was numb to the pain that wound up to his wrist, oblivious to the jolt that shook his bones. “I hate this! I hate you!” His anger flared to a wild crescendo, and he stood, hands clenching and unclenching, breathing through his nose; blood dripped from a gash in his hand from the counter, but he wasn’t aware of that either—he was only conscious of how much he wanted to run, to escape and leave it all behind. Start over.

The pain flowing from his lips was tangible. Just like the stillness in the air.

“You don’t mean that,” Fake-Rosie whispered, hurt ricocheting from her fictional lips like bullets; her eyes roved his, tracing the stormy glint that he saw reflected back at him.

“Of course I don’t,” River said, his voice reduced to a quiet whisper. “I could never. I don’t even know how. But it’s all I tell myself to keep from breaking down. To keep myself from . . . from falling apart.” He shivered—shivered at the anger that so easily gathered in his pockets and slithered through his veins. “I hate that you’re gone. I hate that you’re not here. I hate that I’m all alone with no idea how to find you. And I hate that nothing I do will help you.” These words dripped from his shattered smile like blood. “But—no, Rosie, I could never hate you.”

“I know,” Fake-Rosie murmured. She stepped forward then, her scarlet hair curling over her shoulders and spilling down her back. “I hate it too. But you have to keep going. You have to see that just because I’m gone, it doesn’t mean it’s all over—your life goes on.”

River just shook his head. “I can’t.”

“You can’t? Or you don’t know how?”

“I don’t want to.”

Fake-Rosie nodded her head. “I know, River. But there’s a difference between what you can and can’t do, and what you want to do.” She reached out then, her ghostly fingers passing up to cup his cheek, and River cringed at the absence of her touch, reality slithering in to separate them; he held her hand to his cheek regardless, searching for her fingers despite their nonexistence. “We don’t always get what we deserve.”

“But we should.”

“And if we did, this world would be a much different place.” She stared into his eyes, her unrealistic gaze striking his with a wistful grace that made River’s heart throb inside his chest. “But for now—for now we just have to learn to move on.”

“Move on?”

Fake-Rosie nodded. “Let me go, River. Let me go so that I may grow—”

The sound of a door slamming shook River from his reverie, and Fake-Rosie vanished from existence, disappearing like a light that had so suddenly brightened the dark. River kept his hand pressed up to his cheek, Rosie’s ghostly fingers now gone.

“River?” Sunny stood in the doorway. “What’s going on?”

River just shook his head and looked out the window, watching the wind warp the skies and the leaves that sailed like ships floating into the faded distance, set on discovering new horizons.

“We don’t always get what we deserve,” River echoed Fake-Rosie’s words, and Sunny’s face reflected that of complete and utter dismay, even as River added, “We never do.”

Sunny shook his head. “What’s going on with you?”

River turned back to Sunny. “I think I’m losing my mind.”

| | |

Mornings are stupid.

Mornings are the sole purpose coffee was invented. But the Blooms don’t drink coffee. Which means I don’t drink coffee. So here I stand, tiredly staring straight ahead with my face pressed up against the glass door of the veranda, yawning so largely that my breath creeps across each pain of the segregated lattice; I study my warped reflection and draw an angry face in the glass, frowning at the weakness in my bones—I wish we could just skip to the part of the day when I’m awake and not this tired glob of what I think a human being should look like.

Jessie appears at my back and I tense at his arrival as a flood of memories of yesterday and last night crash into me; he slips his fingers through mine and I don’t pull away, no matter how many times I tell myself I should. I don’t look at him, either, even when he says my name. Because it’s a stupid name—a name colored by error.

“Would ya like me to fry ya up sum eggs?” he wonders.

I slowly shake my head from side to side.

“There’s nothing an egg can do to fix this,” I say.

“What bout sum soup?”

I smile despite myself. “No. No, soup.” I glance at him over my shoulder. “Thank you.” I glance down before meeting his eyes again. “I just want this day to be over,” I quietly tell him. I wipe away the angry face in the glass and lower my head on my shoulders, feeling frailer than I should.

I think about turning time so that the day is almost over. I think about going back in time. To change every mistake I’ve ever made. But my limbs are like noodles and I feel like an anchor in the sea. Gravity sits on my shoulders to get a better view of my crappy, crappy day, all the while pushing me down deeper, deeper, deeper.

It’s raining outside again, pouring, flooding everything in sight. And to make matters worse the thunder is giving me a headache.

The world is against me, I often tell myself, knowing perfectly well that it makes absolutely no sense. But, come on. First cancer. Then a crazy mother. Than time travel. And now rain? More rain?

It’s days like this that make me want to hide.

“He’s gone without me,” I snidely spit, grumpier than I knew I could be. I wrap my arms around myself and stand in the doorway of the veranda, glowering down at the empty drive below. “That—that jerk,” I growl, too tired and too lazy to think of a worse expletive. “Jefferson told me he would be here in the morning.”

Before I betrayed him.

Before I lost his trust.

Before I chose wrong.

“Maybe he wanted to do whatever it was ya two were gonna do on his own.”Jessie suggests. “Or maybe he overslept.”

I shrug and shake my head. “Jefferson wouldn’t go on without me,” I lie to myself. “I just . . . ugh,” I groan, pressing my fists up against my temples, pleading for my eyes to snap open to find a world made entirely of pillows and marshmallows and sunshine. But when I look at the world—when I truly look at it—I find it gray. Green and gray. And cold.

“Come here,”Jessie whispers in my ear, taking me by the hand and looking down into my eyes. I feel a pull, like someone’s tethered a wire around my waist and it’s drawing me closer. But I’m stronger. Or perhaps I’m just not in the mood to be tempted at the moment.

I resist and pull away, pressing my face against the glass doorway. “He should have come. Why hasn’t he come?”

I know perfectly well why he hasn’t come.

“I don’t know,”Jessie admits. “But Ma always says a watched pot ain’t ever gonna boil. So why don’t ya come downstairs an we’ll sit an wait—”

“And wait. And wait. And wait,” I mutter to myself, glaring daggers up atJessie.

Every time I see him I can’t help but feel angry at myself, for my betrayal, for my lack of strength when I’m with him. But I don’t have a choice anymore. He’s my only friend in this town besides Jefferson, who has, of course, magically disappeared.


Fury and pain and frustration boil my blood beneath my skin.

I clench my teeth and I hold my breath and I tell myself Jefferson’s going to reappear right here on the veranda. But he doesn’t. Because he’s not going to. Because he told me to choose and I was weak and I choseJessie over Jefferson and Violette and Mother and the future.

I choseJessie over my family. Over River.

If stupid was a color, I would be a work of art.

“That’s it,” I say, pushing the door open and stepping out into the rain. The water doesn’t sear my skin the way it used to. Not after last night.

I still feel Jessie’s hands in mine.

I still hear the music that never played.

I still taste my regret on my lips.

“I’m going after him,” I snidely say.

Jessie follows me outside, ducking his head like he can escape the rain. “Don’t be stupid,” he spits, though his face remains warm. “We’ll catch cold!”

InJessie’s voice is a sort of restraint, like his cold words correlate to his icy gaze rather than his calm exterior. “Even if ya knew how to go back,” he says, “there ain’t no tellin where ya might end up. An what if ya git trapped? It ain’t like I kin save ya, Rosie. An Jefferson—Jefferson ain’t gonna be able to find ya.”

I don’t need saving.

I don’t need help.

I don’t need to question this anymore than I already have.

“I can do this,” I whisper, knowing perfectly well I have no idea what I’m doing. “I know what to do,” I tell him over the roar of the rain, water streaming down my face. I reach out and take his hand and together we stand for a moment in silence, both staring over the edge down at the fields and the drive, where Evelyn and Billy are driving up, returning from their late lunch at a diner down the road.

“Do you remember when Violette first arrived?” I wonder.

Jessie, evidently dismayed, nods his head. “How could I forget? It was my first dealins with th’ supernatural, ya know. Not too many excitin things filled my life before that.” He squeezes my hand and attempts to coerce me from the rain, but for some reason I don’t go. For some reason I remain.

“Rosie, we should go inside!”Jessie calls to me over the crackling thunder applauding us overhead. Streaks of lightning glimmer and pop like spotlights, illuminating the veranda and the eyes that capture me, hold me tight, and haunt me even as the late evening starts to slip towards night; the way they did the night before.

But I don’t budge. I don’t know why. I don’t even know why I stepped outside to begin with. I hate the rain. I do. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it so much.

“I have to go back!” I tellJessie, holding on but letting go, slipping free of his grasp and moving away. I meander back to the railing and peer down, finding a smile upon my lips as I take in the household, the outlands, and the trees swooping in the distance. I look up and I laugh because the rain is forcing me back but I don’t want to go. For the first time in my life I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to go inside.

I just want to go where I want to go.And right now I want to go back in time. I want to find Jefferson. My father. My future.

Jefferson’s words come back to me now.

The surplus of emotion engendered by such a kiss is what caused you to time travel. A part of you must have made yourself feel like you needed to escape . . . like you needed to run.

“I don’t want this to be our last goodbye!” Jessie suddenly exclaims, stepping forward and grabbing me once more, cupping my face and wiping away the rain that fails to wash away all of the mistakes scrawled across my see-through flesh. “I don’t want ya to say goodbye.”

I shut my eyes against the horror in Jessie’s eyes.

“Then don’t say goodbye,” I tell him, trying for a smile. “Just pretend like you’ll see me again. Like tomorrow you’ll wake up and . . . and I’ll magically be there. Right beside you.”

“That’s like pretendin any of this makes sense to me,” he whispers into the rainy space that divides him from me. “It’s impossible.” He stares at me. “An there’s no such thing as magic.”

I shake my head against his hands, inhaling the scent of his broken smile and drinking in the beautiful music notes that dribble from his flesh like the requiem that will one day be played at my funeral because I still don’t think I will survive this—but that’s okay. Death is a pretty color on me.

“Nothing’s impossible, Jessie,” I say, and my voice cracks, splinters against my teeth. “I know that now. Because magic is real. You . . . you are real.”

And then I kiss him.

Because this world is already broken. So what’s one more crack?

I close my eyes once again, and then, all at once, as if lightning strikes the house, my entire world fizzles and pops, straining at the seams until everything comes undone; the sky unravels and the ground below me opens up, swallowing me whole.

But I still hear Jessie’s song.

And I keep going to the rhythm to break.

Shadows grab me and hug me and pinch me to remind me that this isn’t some fanciful dream that’s woven through my unconsciousness. This is my life. My new life.

And it refuses to stop changing.

I hold my breath.

I count one, two, three, four.

The lights flicker like they do on a subway.

At first there’s only darkness—deep darkness, like when you open your eyes after swimming down to the bottom of a lake. And then it falls away, slipping out of sight as light engulfs me, filling me to the brim like a fat baker with an agenda.

There’s silence. And then there’s the soft clamor of voices; words slowly bloom into existence, just slurred sentences suddenly slung into the void, but no matter what I do I can’t make them make sense to me.

There’s something in the way they breach the surface that makes me want to hide.

“Pardon me, miss,” someone says to me far too many minutes later, her voice both close and distant; I blink away the blurriness in my gaze to find her hovering over me.

She’s tall and not at all slim, but rather heavyset and strong. Long, dark curls of onyx-colored hair spills down to her shoulders, only partially smothered by a scarlet, satin-trimmed bonnet. Her swollen body is hidden beneath a dress to match the bloody-color of her hat, though the way her skin puffs out like risen dough, I can’t help but think of a child attempting to hide behind a tree way too small to shield their body.

“What a bricky girl ya must be,” says the woman, “struttin around in such hideous stockins! They could make a stuffed bird laugh, I tell ya!” she cackles. “Powderin hair is a gentlemen’s game, an not a fine one at that.”

I’m tired. So tired. Too tired to care about what this woman is saying.

I don’t entirely understand what is happening until I push my way to my knees and look around, careful not to turn too fast as nausea creeps up into my stomach.

I’m not nearly as weak as I was the last time Jefferson and I time traveled. And I’m one-hundred times better than I was the first time.

I’m in a room entirely furnished for the likes of the past. Droves upon droves of people enter the room and sway like curtains in a window upon a breezy night. They all wear similar clothing, the women slipping their haggard bodies into dresses made from old rags, and men standing off to the side, sipping their Kool-Aid in the corners of the room, searching for shadows to hide their faces.

“What in the world?” I whisper to no one in particular, and I slowly realize even as I force my way to my feet that everyone is starting to look at me. And I’ve given them a good reason to. My hair, while being dripping wet, is nothing compared to the state of my clothes. They’re wet as well, as if I’ve gone for a midday swim, and all across my twentieth century outfit—courtesy of MaryBloome—are food and drink stains from the refreshment table I mistakenly poofed on top of.

Poof. Jefferson’s right. That’s the only word for it. But why the hell do I keep landing on top of things?

I was in 1959. And now I’m . . . poof . . . in the year—

Where am I? Is this supposed to be 1859?

I glance over at the beefy woman. “When am I?”

In response, the woman glares. “Yer half-rats,” she hissed.

“I am not,” I snidely say, though I have no clue what she’s actually said.

“Don’t sell me a dog,” says the woman, leering.

I look at her. “I wouldn’t even if I had a dog to sell!”

She just looks at me, staring. Then, after a moment or two of studying me in the state that I am in, she waves a hand at me and says, “Off with you silly girl! Ya better head to bed, dearie, before those drumsticks give way. An change out of those pillowcases ya call clothes. Goodness gracious. Yer a lady! Act like it!”

The woman storms off, and I’m left perplexed, staring in her wake.

Quickly and quietly, I take a step off of the broken-down table beneath my body and make my way toward the back wall of what is clearly a finely furnished ballroom—beautifully adorned with pearl-colored columns to match the walls, and a piano that sits across from an unlit fireplace; a glorious mirror reflects the light of the dangling chandeliers, refracting it throughout the fairly small room—where a row of windows looks out into a barely lit garden.

“Where am I?” I breathe, starting in one direction.

Panic slowly begins to overtake me, starting around my neck like a noose. Like cancer. And I want to run and hide under my bed and pretend like this isn’t happening. Like I didn’t disobeyJessie’s wise words and time travel on my own.

I close my eyes and press my fingers into my cheeks and temples, thinking, thinking, thinking and coming up short. My stomach groans and I think I might be sick—I used to feel this way whenever I went shopping with Mother as a child and I’d get lost in the store. Only three aisles ever separated us but it felt like we were in two different worlds.

I feel like I’m gone and every face that passes me by is pulling me farther from my Mother’s.

Mom, I think inside my head, forcing back a wave of tears that threaten to drown me. Mom, I need help. Find me. Please don’t leave me on my own! Please

I stop myself. Because it’s stupid to think Mother will ever come for me.

No one’s coming, Rosie. You got yourself into this mess, now get yourself the hell out of it.

I look around me. A few people still watch me but mostly everyone’s returned to dancing, the destroyed table left untouched. I look completely out of place, I notice after catching my reflection in the mirror, like a microwave in a refrigerator store.

I look afraid. I look weak.

It’s time to toughen up, Rosie, I think, fisting my hands down at my sides and staring through the wet strands of hair plastered to my face. Raindrops run down my face and I can no longer discern them from my tears. No one’s coming for you. No one’s going to save you now.

I press my back up against the wall and slide down it, unraveling into a ball there on the floor, my face pressed into my knees until all the light in the room turns to darkness.

Three minutes pass before I hear a voice, sweet and simple.

“December 12, 1859. Saint. Francisville, Louisiana.Rosewood Plantation. Such a wondrous place. Have you seen the gardens? And the decor . . . breathtaking. Marvelous, I tell you.”

I quickly glance up to find Jefferson kneeling before me, his hand extended out to me like a light from the dark. A soft, almost expectant smile curls his lips in the corners, and everything inside of me—all the fear and the panic and the anxiety—drifts away, as calmly and simply as a stack of papers in a windstorm.

Relief burrows into my spine until I’m on my feet and my arms are around his neck and I’m laughing into his shoulder as he spins me around, holding me the way a lonely person holds their cat.

“What the—?” I start to say, and I freeze, finding almost the entire room in silence, staring wonderingly in our direction. “Where on earth have you been?” I spit, tired and furious, but more relieved than I’ve been in a long, long time. I throw my arms around him again even after he’s let me go,and I settle into his fatherly embrace.

“You mean ‘when’?” Jefferson corrects me, waving a finger.

“I don’t even care,” I tell him, feeling as light as a feather in his arms. “I’m sorry—I’m so, so sorry that I choseJessie,” I say up to him, my eyes wet with the same stupid, stupid, stupid tears that have begun to possess a particular fondness for my cheeks. “I’m sorry,” I repeat, “that I was weak enough that I choseJessie over you.”

“But you didn’t, did you?” Jefferson says with an airy laugh, holding me tighter in his arms. “You came after me. You let go of one time period and fell into another. Something that takes years, Rosie. And you did it without even thinking of the consequences—”

“I did it because I understand why we can’t tellJessie about Violette,” I say, staring up into his smiling eyes. “I choose you,” I whisper, resting my head against his chest. “I choose you and I’ll never choose differently ever again.”

“Rosie,” Jefferson says, my name like sunlight on his lips. “My little Red Rose.”

I don’t want to be anything else. So long as I’m alive.

“Come now,” Jefferson says. “We’re a bit early, yet. Past me doesn’t even arrive for another half-hour. And we’re drawing quite the crowd.” He glances around, waving at a few individuals.

I stare blankly into his eyes, so struck by how calm and indifferent he remains. Like he didn’t almost just lose the daughter he’s never had.

“Sure,” I whisper, breathing deeply now that I can. “I landed on a table,” I add, pressing my fingers into my back.

“I’m sure you did,” he says, shaking his head in mock reproach.

I let Jefferson quietly lead me from the room, where all sound has seemed to stop. Though, not long after music begins to spill down the corridors of the plantation, wafting like the unimaginably pungent scent of old lady perfume and bad body odor—even after all the years that will come and the invention of deodorant, some things never really change.

“What the hell was that?” I ask the moment we’ve left the room, my lips the match coinciding with the fire in my eyes. “Leaving me to come back on my own. What were you thinking? I could have—”

Jefferson smiles.

“Why are you smiling? Stop it.”

But his smile only seems to grow. “You want me to teach you, Rosie? First you need to start by believing you don’t need anyone but yourself.” Jefferson lifts his chin before listing his head to the side. “Self-reliance, you see, is what got me through it. I didn’t have anyone to teach me. To tell me what to do next. So—”

“So you left without me?”

“No, well . . . yeah, I suppose that’s exactly what I did. But does it really matter now? I knew your ‘curse’ could be willed into submission if you just tried. If you thought the absolute only way to go back in time was to try it yourself.”

“But how did I know to come here?”

“Some things are instinctual,” Jefferson explains. “If you’re falling, you immediately throw your hands out in search of something to catch you, whether or not there’s anything around that you know of that will stop your descent.”

I open my mouth to speak again but think better of it. Anything I say now Jefferson will just use to make himself seem even more right than I know him to be.

“Come now, my dear,” Jefferson says, taking me by the arm. “It seems before we can even think about stalking my past self, we need to look the part.” He leads me to an empty bedchamber on the second floor of Rosewood and flips open a trunk resting at the foot of the bed.

Inside are half-a-dozen ugly dresses.

Kill. Me. Now.

“I—I have to ask,” I say to Jefferson, “do they know that a war is coming?”

“The dresses? Nope, I’m pretty sure they know nothing of it.”

I scowl. “Come on,” I say, “be serious. I know enough to remember that the Civil War starts soon. So . . . tell me, do they know that this is the calm before the storm?” Jefferson glances down at the dresses. “For heaven’s sake, the people beyond these walls!” I nearly shout.

Jefferson hesitates, holding up his hands in surrender, a smile caught between his teeth.

“War is not as black and white as you may suspect, Rosie,” Jefferson says to me. “War is always with us. It just needs a handful of words to be initiated. But . . . yes, I presume that there are those who know something is coming.”

“So much death . . .”So much loss.

“It’s no more, Rosie. The war ends. People die. That’s the end of it.”

“People always die,” I whisper. “How is it that we have all of time at our fingertips but can’t even save a life or two?” I glare at my feet, at the shadows gathered there. “How are we supposed to continue knowing we can’t make a difference—”

“We can make all the difference,” Jefferson quietly says, holding his hand out to me, a promise trapped within the shadowed hollows of his ageing fingers. “Trust me.”

War is death.Cancer is death. Death is death.

I take my father’s hand and nod. “I trust you.”

War is cancer.

| | |

Jessiecould still feel Rosie’s hand in his long after she’d vanished on the air.

The rain had turned into a downpour that flooded the wooden floor of the old veranda, left to cataract through the railings and down over the edges. Jessiekept one hand firmly positioned on the rail, peering over at the drowning world below.

Lightning crackled and trees curled in the vicious wind pulling at his clothes, snapping them, wet and cold against his withering frame. Where Rosie had stood, cranky and beautiful, was empty nothingness. It waslike she’d taken every breath of air from his lungs the moment she’d gone, and there was nothingJessie could do to get it back.

So he stood. And he thought. And he breathlessly began to tremble as the light shower evolved into a full on storm.

Moments later a shadow appeared in the doorway, blocking the light that had been pouring out into the open. When he whirled around, his heart in synch with the pulsating of his wandering thoughts, he hoped with everything left inside him that he might find Rosie standing there staring back at him. But Jessie’s heart plummeted when his little sister, Mary stepped out into the rain.

Fully dressed in a yellow rain jacket and boots, Mary came to stand besideJessie at the edge of the veranda, where she leaned her back against the railing, staring up at her brother’s colorless face. And whenJessie looked back, he didn’t see his sister. He just saw Rosie—he’d seen nothing but Rosie since the moment she’d arrived in 1959 because it was like looking at Violette.

Rosie was like a ghost come back to haunt him. And he wanted her to. He wanted nothing more than for her to stay beside him his entire life.

“She’s gone, ain’t she?” Mary asked, looking away, forlorn in her diffident gaze. “Rosie, I mean. Ma and Pa told me she was plannin on leavin today. She’s like Violette, ain’t she? But different,” Mary murmured. “She was different, wasn’t she? They both came from different times. They both had tattoos. But—Rosie was happier here, wasn’t she?”

Jessie heard her words but they didn’t make sense to him. Nothing really made sense anymore.

“Ya know she could come back,” Mary ventured. “Ya never know. She could be back in an hour from now. Or maybe ten minutes. We got no way of knowin.” Mary must have seen the lack of life inJessie’s eyes because she turned away with a deep sigh and faced the open world, the fields and the drive below, pulling down her sleeves to cover the skin of her trembling fingers. “Ya knowthere’s always that man down th’ road, right? Jefferson, I think.”

Delayed, like the sound following a plane in the sky, something snapped insideJessie’s face and he woke with a start.

He must have appeared confused, for Mary repeated what she’d only just said. “Jefferson?” The name cut throughJessie’s quiet reverie, snatching at his attention.

Mary blinked up at him, innocent and cold, shivering in the rain; when Jessiecaught her eye, she offered a warm smile, letting a little color flow into her cheeks. Her satisfaction at bringing her older brother back to the present was evident in her wide-eyed gaze.

“What did ya jest say?”Jessie whispered, his voice downsized by the heavy rain.

“Jefferson? That man down th’ road?—that is his name, right?Cain’t ya jest go after him? Maybe he’ll help ya find Rosie. If she wannabe found,” Mary added at the end, lowering her head.

Jessie took in a breath strong enough to break a rib.

Jefferson . . .

If Rosie was wrong . . . if Jefferson is still here . . .

Jessie grabbed Mary before she could say another word and he threw his arms around his little sister, swallowing back a laugh as he twisted her around. “Yer a brilliant, brilliant kid,” he said, smiling, dropping her back down into the puddles of rain now forming on the deck of the veranda.

Mary stared questioningly afterJessie as he racedback into the house and snatched Pa’s keys from the hook on the wall, never looking back as he startedthe 1950 Ford Fairlane and stomped his foot down onto the gas, zooming away like a bat out of Hell.

Jessie’s home remained within the purview of the rearview mirror until he turned from the drive, and with every fleeting moment,Jessie couldn’t help but wonder if everything might be different the next time he came home.

“Damn it, Rosie Bryar,”Jessie muttered, unable to hide his smile. “I’m comin.”

| | |

I don’t trust people who don’t think. So, really, I don’t trust most people. Sometimes I don’t even trust myself.

But Jefferson is different. Every move he makes seems calculated; it’s like I can see straight through to the gears gyrating in his head,and I want to know more than anything what makes them turn. But I can’t because I’m too focused on trying to stand in aball gown that’s entirely different from the dresses I’ve started to get used to in 1959. Which is the stupidest thing in the entire world. Besides tofu.

Jefferson asked some stranger—the daughter of the hosts of this ball—to assist me in getting ready, and now I look like a cupcake when I’d much rather be eating one. Or ten.

The only good thing about large frilly dresses is that when you fall to your knees, everything inside of you both heavy and dead, it’s like hitting a pillow when you land. Or, at least it is with this one.

I’m buried beneath what feels like several inches deep of fabric that hangs from my shoulders, weighing me down with every step I take. And for a girl who’s not used to moving and exercising, carrying a half-ton dress on her shoulders is pretty much like holding up the sky.

I stand before Jefferson in a small corridor outside the ballroom, attempting to appear happy for just a moment. But I’m not happy. Get me sweatpants, a portable bed, three bags of animal crackers and we’ll talk. But this is my own version of Dante Alighieri’s Hell. And this is the ninth circle.

“You’re . . . beautiful,” Jefferson whispers to me like one of those annoying people on one of those annoying television shows I’ve annoyingly spent the first part of my life watching.

He’s wearing a similar suit to the one he’d been wearing when I first met him; three garish bronze buttons glint on his right side, leading vertically away from two folded down lapels, and the white color of his undershirt peeks through from beneath his overcoat, throwing light into the darkness of his shadowed garb. Atop his orangey head of hair, now neatly combed and curling to his ears, sits a black hat, rounded at the top.

I strike Jefferson with a glare and he holds up his hands in surrender, smiling all the while.

“Tell me the truth,” I bite.

Jefferson laughs. “All right. Well, for starters, you look like you just sat on a tack. Loosen up a little, can’t you?” He takes my shoulders and shakes me about, and I’m surprised by how easy it is to become nauseas in this world. “You’re at a party. This is a celebration. Smile,” Jefferson says, directing his hands to his face, where he flashes a spurious smile down at me.

“What’s the point of smiling when there’s nothing to smile at?” I grumble, crossing my arms over my chest and sighing like the little brat that I know I am.

“You’re at a party. Smile at that.”

“Social conventions aren’t exactly my shtick. And I’m at a dance, not a party. What’s there to celebrate? Tuesday?”

“Today’s not even Tuesday.”

I don’t respond.

Jefferson’s face falls and his smile turns into a frown. “You’re not a very pleasant person, you know, don’t you?”

I can’t help but laugh. “If I were trying to sound pleasant you’d be smiling.”

“So please me, daughter of mine.”

I freeze. I shoot him a look. “Don’t call me that,” I whisper, my voice dropping low. “It’s weird.”

“But it’s the truth—”

“And the truth is that penguins have knees they don’t use,and a wombat’s poop is shaped like cubes. The truth is weird. Exotic. All right?”

Jefferson shrugs, taking a step back. “Okay,” he says, nodding. “Rosie,” he adds, grinning a sly sort of smile. “Such a pretty name.”

“Mother thought so,” I whisper, walking about the corridor, trying to make the dress work with me—but that’s like telling the clouds in the sky to stop moving. “You know, if you told me my mother came from a time of ballroom dances and big, poofy dresses, I never would have believed you,” I say, looking around, my head heavy on my shoulders—but when isn’t it? I have a really big head.

Jefferson glances about, studying the door to the ballroom that swings open and closed, emitting people of all shapes and sizes. And smells.

“Violette loved her dresses, Rosie.”

“Did she now,” I whisper.

Jefferson nods his head.

And then another behemoth of a woman passes us by.

“God,” I gasp, “where the hell are we?” I try to keep my head down as the woman passes us by, slinging the tiniest of purses over her shoulder. “I thought women were supposed to be small and dainty in the late 1800s, like princesses. Isn’t there, like, a plague or something? Shouldn’t people look hungry? Or dead.”

Jefferson face-palms and I flush with annoyance.

“This is 1859, Rosie, not 1612 or something.”

I shrug. “Well, regardless. None of this seems normal.” I sigh and grab my arm, running my thumb over my exposed markings without conscious volition, as is my wont. But we’re here. So we better find a table and sit and wait for—”

“Ohhh, no,” Jefferson says, his eyebrows raised. “I am going to dance with my daughter before the night is through if it kills me.” He takes me by the hand and steers me toward the door before finally letting go, breathing heavy, noticing how the carpet has slid beneath my dug in heels.

“I amnot dancing,” I quickly say, my eyes like ice inside my skull. “You can’t make me.”

Jefferson laughs, taking my hand again and squeezing my fingers, cold against the fatherly warmth of his own. “It’s adorable that you think you have a choice,” he murmurs, his eyes dancing like the light from the overhead chandeliers.

For a second I’m not afraid to lose myself in them.

Jefferson wrenches me again, and with this dress on I have no strength left to fight him. He pulls me through the broad doorway and onto the checkered dance floor, black and white beneath our feet, where people have already begun choosing dance partners for the conclusion of the night—I never ever went to a school dance, but I can imagine things went much differently than this.

I want to scream at Jefferson to let me go. But then it’s too late. And every head in the room turns to look at me. So, really, there’s no escaping now.

“Smile,” Jefferson whispers, twirling me about rather smoothly, as if this isn’t his first dealings with the courtly-dance. “Don’t look at them, look at me,” he says, and I do, stealing myself just long enough to convince me that I look beautiful. Not pretty. Not well. Not average. But beautiful. Really beautiful.

What’s left of my recently plucked scarlet curls are tied up on the top of my head in a way that’s far too intricate for me to understand, pinned in place by skinny little needles. As always, stray strands trail in the wake of my scalp, fluttering as I move, and I begin to wonder how my life could have changed so drastically to the point where my hair was anywhere but around my shoulders.

At my throat is a velvet choker that twines across my flesh like unraveling shadows pressed into the pale surface of my skin, and a ruby pendant in the shape of a rose glitters at its base, hanging low;a small chain containing a minuscule clasp runs down the nape of my neck, trailed bythree scarlet beads thatsend shivers down my spine whenever its cool surface grazes my flesh, proving to me that, despite my credence otherwise, I truly am awake.

“Keep it,” the girl had said when she’d held it to my neck. “It suits you. A rose upon a rose.”

I run my fingers over the ruby pendent now, as I’ve come to do whenever I’m unsure of what to do or think, or when I forget how to breathe.

I glance down at my dress.

Matte-black ribbon is woven into the crimson fabric of my dress, contrasting with my hair and the material as a whole; it stops at my forearms, revealing my markings, and I’m afraid someone might see them and ask me what they are.

But once more I catch Jefferson’s eye—my father’s eye—and I’m spun into the brightness of his dazzling gaze, and instantly my troubles begin to thaw and the ice of trepidation begins to shatter around my toes.

I fold my caution into a paper airplane and send it to the wind, neither watching where it sails without me, nor caring where it lands; quickly, swiftly, conforming to the stir of resolve pulsating within my chest, I sever from my ankles the ball and chain that is my fear, and I tell myself that if I’m dreaming I don’t want to wake up. Not really. Not when I’ve always been on the path to kingdom come—now I’ll look the part when I enter my dominion. A queen for her thrown.

“You look absolutely wonderful,” he assures me, running his fingers up to where my markings lay, dark and ominous before the red of my dress. “Stop worrying.”

I nod my head in response before slowly, slowly shaking it. “I must be damn close to my throne,” I mutter, glancing down at my feet as they fall into faulty synchrony with my faulty heart, “because I’m never going to survive this.” I tug on the fabric of my dress and cringe. “Not to mention I look like a fricking princess—”

“Oh, buck up, Rosie,” Jefferson merrily interjects.“After all,” he grins, and the hollows of his dimples hold the light. “‘Every savage can dance’.”

I glare, looking back into his eyes. “Did you just quote something?” Jefferson, quiet for the moment, leads me into the center of the room where he twirls me once—I’m too distracted to feel my usual nausea—before facing me, prepared to delve into the same courtly-dance as all the others. “You just quoted something, didn’t you?”

Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen. Good stuff,” he says. “Look it up.”

“Oh, God,” I say, grinning, wondering how it’s possible that just last night I was shattered inside, and now, hardly a day later I feel like if the sky fell on me I’d have the strength to hold it back. “My own father comes through time to give me sass.”

Jefferson can’t help but brightly smile. “Father,” he whispers, dancing away. “I like the sound of that.”

| | |

Jessie didn’t bother to turn his father’s car off or close the door behind him when he leaped out and charged into the forest. His hands were red from fisting the steering wheel so hard, and his eyes, almost primal, searched through the rain and the gathering fog until he found what he was looking for.

Jefferson’s bus, now parked closer to the road than it had been before, was waiting beneath the thick, looming arms of a great oak tree.Jessie paused, peering up at the age-old vehicle with hungry eyes, praying in his head for Rosie to be there until it turned into a sort of chant: Rosie, please. Rosie, please. Rosie, pleaseeeee!

But every hope he had of finding Rosie fell away upon entering the bus, for he found it dark and empty, devoid of any warmth.Jessie instantly slumped to the floor of the mostly-boarded up bus and let out a groan, pressing his fists into his forehead.

“Damn it, Rosie,”Jessie spit into the darkness, shivering.

And then he heard it. Like a light from the shadows or a kiss from a rose, a small voice whispered to him, a phantom in his ears. “They’ve gone,” she said, breathing heavily.“They’ve both gone.” And then, all at once, a figure emerged, walking into the daylight streaming through the bus’s entrance.

Jessie nearly screamed. But he was far too overwhelmed to utter anything more than: “Violette?”

| | |

My lungs are cancerous.

Jefferson and I stand apart from the crowd, watching as a familiar face meanders through the sea of dancing bodies and peculiar movements. Violette, looking more innocent than I think I can fairly say I’ve ever seen her, stands on her toes and glances around, as if searching for someone. She looks tired. But happy.

“There I am,” Jefferson whispers in my ear, pointing across the room to a well-dressed young gentleman making his way over to Violette from behind. He’s swathed from head to toe in clothing that fits the time period, though he seems estranged somehow, almost alienated without looking any different than those who flounce about around him.

In his fingers, tightly clenched, is a rose.

A rose.

“How peculiar,” Jefferson whispers at my side. “You’d think I’d remember giving her a rose.” He stops. “Do you think that’s what she sent us back here to find—?”

“Quiet!” I hiss, wrapping my arms around myself, doing everything in my power not to tear this dress at the seams, curl myself into a tablecloth, and storm the hell out of here. “We don’t even know if we can trust what Violette said was true. You know better than anyone, Jefferson, that she’s not exactly of the soundest mind.”

“No,” Jefferson agrees. “But she was when she spoke to us. And that you can’t argue.”

“Maybe not,” I say. “But suppose it was nothing.”

“She was definitely searching for something, Rosie. And she has been. For a long time.”

“Maybe they were her marbles,” I mutter. But even as the words leave my mouth I feel rotten for saying it—though I think I might be right. Maybe all Violette’s after is the life she used to have, back when she was sane. But does she even realize that she’s different? “I mean . . .”

“I understand,” Jefferson says, nodding. But there’s an edge to his tone that wasn’t there before. “Come on. Let’s get closer.” He extends his elbow out to me and I take it after a moment’s hesitation, a part of me desiring to turn away. But I take his arm and we walk closer to where the younger Jefferson stands nervously at Violette’s back, evidently awaiting the courage to ask her to dance.

“Awe, you were nervous,” I whisper, coming off sounding a little churlish.

“Shut up,” Jefferson snidely says, blushing.

When I glance over at Violette, I find that she’s still searching for something. For someone. For anything.

“Miss,” comes a voice from behind. I spin to find a shaggy-haired boy at least a year younger than me standing with his hand extended out to me. “Care to dance?” He smiles confidently at me, his onyx eyes shimmering in the light from the overhead chandeliers, and something in his toothy grin makes me want to hit him with a hammer. Or force him to walk across a floor of pushpins.

Have pushpins even been invented yet?

I realize I’m just standing here not talking, not thinking, hardly breathing.

“She’d love to,” Jefferson answers for me before I can think of an excuse as to why I should be way over there, on the other side of the room, far from everyone else. But I’m too slow and now I must dance. And I don’t dance. I hardly know how to walk like a human much less dance like one too.

“Correct,” I say through my teeth, taking the boy’s hand, and when he pulls me away from where my feet were firmly planted on the floor, I stare down Jefferson over my shoulder with seething rage, raising my hand to flip him the bird when I remember my manners. “I’d be much obliged,” I say loud enough for Jefferson to hear, and he laughs and waves as I’m dragged to Hell. The dance floor. But is there really a difference for a girl like me?

No. The answer’s no.

| | |

“If you weren’t my father,” I say, “I’d punch you in the face.”

Jefferson roars with laughter and I can’t help but try to stifle a chuckle myself.

“You should have seen yourself? You’d hardly let the poor boy touch you. I mean, he probably spends his days scrubbing floors in a world without indoor plumbing. You could have at least showed him the kindness of a simple dance.”

“I don’t dance,” I mutter. “I never dance.”

“And you probably shouldn’t,” Jefferson laughs. “You’ve got your mother’s two left feet. Look at her over there,” Jefferson says to me, pointing to where young Jefferson and young Violette twirl about each other, Violette tripping and stumbling into his arms every few seconds, her face reddening after every occurrence.

I laugh, covering my mouth with my fingers. “Oh, please.”


“No, no,” I say. “It’s just funny.”

“What is?”

“The fact that she’s clearly faking.”

“Faking?” Jefferson asks, questioningly quirking an eyebrow.

“Yeah. Violette. She’s pretending to suck at dancing. Trust me, she can dance fine.”

Jefferson narrows his eyes. “Why don’t I believe you?”

“Because you’re not a girl,” I say. “It’s just her technique.”

“Her technique?” Now Jefferson looks truly puzzled. Almost afraid. “Care to explain?”

“Her technique,” I repeat again, as if that might explain it further. “You know, what a girl does to get a guy to wrap her in his arms. In Violette’s case, bad dancing. I mean just look at her,” I tell him, and when both Jefferson and I glance in their direction, Violette very clearly pretends to trip over her own feet and fall into young Jefferson’s arms, her eyes softly fluttering up at his.

“I see,” he whispers, raising his head, his cheeks a tad bit red. “Who knew?”

“Well, clearly not you.”

“Clearly.” He clears his throat. “So ‘the rose’,” Jefferson says, glancing about, trying to change the subject. “Do you think that has anything to do with the rose I gave her?”

I shrug my shoulders. “I think there’s only one way to find out.”

“That being?”

“We follow her. After the dance. We follow her and we see what she does with the rose you gave her. I mean the other you gave her. Young you. Not you-you. The you that isn’t you. Understand?”

“Understood,” Jefferson says. He holds a hand out to me and I can’t help but stare at it in confusion. “Take my hand,” he says to me, but I don’t. I just continue to stare at it.

“I’m not going back,” I weakly whisper.

“Correct,” Jefferson says, gently smiling. “We’re going forward.”

Before I have time to argue, he snatches up my hand and the world vanishes like a candle being doused in the dark.

| | |

Jessierested a fitful Violettedown into the front seat of his father’s car and released a heavy-weighted sigh, his body aching from head to toe. Several quarts of adrenaline were pumping through his veins; he’dhardly felt the run from Jefferson’s bus to the car, Violette bobbing up and down in his grasp the entire way.

Violette had already reverted back. But she was like—well, she wasn’t like anythingJessie had ever encountered before. Every few minutes she bounced back between sanity and insanity, one minute her words coming out in a frantic, garbled, jumbled mess, and the next her lips forming real words, real thoughts, expressing real feelings.

“It’s the rose,” she whispered. “The rose is what will save me. It’s what always used to protect me.”

Jessie, hardly caring about speed limits or the other cars on the street as he pulled out onto the main road, stomped down on the accelerator with a lead foot. The vehicle groaned beneath them, vibrating alongside the deep resonation of his heart in his chest.

“What are ya talkinabout? What does that mean? ‘Th’ rose’?”Jessie kept his grip sturdy on the wheel, but every time he looked over at Violette he felt himself melt a little more.

“It means there’s still a chance,” Violette whispered. “It means that Jefferson was right.”

This hurtJessie more than he cared to admit. “He was right? Right about what?”

“I don’t love you.”

Violette’s words struckJessie so hard that he took his eyes off the road to stare into her empty gaze. She refused to look at him and stared out the window like the direction of her words were written in the wind, leading her astray.

For a moment everything was falling around him, his heart gone from its resting place in his chest, his soul torn and vanquished like the darkness in the sky come morning light.

“Ya don’t love me?”

Violette, showing no sign of reluctance, reached for her throat like something should be hanging there, and then letting her fingers fall to her lap, she slowly shook her head. “I don’t think I ever reallyloved you,Jessie.”

Violette looked into his eyes, her gaze bright and piercing and as reflective as a mirror, stealingJessie from the world he knew and leaving him alone, banished and confused.

What hurt the most was the truth he saw staring back at him.


But there wasn’t time.

They never seemed to have any time.

BeforeJessiecould say anything, his thoughts heavier than the sadness coursing through his veins, and before he could even think of turning his eyes back to the road, the car zoomed right off the side and through a wire-fence, throwing everything that made sense to him right out the window.

Jessie yelled out, pain tearing through his body unlike anything he’d ever felt before, like fire searching to burn from the inside out. The car careened down the slight slope to the field below, striking the ground with too much speed and jostling the earth about like a yoyo on a coiled string.

Throwing the wheel to the side, seeing only Violette in his eyes,Jessie tried to fix every mistake he’d ever made in that single instant—but even he knew nothing could fix what wasn’t broken, and Violette wasn’t one to change her mind; not twice—but the car tilted and turned, throwing everything away.

The world flipped upside down twice over.

Violette screamed out and the world rocked and rolled, teetering uncontrollably as the echo of glass shattering and metal churning became the only sounds in the entire universe.The coarse strokes of evisceration painted motion in the unfathomable stillness, while destruction serenaded the evanescent silence, ruin reveling in the requiem.

Jessie felt like he was watching the disaster from afar; horror churned from the ruin, and the pain he felt inside himself was numb and throbbing, so excruciating and raw that he felt beside himself.

And then everything came to a sudden halt. And gravity kissed Jessie upon his heavy, heavy head, and settled him in place upon the earth.

“Jessie?” Violette whispered from the silence blooming in his ears, her blurry, bruised, and battered face appearing before him like an angel sent down from Heaven. “Jessie!” her voice came and went, growing distant and then winding up far too close.“Hold on,” Violette said, reaching out and taking his hand.

For a moment everything was okay again. Just because her fingers were in his.

Jessie felt himself fall, as if, rather than his physical body descending, the essence of light that made him who he was had drifted farther into himself until he was long gone, with no hope of ever returning.

Gone, gone, gone.

Not even light could survive in the dark for long.

“Jessie?Jessie?” Violette whispered, squeezing his fingers in her own. “Jessie, everything’s going to be okay now! I promise! I promise it will! I do! I do.”

Jessie could only smile.

I do.

They were the only wordsJessie ever wanted her to say.

Darkness came forJessie the way sleep descended upon a person, quick and soundlessly, taking him so fastthat Jessiehardly even knew he was leaving. But there was one thing in the entire world that made it easier; one thing that made everything seem so simple to let go of.

Violette was back. Even if it wasn’t forever. She was back.

Jessie had always said he’d rather die and see Violetteone last time the way she used to be than live an infinite amount of days without ever seeing the old Violette ever again.

Nothing would ever change that.



Cancer is stupid.Vertigo is stupid. Nausea is stupid.

Everything is stupid!

Jefferson and I poof into existence not too far from where we’d been standing before, only now we’re just outside the ballroom. A few people still mill about but mostly everyone has left Rosewood to the darkness of dusk, leaving a mere handful of faces to speckle the room.

“Did we come to the right time?” I ask, glancing about.

Jefferson nods. “Should be. It’s only been an hour or two.”

“Do we split up? See if we can find her?”

Jefferson, prior to heaving out a heavy sigh, nods his head. “That sounds like the best thing we can do. I’ll check inside. Why don’t you . . .” He pauses, his eyes momentarily flitting shut. “Rosie, why don’t you head out to the gardens? Violette likes flowers. You never know. She could be waiting out there.”

I shake my head. “Just because a girl likes flowers doesn’t mean they’re willing to wait out in the cold and lonesome darkness when they don’t have to.”

Jefferson sheds a smile. “Then you don’t know your mother as well as you think you do,” he whispers.

I think of telling him I hardly know her at all. But I hold my tongue and think better of it, slowly inching away.

While Jefferson makes his sweep of the plantation’s interior, I head for the exit. When I step outside, feeling the fresh air breathe across my flesh, I freeze.

Because I’ve just taken a step into a new dimension.

The glamorous gardens, seen only by the heavy light of the moon, worm their way through the night in the form of a maze blossoming to perfection, and dismal straits, bright with juxtaposition sweep for what looks like an abundance of acres.

Alleyways of pastel-colored flowers bleed through the star-struck dusk and run beneath archways of moon-light painted stone, ivory in color and heavy with grandeur; one path in particular leads to a small gazebo-like building before a glowing fountain out in the garden’s deep, centered beneath twilit tendrils of Spanish moss sullenly descending down from a copse of corpse-like oak trees.

People absentmindedly mill about the glowing-green landscape, the ladies twirling amidst the floral scene in their moonlit dresses while the gentlemen, like broad-boned heroes wrenched straight from the ink-scrawled pages of a fairytale, spin them like the stars that they think they are.

I walk amongst them, my dress brushing the stone walkway beneath me as I go, but in such dim lighting I can’t discern one face from another. So I continue on walking through the wide canals of overgrown flowers, spreading my arms like an eagle and running the fingers of both of my hands over the willowy surfaces of each—

And then I see her.

Violette sits by the basin of the small fountain sparkling in the moonlight that I’d seen before, in the shade of a statue depicting a cherub—or just a really fat flying naked baby—thatgleams at its heart. The gardensurrounds most of the fountain, leaving the rest to form a circular bench where Violette waits, more beautiful than any flower will ever be—she seems regal, her back straight and her shoulders set; it’s hard to imagine this girl will become the same creature that tried to cut me with a knife.

I swallow back the image.

Violette’s looking around again, searching for something. But I don’t understand why. What’s there to wait for?

I take a few steps and stop. There, standing a little apart from the rest of the world, just like me, waits the younger version of Jefferson. His jacket folded over one shoulder, he leisurely makes his way over to where she sits with some spirit in his step, appearing as if he’s found something he’d been missing earlier.

“Miss,” I hear him say over the bubbling hubbub of the garden. I inch my way over to where they stay, positioning myself behind the fountain, just out of sight—in the shadow of the giant naked baby’sderrière.

Pretending to admire the flowers that linger beneath the moonlight, I lean my head in in an attempt to capture every word of their conversation, though it’s garbled by the surrounding world and the loud flow of the fountain.

“Thank you,” Violette says to Jefferson, and I peer beyond the flowers to find him staring at a lurid locket at Violette’s throat, glimmering a dull silver in the light of the radiating stars above. “I’d like to think it holds some significance to me, but, in all truth, I discovered it on the grounds of the park nearest my home. It’s quite beautiful, don’t you think?” She absentmindedly runs her fingers over it, still glancing about, searching, searching, searching.

Jefferson nods his head but he’s no longer staring at the locket. He’s staring into her eyes, hypnotized.

“Does it hold anything of value?”

“Are they supposed to? Are lockets themselves not of value enough?”

“Value of the heart, that is, dear lady.”

“Ah,” Violette blushes, turning away as not to meet his eyes. “No. Nothing quite so special has caught my eye.” She forces herself to catch Jefferson’s wandering gaze, it’s clear, and she smiles a smile that would have come on its own if given time. “Until tonight, that is.”

Jefferson’s lips curl up at the edges.

For a moment I’m frozen in place, unable to believe that this is 1859. I’m a time traveler. I’m time traveling with my father. And I’m studying the younger versions of both my mother and my father to see if there’s anything in the world that might help revert the younger version of my mother to her formal glory. Her sanity.

I blink, a chill running down my spine sending away the thoughts lingering inside my head.

“Is that true?” Jefferson whispers, his lips shifting into a sort of side smile that radiates twice as much warmth. “Well, be that as it may, dear lady, I fear it is getting late and the night is drawing to a close. But, if I may, I’d like nothing more than to bequeath you with a gift.”


“A gift?” Violette chuckles to herself. “How absurd.”

“Very well,” Jefferson jokes, raising his eyebrows. “I’ll keep it to myself.”

“No,” Violette whispers, smiling. “I like absurd.”

In response, Jefferson reaches forward, slowly leaning in. At first I think he’s going to kiss her—he’s going to kiss her, he’s going to kiss her, he’s going to kiss her,I’m actually going to see my mother and father’s first kiss!—when, mere centimeters apart, their lips just hardly grazing, their steamy breaths mingling on the air, Jefferson reaches past her and plucks a red rose from the garden at her back.

It’s wilted and weak in color, but it’s still beautiful.

I shy away, creeping down behind the fountain.

Jefferson doesn’t hold it out to her like one would expect. But, with a smile brighter than the sun, young Jefferson crumples the rose before Violette’s face, which falls like my heart in my chest.

I want to climb over the garden and push the fountain on top of him. I want to smack him and punch him and call him an idiot and a dumbass and a—when, out of the blue, he does something completely unexpected.

Jefferson opens his hand, his palm facing up, and takes three perfect petals from the rose’s crumpled body. “Your locket, if you will,” he says, and it’s then that a single realization crosses both of our minds, Violette’s and mine, and without hesitation Violette tears the necklace from her throat.

Jefferson takes it with careful hands and snaps it open, staring down at the empty contents of the large, bulbous locket. And then, shedding a single glance down at Violette, a smile caught between his lips, he places three rose petals into the necklace and closes it tight.

“A rose is many things,” he whispers to her. “Some say it’s just a flower, and though they would be correct, it’s so much more than that. A rose is a direct contrast—a rose is beautiful and sharp, like the deception within beauty, or the attraction of deception itself. But one without the other is like the sky without the clouds, or the clouds without the sky. It can’t be.” Jefferson smiles at Violette and he holds up the locket, an unspoken question between them when Violette suddenly lifts up her hair, turns away, and he wraps the beautiful necklace around her throat. “A rose without its thorns is a queen without her throne. A fire without its heat.”

Violette lets her dark hair fall and she stares up at him, her eyes twinkling in the hesitant moonlight.

“A rose has its thorns for protection because something so beautiful shouldn’t be sought after without a fight. In a way, a rose is like the moon,” Jefferson whispers to her, taking a seat at her side.

“The moon?” wonders Violette; her eyes go wide with enchantment.

Jefferson intertwines his fingers through her own without a word, and, smiling, takes her hand and points up at the moon high above them. “It’s right there. It’s more beautiful than most things, bright and luminescent. But, though it’s as if we can just reach out and touch it, throw a rope around it and draw it in for a kiss, we will never see the moon. Not in this lifetime, I fear. Distance divides it from us, the way thorns divide us from the beauty of a rose. And without thorns, what do we have to appreciate? Without distance, what is there stopping us from wondering what could be? From dreaming?”

He’s right. He’s so right. So, so right.

You take away a rose’s thorns and what do you have? Just another stupid pretty little trinket to fill up another stupid little empty vase inside of a stupid little empty room in your stupid little empty house.

A rose without its thorns is a queen without her throne.

I try to think back and wonder when exactly I lost all of my thorns.

“Nothing,” Violette whispers up to Jefferson, and I’m so caught up in my own thoughts I nearly forget what they are talking about. Violette takes his hand in hers, curling back his fingers to reveal a shallow cut across his palm, covered by shredded rose petals. “We’d have nothing to appreciate.”

Jefferson pulls his hand away, flinching at her touch. “My apologies, dear lady. I wasn’t aware—”

“Come with me,” Violette says in a tone of utter merriment, pulling young Jefferson to his feet; a long purple dress spills around her like that of a queen, glittering in the pale glow of the stars. “I can bandage it for you.” She smiles at him but it’s brief, almost fleeting, and the same look of wonder crosses her mind again as if she’s searching for someone in the distance.

But who? Who is she searching for?

Violette leads Jefferson away from the fountain and back toward where Rosewood sits in all its glory, leaving the gardens to wither in the evening light as a cool winter breeze blows through, smothering the warmth of the star-speckled atmosphere above.

Everyone is gone, I quickly realize. They’ve all gone home.

I quit my hiding place behind the fountain and walk around the house to the front of Rosewood, taking a seat upon the front steps that lead into the plantation as a shiver draws me down to the earth.

And then I let my head drop and allow my gaze to wilt. Tears blur my vision and I have absolutely no idea why. But I know one thing’s for sure: after living life without a father and living so estranged from my mother, nothing could have prepared me for this. Absolutely nothing.

I stare straight ahead, following the beautiful pathway that wanders off into the gloomy distance through a glorious lane of stunning oak trees. My vision is impaired by emotion, so I blink away the pain in my chest until I’m numb.

I follow the dark up to the sky and let my gaze run along the handsome labyrinthine of shadows dancing upon the overhead veranda and the lofty roof, where chimneystacks breathe smoke instead of stars to the disappointment of the night sky above.

For a moment I imagine myself growing up amongst the warrens of flowers and greenery, running barefooted over the cobblestone streets that seem to hold Rosewood to the face of the Earth; I smell the earthy air on my face and feel the mud between my toes, soft and squishy and wonderful.

“This is what I want,” I whisper to myself, prying my shoes from my feet and rising from the steps. I gather my dress around myself and take three steps away from the stairs, gently hopping over the little hedge that runs beside the stone pathways like the sun that so often frames the horizon. Instantly, like a light glimmering from the dark or a drop of color blooming from the black and white that my life used to be, my toes touch the grassy Earth and I see myself as I should have grown up.

I see myself playing amongst the low hanging branches of the great oaks that spin the moonlight through their large limbs, dancing in the dark and searching with my toes for my next great adventure. I see myself twirling, running, leaping and I love the energy beneath my skin, pulsating as it passes through my veins. I see myself rolling down hills beneath the Spanish moss that drip-drip-drips from the branches of Louisiana’s finest, listening to the heartbeat of the ground beneath my head.

I see myself watching the sun set with flowers in my hair, smiling heavenward at the conflagration of fiery colors and melted hues. I see myself sitting amongst a plain of magnolias, staring off into the distance at a slow-moving body of water, glittering bright with the reflection of the sun.

I see myself and I finally like what I see.

This is where I’m meant to be,” I say. “This is home—”


Jefferson appears from the dark, the light of Rosewood’s soul igniting every perfect imperfection of his face; every undulation that I never noticed, every hollow so deep and swimming with shadows. All the daunting features of his appearance disintegrate in this light.

Slowly, carefully, I step toward him.

I take a seat upon the steps and slip back into my shoes, feeling like a princess when I’d much rather be wearing my sweatpants with the holes in the knee and my ugly blue wife beater. Slowly, I move to gather all my hair up into my hands like I usually do when I’m nervous, but when I remember that I cut my hair, I awkwardly let my arms drop to my sides.

“You knew,” I whisper, my voice barely audible. I tightly wrap my arms around myself and burrow into the warm fabric of my scarlet dress. “You knewViolette was out here.”

“I did,” Jefferson admits, taking a seat at my side and settling down onto the step. “I remembered the moment I saw my younger self hand Violette that rose earlier today.” He slowly grabs my hand and I don’t pull away. “I thought you could use a memory to take back to the future with you, whichever you decide to choose in the end, 1959 or 2015—”

I throw my arms around him and I press my face into his jacket, allowing myself to forget the world. To forget that tomorrow I could be dead. To forget that I’m in a different time period. To forget I still have yet to decide where I’m happiest; where my heart truly belongs.

For right now, for this moment, I simply hug my father and pretend the world is just something I can turn off. I dread the moment I have to turn it back on. I always do. But this is the first time someone holds me back and actually convinces me I have the power to send it all away. To shut it all down.

So I just shiver and tremble and breathe in the wintery scent on the air and the soft fragrance of lemon on his clothing.

It’s so easy to let go of things sometimes. So, so easy. So why can’t I let go of this life—this life of time travel and Jessie and Jefferson and the Bloome family, and return to River in the twenty-first century? Why can’t I allow myself to be happy?

“Rosie,” Jefferson whispers down to me. “I haven’t . . . I mean . . . I haven’t been entirely truthful with you.”

I don’t let go. I don’t even look up at him.

“Rosie . . .” Jefferson breaths out a puff of air and it comes out shaky, almost regretfully, like he knows he should keep his mouth shut, but something too real, too true, too heavy is weighing down on his conscience. “Rosie—”

“I don’t care,” I finally say, looking up at him, my face warm against the fabric of his jacket. “I’m happy right now and I just want to sit here . . .” I whisper. “I just want to forget.”

“And you will,” he breaths so matter-of-factly. “Because this—all of this—is just a memory. Soon it will all come to pass.”

“Maybe not,” I say, and he holds me tighter, his arms thick and burly as they tether me to his embrace. Something in his eyes, I notice when I look up, remind me of the notes from Jessie’s piano piece—so cool and calm and collected, without an ounce of fault, gleaming so truthfully and honestly, and yet hiding so much guilt and disaster.

I close my eyes. I hold my breath.

“Maybe I’ll make it my future,” I tell him, trying for a smile; trying to pretend like what he’s about to say won’t destroy me. But it probably will. “Maybe I’ll—”

And then it comes, quick and swift like a dagger in the night, striking me up under the ribcage; it sends me spinning, twirling into oblivion the way a shot from a gun might.

A few days ago it would have been a blessing. My only saving grace. A few days ago I pleaded for these eight words that so easily slip from Jefferson’s lips.

Now it’s everything that will tear me apart.

Now it’s everything that will shatter me.

Now it’s everything that will make me wilt.

“Rosie, I know how to break the curse.”


Hahahahahahahahahaha. Oh. What?

There are some things in this world you simply don’t want to hear. You just have to pretend like you forgot how to hear and sing a song inside your head because it’s not going to go away, but at least you can drown out the garbage with something wonderful. But right now there isn’t a single song beautiful enough to save me from what Jefferson’s just said.

So for the ten seconds it takes me to fully register what he’s just told me, I try to playbackJessie’s piano piece and I succeed. I succeed in flooding the world I like to think I have the power to turn on and off in the echoes of a beautiful, beautiful crescendo.

But the world just keeps turning. Spinning. Rolling right out of my hands.

“What are you talking about?” I ask, taking Jefferson’s arms and forcing him to look me in the eyes. When he tries to turn away, his gaze wandering, I pinch his skin until he sees me more than just a speck on his glasses. If he wore glasses.

Jefferson sighs louder than I knew a human could sigh without sounding barbaric.

“You loveJessieBloome,” he tells me.

How absurd. I think. I mean . . . I have a small heart so it fills pretty easily. But love . . .?

“I do not! Now don’t you dare change the subject!” I say, jabbing a finger at his face, now appearing to have aged by the soft light of the moon strung up above our heads. His amber eyes flick back and forth before landing on mine once more, and where there had once been a jovial kindness now sits fear. Apprehension. And there’s a part of me that wishes I could just reverse time and make it so that he’d never spoken.

“You do. It’s true. Maybe not all of you, Rosie. But a part of you does love him.”

“I’ve known the guy for like an hour!” I exclaim, though still keeping my voice at a whisper.

“An hour is long enough,” Jefferson murmurs. “Trust me.”

I stare at him long and hard but nothing about the way he looks or speaks assuages the pain piling up on my chest. “What does this have to do with anything?”

“It has everything to do with breaking the curse—!”

“Maybe I don’t want to break the curse?!”


Oh, crap. I’ve confused myself again.

Jefferson’s lips turn up into a smile and he laughs. I think he’s laughing at me so I blush and punch his shoulder, leering back at him when he recoils in pain.

“Don’t laugh at me,” I murmur, though there’s something about his affable laugh that draws a smile to the surface of my own face and nothing, absolutely nothing will stop it. I try to hide it and end up looking constipated so I just turn away.

“It’s not that I’m laughing at you, Rosie. It’s just that, well, I had my doubts before. But now I know for sure that you’re my daughter. I didn’t want to go back either. I didn’t want to believe what I had was a curse. So I turned it into something wonderful.”

I shrug my shoulder, blushing. “I guess I just want the same. I want the best of both worlds and I know I can’t have it all. I don’t want to go home. I want to stay here. I want to stay but I also want to know that I have a home with River.” I pause, taking a minute to think it all over. “How do you do it? Poofingfrom place to place like this? Never settling down. Never staying in one place for long.”

“You’re forgetting my reason for time traveling,” Jefferson whispers, slipping his fingers into his coat pockets. “Your mother. I was always set on finding her. And this town—well, Natchitoches, Louisiana, that is, is where I ended up. But there hasn’t been a day that’s passed where I haven’t wondered about your mother. And you. My little Red Rose.”

I shiver at his words.

I’ve never been anyone’s little Red Rose before.

“But I’m not going to live long enough to see a future like the one you’ve been chasing all your life,” I whisper, the sad facts piling up on my shoulders.

“Don’t say that.”

“What? The truth that’s been on all our minds? Come on, Jefferson. Tomorrow you could all wake up to find that I didn’t. That I’m still asleep. That I’m never waking up.” I hear the words inside my head mere seconds after letting them touch the air, and I hate the way they sound. I hate the fact that it’s true; that my body is at war with itself and it’s losing.

Cancer is trying to destroy me, and let me tell you I do not approve.

Roses are red. So why do I keep ending up feeling so black and blue?

“You could live a long and happy life . . .”

I can’t help but laugh. “Cancer is stupid,” I tell him. “Trust me, I know. It’s like having another voice inside your head, always telling you what you can do and what you can’t. Always telling you when to be happy and when to feel weaker than the world on your shoulders. Always suffocating you and leaving you unconscious in places you’d much rather not be alone inbecause it thinks it’s fun. But it’s not something that can simply just be waved away. My cancer is a part of me.”

I look at Jefferson now but he won’t meet my eyes. I understand, though. The second hardest thing in the world other than having cancer is knowing someone you love has cancer. Or any other illness, really. Cancer is just as stupid as all the rest.

“That doesn’t mean I won’t pretend like I’ll still be here for my eighteenth birthday extravaganza, let me tell you that. That—that right there is going to be epic,” I say, attempting to lighten the mood.“But, come on Jefferson. You can try, and I trust that you will, but there’s just no changing the inevitable.”

“Said the girl who just time traveled,” Jefferson grumbles to himself.

“True. But you can go back in time a thousand times, Jefferson. There’s still no changing what’s become of me. That’s like going back in time to see if you can prevent yourself from getting a freckle on your nose. It doesn’t work that way—”

“I can’t just sit idly by while my little Red Rose wilts before my eyes,” he whispers to himself, looking down at his hands, fisted in his lap. “I can’t.”

“No,” I say to the stars above our heads and the moon that watches me the way a spotlight watches a stage. Or searches for prisoners. Or signals superheroes. “Your little Red Rose died when Violette—my mother—traveled through time. When she lost you again. The person I am today—I will never be anyone’s little Red Rose because there’s nothing left of me beautiful enough and brave enough to be hopeful and faithful like the little girl you should have had.”

“I lost you once, God damn it. I won’t lose you again!”

Too late, I want to say. You already have, I want to say. I’m nothing anymore, I don’t dare say.

I just shake my head. Then, pausing, I stare up atJefferson’s withering face. “I don’t think I love either of them.Jessie or River, I mean,” I murmur. “I think I’m too selfish to let anyone truly love me because I can’t love what I’ve let myself become. And I can’t even hate myself because I’m afraid I might die afraid of who I’ve become. So I think I have to break the curse. I have to eliminate my choices. No moreJessie or River. 1959 or 2015. It’s not one or the other. Not anymore.”

“If I tell you—” Jefferson stops, his eyes fleeting. “If you break the curse, Rosie, you won’t remember anything that’s happened to you over the course of the last few days. You won’t remember me orJessie. The Bloomes. This world. You’ll just go back to living your life like nothing ever happened to change the way you see things now.” He freezes and cringes, and I swear he’s going to have a heart attack before this night is through. “You’ll go back to believing your mother is crazy and your father abandoned you.”

I hate that. I hate everything about what he’s saying.

But would it be so bad to go back to living life the way I always had before? I managed seventeen-years of my life on my own. But could I really go back, knowing what I’m giving up? Just to feel normal in a world where I always wished something abnormal would take me away.

No. No. No.

I can’t do it.

But I have to.

Don’t I?

“What do I do?” I whisper.

Jefferson looks startled. “What?”

“How do I break the curse?”

“So you’re actually going to go through with it? After what I just told you? You’re willing to leave it all behind to—”

“This is not something you get to choose for me!” I exclaim, pushing myself to my feet.

And I wish I hadn’t. Because my legs are just twigs that snap when I try to breathe and can’t. I see colors that shouldn’t exist in such a dark setting and the world churns like lava, hot and boiling, and I see static where static shouldn’t be.

I fall and I sink and I plummet, gravity having a hell of a time knocking me back down.

Jefferson catches me but only just. My hands slap the hard steps when he heaves me up into his grasp, collapsing back so that I crumple into the nook of his arm. He holds me for one, two, three seconds before wrapping me up like the piece of tissue paper I’ve become, just waiting for him to use me like all the rest.

But Jefferson is different. I know it.

Jefferson scoops me up like I’m nothing and carries me through the garden, his rough, ageing arms bobbing me up and down as he walks over to the fountain in the yard. He sets me down on the bench and sits beside me, wrapping an arm around my shoulder to keep me steady.

But I’m not steady.

I’m afraid I’m going to vomit in his lap.

“It was the locket.” I hear his voice beyond the splotches of staticy pigments in my line of vision, and I’m thankful for the distraction. “The rose petals. They must be what kept her sane when she came to 1955. But she lost the locket sometime after,” Jefferson whispers in my ear. “All this time it was the rose I gave her.”

I want to smile but I’m really just trying not to be dead.But inside I’m clapping, applauding, doing a happy dance that I haven’t even created yet.

When the smears of color in my eyes begin to dissolve, I catch Jefferson pluck a rose from the garden and hold it up to his nose, white like a freshly fallen snowflake, still crisp and beautiful despite the chill of the winter air.

“A white rose,” Jefferson murmurs to himself, twirling the snowy flower between his fingers.

I only have one thing left to say and not even cancer can change my mind about this one fact. “I want to go home,” I whisper, but I’m no longer sure if I’m speaking to Jefferson, my father, or to the stars, the moon, and the darkness in-between.

I don’t even know where home is anymore.

I don’t think I’ve ever known.

“Me too, my little Red Rose,” Jefferson whispers down to me as my head teeters to the side, softly settling on his shoulder. “Me too.”


Trouble should really be my middle name.

Because it’s all I ever seem to leave in my path.

Three days have passed since I went back in time to 1859. 72 hours have left me to the heart-throbbing silence of this world and he’s still asleep. He’s still asleep. Still trapped in his own mind, hidden behind a white hospital door big enough for three people to walk through side by side. But they won’t let me in and I think I’m going to die before they ever let me see him again.

I keep sitting here thinking it’s going to open. Any second now. Three, two, one, now! Now! How about now?! But every time there’s just the same stillness. The same suffocating lack of change and it’s physically destroying me. It mentally destroyed me a long time ago.

I’ve only ever seen the inside of the hospital room once. I was sitting where I am now, as uncomfortable and cranky as I am now, shivering like I am in this very moment, and like a snap of fingers before my face, the door opened. Like magic. And he was there.Jessie was there, just sitting up in bed. Watching me. Staring at me. Staring into me.

Ten seconds later I woke up and hated myself even more for letting my guard down to the point where such an evidently spurious dream had the upper hand.

“Rosie!” Jefferson’s voice snaps me from my thoughts like a hand at my throat, and I gasp. I’m still in the hospital waiting room, still sitting in the same ridiculously unbearable chair I’ve been sitting in for close to three days now, still as still as the world outside the windows.

My back aches and I stand, leaving the discomfort of the chair behind. Relief runs down my body the way water runs from a leaky faucet, slow but continuous. I press my fingers against my spine to crack it, stretching like a fit person does before a race. Or a sporting event. Whatever. I pop my knuckles. Crack my neck. Bang my toes against the wall to wake them up.

I loosen up my bones until I feel close to crumbling.

But I shattered a long time ago.

“Anything new?” I ask, sitting back down. I don’t want to. But I have to. I don’t think my legs will hold me for much longer.

Jefferson’s face says it all as it slips toward sympathy, his gaze faltering when it meets mine. “Go home, Rosie. You’re not helpingJessie by keeping yourself locked up in here.”

I shake my head but before I can even open my mouth he’s speaking again, filling my ears and my head and my throat with orders neither my mind nor my body feel strong enough to follow. “Take Mary,” Jefferson whispers, nodding to the sleeping figure beneath a bundle of coats. “Here,” says Jefferson, slipping me his wallet. “Take her to lunch. She could use a few hours to return to life, just the same as you.”

“I don’t want to,” I whisper in return, turning my body away and drawing up my feet, hugging my knees to my chest and letting my head fall in-between. “It’s my fault,” I breathe, not sure if he can hear me or if anyone can hear me or if it’s just me. I’m not even sure if I’ve said it out loud.

I must have. Because Jefferson runs a hand down my back. “Jessie shouldn’t have been stupid enough to try and follow you—” Jefferson pauses, his voice catching on the air. “I’m sorry,” he breathes. “That was inconsiderate.”

I stand to my feet again because I can’t do this. I can’t just sit here. Jefferson’s right, I need to return to life. Because this stillness reminds me too much of my past. It’s still going to be still when I get back. If not stiller.

“You’re right,” I mumble. “It was.”

Taking Jefferson’s wallet, I walk over to where Mary uses her parents’ coats as a pillow and I kneel beside her, quiet as I shake her awake. She stares at me in question, as if she isn’t quite sure where she is. But then her eyes light up and she looks around, no doubt searching forJessie, for her brother, eager to know if he’s awake. But then Mary sees my eyes and her face falls faster than I knew anything in this world could fall. Gravity has nothing on her face.

“Why don’t we go grab some lunch?” I whisper to her, and Marydoesn’t hesitate in her response. She just nods her head. No words. No sound. Just silence. Just stillness.

“Come on, then,” I tell her, and we leave Evelyn and Billy to their slumber in the back corner of the waiting room. Jefferson follows us out to check on Violette for the seventh time in the last three hours. Luckily for her, whenJessie crashed his father’s car, Violette wasn’t badly injured.

I take Mary to find food but we just end up walking. And walking. And walking. I don’t know how far we walk. We just start down the hallways, down the stairs, down, down, down, and then we start back up again. And we just keep going. And going. And going. And nothing’s changed, save for the fact that neither of us gets any hungrier.

Fear does that to people. Guilt makes you anorexic.

Forty-seven minutes pass before either one of us speaks.

“Who is Violette?” Mary asks me, reaching for my arm and stopping me in my tracks.

I stare, trying not to seem too distracted. “What do you mean? In relation to me or just in general?”

“In relation to you,” Mary softly whispers, shying ever so slightly away from me, like I’m something she doesn’t want to touch. “Is she yer Grandmother or somethin?”

I stare

I don’t know what to say.

I should probably tell her.

“Violette? Well, to be honest with you, Mary, it’s all really very complicated,” I whisper.

“It’s okay,” says Mary, her eyes so devoid of the warmth they’d contained when I first met her that I want to wrap my arms around her and hold her and make everything right again. But I can’t change what’s happened toJessie—or can I?

“Ya don’t haftasay if ya don’t wanna.”

I smile and lower my head. “It’s not that I—”

“Never mind, I don’t wanna know,” Mary says. “Jest tell meJessie’s gonna wake up.”

“He will,” I say, and I’m surprised by the assurance in my voice. And then I remember that I shouldn’t be. Because I’ve met futureJessie. Which means he lives long enough to have kids. Grandkids. To have a happily ever after.

He has a future.

“I probably shouldn’t tell you this,” I begin, finally meeting Mary’s eyes. “But I’ve actually metJessie before. In—let me think,” I say, trying to remember when I’d seen the old man last. “2013, I think. No, wait. 2014. In the summer.”

“So he lives?” Mary’s eyes widen, and her lips pull apart to form a smile that I’m so proud of myself for producing. “H-he—He actually wakes up?”

“He does—” I start to say when Jefferson appears at my side, interrupting me with the clearing of his throat. “Hey,” I smile. “Anything new?”

Jefferson nods his head, his bright eyes gone dark. “We have to go,” he tells me.

I start to argue when I see it. Something about the color of his eyes. They’re tinted red—he’s been crying.

Just the thought of seeing my father cry sends a shiver down my spine, and I have to look away.

“Okay,” I whisper. “Mary, I’ll see you back in the waiting room, all right?”

The girl blushes at Jefferson and nods her head, turning to go without a word.

“She’s so shy, that one,” I say, forcing a smile and crossing my arms. “Don’t you think—?”

“Shut up and listen,” Jefferson hisses. “We have to go back in time again,” he abruptly tells me, quickly, his words fast on his lips. Almost feverish.

“What? Why? What’s happened?”

Jefferson sighs and runs his hands through his orangey hair before dragging them down his weary face. “It’sJessie,” he says. “He’s not going to wake up.”

I freeze. Unfreeze. Look down. Look him in the eyes. Freeze again. Thaw. “What are you talking about?”

“None of this was supposed to happen,” Jefferson tells me, his eyes flitting back and forth. “Jessie. The car crash. He was never in the hospital, Rosie.”

“Okay . . .”

“Don’t you understand?”

“Not really.”

“Blasted,” Jefferson mutters to himself, a time bomb just ticking down towards detonation. “Okay. Okay,” he says, letting his eyes drift shut, calming himself. “Time is like a path of stones. It goes in one direction. But if someone finds a way to go backwards, and—let’s say someone accidentally stumbles and kicks a stone out of place. Well, it’s not just going to fix itself.”


Shit. I understand.

“Jessie . . . oh my God. He’s the stone. Oh . . . oh, God.”

“We have to go. Now!” Jefferson grabs my hand but I pull away, pressing up against the wall of the corridor, glancing back and forth. “Rosie, we don’t have time—!”

“What will happen?”


“If we don’t succeed,” I gasp, my eyes wild. “What will happen?”

Jefferson opens his mouth to speak but reconsiders.

“Jefferson?” I ask.

He says nothing.

“Jefferson?” I repeat, pleading this time.

Still nothing.


“Jessie will die, Rosie!Jessie’s son will never be born. River will never be born. You will never meet River. Therefore, your entire life will be altered. And you might never be thrown back in time.” He pauses, meets my eyes after a brief moment of looking up at the ceiling. “Rosie, I don’t mean to sound melodramatic,” he tells me. “But if we don’t somehow stopJessiefrom crashing that car, everything will change. Everything! We might never even meet.” This last part comes out as a whisper.

I’m holding my breath because there’s no room in my lungs for such overpowering astonishment. “Okay,” I whisper, breathing out my held breath. “Go back in time. SaveJessie. Save Violette. Break the curse.” I stop. “How long do we have?”

“There’s no telling,” Jefferson admits. “But my guess would be the momentJessie is dead.”

No. “I won’t let that happen.” No. “We’re going to stop this.”No. “We’re going to save him.”

I’ve never seen so much doubt in one person’s eyes.


“It’s not that easy, Rosie. You don’t understand!”

“You’re right,” I say, taking his hand in mine. “So until the last moment—until you tell me how to break this curse—you’re going to teach me how to use it like it’s a superpower.” I squeeze his fingers, and I marvel at how peculiar and wonderful his hand feels in mine, like a promise finally kept after all these years, or like a balloon I lost as a child, finally returned as a ghost in the night.

Jefferson smiles back at me.

“Really, Rosie . . . you’re definitely my daughter.”

“I know. Now shut up and let’s go,” I say, squeezing his hand.

I don’t give Jefferson time to respond before closing my eyes and wishing, wishing, wishing for the world to hold me, hug me, take me in its arms and love me, spin me, twirl me, and cradle me like the child I am inside. And then the lights flicker and a surge goes through my body like lightning, zigzagging down my spine. For a moment I’m just electricity. Just energy. Just ether in the atmosphere.

Just a piece of the falling sky.

And then we’re gone. Gone in a flash.

For the first time in probably forever I completely forget that I’m just a cancer patient with a deli-ticket waiting for Death to call my number. Because this—this right here—is bigger than me. It’s bigger than all of us, really. And while it might seem that I’m only trying to save myself, it doesn’t even occur to me to stop and think about what I’m doing.

BecauseJessie needs me. River needs me.

If a phone rings in the past, you can’t answer it in the future. But if you don’t answer it in the past, if you don’t pick it up and whisper into the phone, then a precedent won’t be made and the phone will never ring again in the future. You don’t know what you say in the phone. You never know. You only realize that if you don’t, then you might as well just go live in the woods.

And I take indoor plumbing very seriously.

Yesterday my life consisted of a single choice.

The past or the future.

Today it consists of only one thing.

Saving the future.


1.Whoa. 2. Hold up. 3. Stop. 4. I’m confused. 5. What?

This is the sequence of my daily affairs.

When I open my eyes I find that we haven’t moved. At all. But I know we’ve gone back in time because of the queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, like someone’s just removed the floor from beneath my feet and I’m simultaneously falling through the air and standing still.

But I don’t feel sick. Not the slightest bit.

“Do we have a plan?” I ask, following an already moving Jefferson, struggling to keep up; his arms pump at his sides, and I marvel at the determination in his step, unmitigated and pure.

“StopJessie from ruining our lives.”

“That’s a goal. Not a plan. And you really don’t like him do you?”

Jefferson laughs, his smile not meeting his eyes. “First he nearly marries my wife. Now he’s after my daughter. And because of his stupidity I might lose both.” He storms down hallway after hallway, gritting his teeth all the way down every flight of stairs, pushing past doctors and candy-stripers without even thinking of offering a curt greeting as he so often does. “No, Rosie. I guess you’re right. I don’t like him. I don’t like him one bit.”Jefferson’s eyebrows crinkle.

I open my mouth to speak but I can’t really argue with that.

I shrug. “Well, we need a plan. And you’re the adult. You should have already thought of a plan.” He scowls at me. “I could go find my past-self and convince me not to time travel alone—”

“Catastrophe. That’ll end in utter catastrophe.”

“How so?”

“Do you read? Watch TV?”

“I like TV,” I nod, struck by the fact that I’m talking about TV with my long lost daddy while we embark off on a rescue mission to save the future from unraveling.

“Then you should know,” Jefferson says to me, “that confronting ourselves would be catastrophic in the future. There’s no telling what would happen. Would we disappear? Would they disappear? Would we all go crazy? Would time just pop like a balloon?”

I shrug my shoulders. “What if you confront the past me?”

Jefferson shakes his head. “Too unpredictable,” he brusquely says to me. “There’s no telling what might happen—”

“Well, we have to think of something!” I say, stopping.

I’m shaking, my entire body tremulous and weak; my fingers are numb down at my sides, colder than ice in the winter, and when I move them I feel like they might break off. “Please,” I say. “We have to try.”

Jefferson notices that I’m not right behind him and turns, his face grave and stern, almost angry. “Rosie, we don’t have time for this—”

“Strolling around like this isn’t going to help Jessie!” I exclaim, feeling myself getting angry. I tighten my grip on the emptiness streaming through my fingers and stand my ground, biting back my tendency to give in to my fear of confrontation. “We have to think this through,” I whisper, lowering my voice; my eyes gently fall, lowering to the ground, but when I remember that I’m not the useless piece of dust that I once was, I flit my eyes back up to Jefferson’s and stare him down.

Because everyone has a dark side.

And he’s just pushed me over the edge.

Jefferson slowly nods his head, staring in return. “We have to get him alone, Rosie. It’s the only way. Any other course of action might lead us down a road that we can’t come back from. But if we get him alone—” he says, stopping himself. “If we convince Jessieto stop what he’s doing—prove to him that you’re perfectly fine—then we can stop him from coming after you.”

Perfectly fine my ass.

I smile in response.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

“Okay,” I murmur, beaming, “what if we stopJessie right after past-me leaves for 1859? He’s alone at some point, right? Between leaving his home for your bus in the woods and when he actually arrives.”

“You’re saying stop him on the road?” inquires Jefferson.

“Maybe,” I nod, moving once more; I push open the entrance doors of the hospital and step out into the mid-afternoon sunlight, inhaling a shaky, shaky breath.

Cars pass by and it’s like staring at an old photograph, everything slightly discolored; everything is so still and happy and warm despite the brisk chill in the spring air.

Buildings sparkle the way snowflakes do when they fall, shimmering in the daylight, reflecting a reality we’re all too unfocused to pay attention to. But in this moment I do. In this moment, with Jefferson tugging at my arm, the world and the future resting on my shoulders, I remain standing on the sidewalk. Frozen. Still. Completely still.

“Rosie, we don’t have time for this—” Jefferson repeats.

“Yes we do,” I whisper, unblinking, staring straight ahead at the building directly across the street from where I stand. I don’t know what kind of building it is, or what occupation or business it holds. I only see the glass; I only see myself and I’m not looking away. “We have all the time in the world.”


And then I feel it. A sudden weakness that courses through my veins, sending a spark of panic to my system. And I crumble, the world heavy as it takes a rest upon my shoulders, forcing me to my knees faster than ever before.

Jefferson’s quick to act, but not even he’s fast enough to catch me when I fall. I grab my stomach, my chest, but the air in my lungs has gone. Fled my body with every last morsel of sensibility. And I’m lying here, gasping, broken down and giving in.

“Rosie!” Jefferson cries out.

I’m laying here and everything is so far away.

I’m laying here and there’s absolutely no air in my lungs.

I’m lying here and—

I’m going to die. I’m going to die. I’m going to die.

And then, suddenly, I’m not.

Jefferson reaches down and scoops me up into his arms, wrapping me up like I’m no more than a child he’s discovered on his front stoop, left helpless and alone, shaking and breaking and hyperventilating.

“Everything’s going to be all right,” he whispers down to me. Those words. I hear them so often and yet they all fail me every single time. Because it’s not. Nothing is ever going to be okay again. And it’s stupid for me to believe otherwise. Stupid for me to trust in anything but the unmistakable inevitable.

“Put me down,” I say, but I’m so weak, so tired, so lost I’m not even sure if the words even leave my lips. But they do—I know they do—because Jefferson, hesitating for a moment or two, nods his head and lowers me to the fractured earth below.

For a minute I sit. Silent and still.


“No,” I say, and I grit my teeth, shaking my head against the oblivion that’s reaching for me, fighting for me. I close my eyes and clench my fingers into fists, struggling to hold myself together and straining against gravity’s weight, heavy and thick upon my back. But I do it regardless. Because I have to.

This isn’t something I can just pretend will stop if I close my eyes. This isn’t something I can just wish away. Not this time. Not anymore. I have to get up. I have to stand up. I have to move. Because this game isn’t finished yet. And I still have a chance to win.

Slowly, slowly, I press my fingers against the marred concrete beneath me and lift, heaving myself up into a crouch; breathless, sticky with exertion, I dig down deep and force my limbs to move against the tension holding them in place. Even if they don’t want to. Even if they’re set on staying still.

Check, I think to myself.

Jefferson starts forward to help me but I don’t let him.

I have to do this on my own.

I have to.

So I break away from the force holding me in place, restraining me, and I push and I push and I lift and I heave and I take a shot in the dark because what else is there for me to possibly do? I grit my teeth, biting down hard, and I force a growl from my cracked lips, letting the crescendo of my strife carry me to my feet, wrenching me up.

I’m standing, heavy on my feet, loitering amongst the stars on the edge of such an inescapable delirium; it presses into me, tears me open with its moon-struck claws, and I feel myself begin to wilt. Wither. Crumble. Shatter.

But I do what Violette Bryar couldn’t.

And I catch myself.

Because this world is notorious for letting you believe that there will always be someone there to catch you. But there won’t be. Sometimes we just have to save ourselves. Sometimes we just need to change. Grow. Bloom.

Mate, I think to myself.

“Amazing,” I hear Jefferson mutter under his breath.

I part my lips to argue. But how can I?

I mean . . . I am pretty damn amazing.

I steady myself against the wall of the hospital, fighting the urge to sit back down.

“I think I’m going to die today,” I breathe, and I’m so startled by the revelation I’m forced to look away. I don’t meet Jefferson’s wandering gaze. I don’t even look in his direction. But, peculiarly, I feel something stirring inside of me. Tears? I run my fingers up to my cheeks and find them damp. “I think I’ve known for a while.”

Jefferson grabs my arm and slowly, carefully spins me around, his arms taught with tension. “Rosie? How can this be? You look no different than you did when I first met you,” he says after doing a quick onceover with his eyes. Like I’m a child who’s fallen off her bike. Like I can’t decide for myself where the pain is coming from.

But there isn’t any pain. Not anymore. I’ve gone numb.

“It doesn’t work that way. I’m not just going to shrivel up like a grape and die on a bed in some colorless room,” I say, glaring. “I could look fine one minute and be dead the next. That’s how this works. I don’t get to choose when I die. But I’m pretty sure—it’s today. I-I think it’s today.”

I know it’s today.

Before I can say another word, much less think another thought, Jefferson grabs me and pulls me into his arms, wrapping me up like a child freezing in the winter. I probably look really stupid and really cowardly to the people walking around us on the sidewalk. But I don’t let go. I actually grab his back and tighten my grip on him.

“Rosie—don’t do this,” Jefferson whispers in my ear.

“I have no control. But I know I’d rather spend my last few hours happy.” Happy. Comfortable. Peaceful.

“And I’d really much rather spend the rest of my life knowing I knew my daughter. Knowing my wife is just around the corner. Knowing that, after all the years it’s taken me to track the both of you down, I’ve finally found you again.”

I’m shaking. Trembling. Breaking.


“I don’t know what to tell you . . .”

“Yes, you do,” Jefferson corrects me, never once showing any sign of loosening his grip on me. “You could spend your last day on earth—if you really are going to die today—happy. At peace. Doing everything you’ve never done. But that would be selfish. And I knowit’s rude to call a cancer patient selfish,” he whispers, and I feel his smile without even seeing him. “But I haven’t known you all that long and I generally call people like I see them.”

I can’t help but laugh, slowly pulling away from his embrace. “I’m just a kid,” I say, my throat hoarse. I brush away a strand of red hair caught before my face, curling it behind my ear. “I don’t know how to save anyone . . .”

I don’t. I hardly know how to use Velcro. How the hell am I supposed to save the day?

“We’ll find a way. But I’m not staying here, Rosie. I’m going to stopJessie. So you can stay here. Go back to the future. Leave us all behind for as many hours as it takes untilJessie dies—and then everything you know will be gone. And you can die happily in the arms of a stranger. Or you can come with me and save the people who I know have had a bigger impact on you than anyone in the twenty-first century; than anyone you’ve ever met.”

A choice. Another choice. Before it wasJessie or River. 1959 or 2015. Now it’s dying happily or dying a hero.

It’s too bad they don’t teach you how to be brave in high school.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, shrinking back, taking a step away from him. “But I’m not a hero.”

Jefferson only stares, horrified. In his eyes is the world, reflected back at me. They’re turning, and in his gaze I see myself and my choices and I’m soafraid I might be making the wrong decision that I turn around and run my hands down my face.

I plead for release. I plead for a moment of peace.

And then I’m falling. Slipping, sliding, slurring.

When I open my eyes again, looking around, I find myself back in 1959. Three days afterJessie’s car accident. Standing in the waiting room of the hospital. And at my side is Mary, staring at where I’ve just appeared with awe stirring in her eyes.

I stand there breathless.

I stand there thoughtless.

I stand there heartless.

When I should be elsewhere, standing fearless.

“Rosie?” Mary asks, taking a step away from me, evidently afraid. “What’s wrong—?” she wonders, stopping herself when she sees the horror in my eyes. The tears on my cheeks. The way my entire body trembles from head to toe.

Mary immediately understands.

“Jessie’s not supposed to wake up, is he?” Marywhispers up at me, her shy, colorful gaze searching my own.

My heart breaks here and now.Right now.

My life-support is gone.

A thousand pieces just shoot out of me like shards of shrapnel, flying through my skin from the inside out. It would make sense, anyway. I feel like I’ve been shot.

Shadows gather at my feet.

I take a single step forward and the world turns into an hourglass and I’m on the inside and someone won’t stop shaking it. I’m being buried alive. I’m drowning in sand. In seconds. In time. In cancer.

Stop!sToP STOP!

I try to shout but I no longer have a voice.

I hit the ground and the lights go out.

I’m not titanium. I’m not steel.

I’m more like glass that bounces.

I don’t think I’m dead. But it won’t be long now.

Have I made the wrong decision?

| | |

Time is my prison cell. And every second slipping through my fingers are the bars keeping me contained.

If I’ve learned anything from this experience it’s that if you’re not moving forward, you’re either standing still or going in reverse because you sure as hell aren’t going up. Humans do not float. You and I are no exception. I mean, you could go down but at some point down becomes up so why even bother? It’s forward or backwards. But with time—with this curse—there are no rules.

“Damn, ya sure are lucky we’re in a hospital,” Evelyn says from the doorway of the hospital room I’m in. I’m lying in a bed, surprised to find that I’m actually awake; that I’m breathing at all.

“I’m dying,” I whisper, remembering how just a few days ago my illness was a secret I was prepared to take to the grave with me. I stare Evelyn in the eyes and inhale and exhale like I’m in a race and I’m so close to the finish line that my heart is going to leap out of my chest.

Evelyn doesn’t say anything. She just walks over to the chair set up beside the bed and takes a seat, the door slowly clicking shut in the silence. “Mary’s bin in here, ya know.”

“Really?” I say. “I had no idea.”

“Mmhmm, she was worried bout ya. We all were.” She pauses. “What happened, dear?”

I look away. “I’m dying,” I repeat.

Evelyn shakes her head. “Well, I sure hope not. But Mary saw ya . . . ya know. Poof.”


“Yeah,” I say. “It was nothing.”

“It ain’tnothin, dear. It nearly killed ya!”

But it didn’t.

I don’t say this. That would be like starting a war that can’t be won.

“There’s gotta be a way—”

“You don’t think if there was anything in this world capable of saving my life I wouldn’t have already found it by now? I’m done. I’m finished.” I’m so angry at myself for giving up but angrier at Evelyn for soclearly judging me for doing so. I’ve always known it would come down to this. I’ve always known I was going to die. So why is it so damn hard for me to give in?

“Okay,” shesays, her eyes narrowing in a way that I’ve never seen them do before. “So yer gonna die. So what? ‘When life gives ya lemons, make lemonade’.”

I can’t help but stare. I hate that quote so I made up my own when I was younger: ‘when life gives you lemons, don’t hesitate to pelt them at the nearest person you see. I’m sure they like lemons too.’

I smile at my own stupidity.

Evelyn’s eyes are alight with a ferocity that makes me think of a momma bear protecting her baby cub. But she’s not my mother. And I’m not her child. So I simply narrow my eyes in return. And then I internally scold myself for doing so because this woman before me is the only person in the entire world who’s shown me the type of love only a mother can give.

I lower my head and try not to be buried alive by all the guilt building up inside my chest.

“So what?” I breathe, contemplating the inquiry. “Exactly, I suppose. What’s the point?” I ball my fists up in the sheets to insure that I don’t let Evelyn see my fingers tremble. “That’s how I’ve always acted. Always seen this life. If I’m going to be dead tomorrow, what’s the point of living today?”

“Exactly,” she says, and there’s something inside her eyes that I can’t quite put my finger on. Something sneaky. Something different. Something brave—something I’ll never be.

I shake the thought from my head and stare at the wall where there’s an ugly oil painting of a waterfall and a river, attempting to keep myself focused on not dying. Dying isn’t good. I don’t recommend dying.

“But now I have a reason,” I say. “For the first time in my entire life, being here with Jefferson and Violette, and you and Mary, and Billy and—”


“Yes,Jessie, too,” I whisper, cringing at the look on her face. “For the first time in my life I have a reason to stay.”

“So stay,” Evelyn whispers. “Don’t go.”

“You act as if cancer is a choice.”

“I ain’t talkin bout yer illness, dear. I’m talkin bout breakin the curse. Leaving 1959.” Evelyn shakes her head, and with it, any disdain from her warm gaze. “Jefferson told me what ya were plannin when ya came back, Rosie.”


“Don’t worry,” I mutter rather indignantly to myself. “I don’t even know how.” I search the auburn light sifting through the single window in the wall for her watchful gaze, now hidden as the clouds shift and stir outside and the room is flooded with brightness. “And I don’t think I’d get very far even if I tried—”

“But ya did try, didn’t ya? When you . . . er . . .”


“Yeah, poofed. Rematerialized—whatever,” Evelyn tells me, smiling. “Ya were tryin to break th’ curse.”

“No. Yes. No.” I have no idea anymore.

She nods her head and her face falls ever so slightly. “It’s a sad thing, knowin yer goin to lose yer life,” whispers Evelyn. “Sad, sad, sad.”

“It is,” I nod, glancing down at my hands. “But we all have cancer,” I breathe mostly to myself. Maybe we don’t know it, but time—time is a cancer. And one day our time will be up. Each and every one of us. We all have cancer—

“What if there was a way to heal ya? Would ya do it? Would ya fight?”

Would I?

I part my lips to speak but . . . I don’t even know anymore.

“I don’t think so,” I say, feeling my heart sink in my chest. “I’ve kind of come to terms with it over the last few years. I’d always hoped I would be . . . well,” I glance around, cringing at the same white walls I know like the back of my hand, “in a happier place.”

“I understand.” She reaches into her pocket and holds something out to me but keeps her fingers tightly clenched around its surface, showing only a silver chain shimmering in the daylight coming through the window. “We cain’t always be where we wanna be. But,” she says, “we have th’ power to go back an visit every happy moment we’ve ever experienced.”

I stare in confusion. Though, I’m so often confused. “What are you talking about?”

Evelyn drops a pretty little piece of jewelry into my outstretched hands, and it takes me all of six seconds to register that I’ve seen this necklace before. This locket. It’s Violette’s. The one from the memory. The past. The one young-Jefferson slipped the rose petals into.

“A very special friend of mine gave this to me a few years back,” she says, her eyes never leaving the locket. “She told me to put every single happy moment into this one little necklace. Put every warm feelin and every smile and every tear of joy that’s ever slid down yer cheeks into this one little locket, she told me. An when ya feel it, cold against yer flesh, you’ll remember. Every single happy memory will flood yer mind an you’ll be happy.” Evelyn reaches out and closes my fingers around the necklace, heaving out a gentle sigh. “So that’s what I’m tellin you, dear. Even if ya do die today—even if we cain’t save ya, Rosie, ya have us right here. In th’ palm of yer hand.”

My heart skips a beat and I almost forget my heart probably won’t even still be beating in the morning. But I don’t care. I grasp the locket tight and throw my hands around Evelyn, pulling her into my embrace and sobbing like the baby bear I’ve become.

“I’ll remember you most,” I whisper, but I don’t think she hears it. I hardly even hear myself say it. Because when the door opens I can’t help but turn around.

Billy stands in the doorway, as quiet as always with a cigarette between his teeth; I have no idea how he got that in here.And behind him, standing as clear as day, isJessie—his face is as pale as a ghost, and his hands tremble down at his sides, just as pale.

“Ma, we hafta go. Grab yer things,” he says.

I’m dreaming. I have to be. Nothing else makes sense.

I’m so surprised I nearly fall out of my hospital bed. I scramble up and run at him, throwing my arms around his thin frame, crying harder, crying so hard I forget myself.

“Rosie, are ya all right? Pa done called an said ya collapsed.”

“Pa . . . called? What are you talking about?” I hardly care. I don’t care. But I’m too curious. I always have been. I always will be. Until tomorrow comes, I suppose.

“Well, I was . . . never mind that. We hafta go. Now.” He looks like he’s ready to be sick, and his muscles are taught beneath his skin, his back rigid with what looks to me like apprehension.

“Why?” I ask, wiping my tears on the back of my hands. “What’s going on?”

“There’s bin an accident,” he tells me. “An now we need to run.”

It hits me then, like a knife to the gut, that neither Ma nor Pa looks surprised to seeJessie. Which means—Jefferson must have done it. He went back and fixed everything! So why isn’t he here? And why doesJessie look so afraid? So frazzled?”

Jessie flees from the room and I’m fast at his heels, astonished by how my feet actually carry me. My head is spinning and I feel weaker than a zombie but I keep going because curiosity doesn’t just kill cats, but humans too.

“Rosie!” Evelyn yells after me, but I’m already out the door.

“Jessie!” I try to scream but there’s no air in my lungs. I chase him to the first floor of the hospital and nearly crash into his back. He’s stopped dead before the entrance where two guys are wheeling a body in on a gurney. And I see why he’s stopped. I see whyJessie looks like he wants to cry and be sick and die all at the same time.

And at the exact same time, I catch a glimpse of a shallow gash on his head, hidden by his hairline . . .

Lying clearly dead, his eyes still open wide, horror pressed into his facial features like a burn from a poker, is Jefferson. He watches me, lifeless and half covered by a tarp, but he doesn’t see me and I call out to him and he’s not listening and he doesn’t care because there’s nothing left of him but a shell. A hollow shell.

My heart falls through a trapdoor in my chest that I never even knew existed until all of me—all of me—is falling and there’s nothing in this world that will bring me back to life. Nothing at all.

I scream and I claw at him butJessie lifts me off my feet, carrying me back and away. I yell Jefferson’s name, expecting him to wake up and save me from this guilt, this overbearing, overpowering guilt choking me, stabbing me, killing me.

But he doesn’t wake. He doesn’t wake!

“LET ME GO! LET ME GO! LET ME GO!” I shout, I shriek, I scream, I screech, I squeal, I howl, I cry, I wail, I yell. But screaming does nothing to change reality. It never reallydoes—right now I wish more than anything that it could.

“Please,” I sob intoJessie’s shirt, breathing in the scent of his clothing—soil, wind, and the warm, pretty smell of spring.

I’m glass and this is what it’s like to be placed in the fire after being taken from the ice and I’m too close to the edge and the world is spinning around me and it’s just a blur of empty colorand it’s spiraling out of control and I’m so close now, so close, on the verge of shattering.

I don’t remember what it was like to feel happy.

Loss is bleeding through my veins until my bones are heavy and my muscles don’t want to work and my brain is just the site of a congested intersection where no thoughts or emotions are being transferred through my body.

I’m completely numb, frozen from the inside out. I’m almost entirely broken, cracks woven deeper than cancer ever dared to go. I’m Novocain.

I’m a bird that broke its wing.I can’t fly away from the destruction I keep leaving in my path like I always do. Not anymore. Not the way I’ve so selfishly done before.

I part my lips to speak but there aren’t enough letters in the English language that can be scraped together to come up with a reason for why I shouldn’t feel like the sky is warning me that it’s about to fall.

The ground heaves beneath me.

I thought I was over this constant delirium.

I thinkJessie’s saying my name but I don’t hear him. I don’t hear anything but the oddly fatal beat of my own heart, pulsating and thrashing and howling like thunder in my chest and in my ears, fighting to escape.

He’s speaking to me but I don’t look at him and his words don’t make sense to me. Not the way they should. Not the way they used to.

“Jefferson,” I finally manage to say, but I don’t have the strength to continue. I’m hardly able to remain on my feet. And when I push away fromJessie, knowing perfectly well I need him, I need him, I can’t be without him, he remains like a thorn in my side, reminding me of all that I’ve done to get here.

He reminds me of all that I’ve lost just to be in his arms.

“What—uh . . . what happened?”Jessie asks one of the men, never once letting go of me. I reach for Jefferson, to do him the simple favor of closing his eyes. But one of the men quickly covers the face of the body with the tarp. The face of Jefferson. My father.

I have to shut my eyes to keep myself from falling to my knees.

“Hit and run,” the guy whispers toJessie.

“Did the authorities catch the guy?”

The answer is no.

But I know who did it. It wasJessie—of course it wasJessie. But it’s my fault. If I hadn’t just left him on that veranda out in the rain, he never would have felt the need to chase me.

It’s my fault my father’s dead.

The two men pass and the body vanishes through a doorway. I feel the world tilt around me. I feel the earth spin and not even the revolving stars of my delirium can catch me now. Gravity is unbeatable. And I’m no match for something so ruthless.

I begin to crumble andJessie’s swift on his feet. He bends his knees and pulls me against him, his lips soft against my skin. “Everything’s going to be okay,” he tells me because for some odd reason no one ever knows what else to say when I break down.

But it’s not going to be okay.

He’s lying.

Everyone lies to me and I’m done.

“Let me go,” I whisper, my words biting. “Let me go.”

But I don’t loosen my grip. I hold onto him for dear life, all the while wishing I was gone, wishing something could take me far away from here like a leaf from a burning tree on a windy night.

I wish. I wish. I wish.

If you had three wishes you’d most likely wish for all the wishes in the world. Before today, I would have done the same. It’s like asking someone if the cup is half empty or half full. Before today I would have said it’s half empty. Or I would have said I don’t use cups or something stupid. But I would have been wrong. I’m always wrong.

The cup is refillable.

But wishes aren’t. You need to make them count.

So if I had one wish—one single wish, out of all the things I could wish for, like world peace, a long and happy life; for everything to go back to the way it used to be, or for everything to get better, I’d wish to be gone.

Gone like a fading echo.

Gone. Gone. Gone.

And then my wish comes true.


River hung his head as the evening drew to a close, setting the wintery streets of Natchitoches aglow. The snow flurries that had sprinkled the town earlier that morning had already gone and melted; the city was devoid of any snow on the ground, the air warming, but River couldn’t remember a time when he’d felt so cold.

It was Christmas Eve and the daylight was drawing thin, igniting the sky in colors of all different colors. It had been several days since an official alert regarding River’s disappearance had breached the folds of social media and the streets of Natchitoches in the form of flyers and posters. The city was abuzz, rumors floating about like wildfire.

It had been days since Rosie Bryar disappeared. In her absence Mrs. Bryar was released and a warrant was out for River’s arrest because everyone thought he kidnapped Rosie.

Everything in River’s life was unraveling faster than he could try to keep it together.

“You should go home,” Sunny whispered, slipping into his coat. “It’s Christmas.”

“Doesn’t matter,” River said. “The police will be waiting for me. And dad.” He shook his head. “I have nothing to return to without Rosie. There’s nothing here for me anymore.”

River listed his head to the side, pretending like it wasn’t so heavy with thoughts that he could no longer keep it straight on his shoulders. But it was. And he wasn’t sure he could withstand much more weight.

“So . . . what? You’re just going to leave? Runaway?”

“I’m not running away,” he said. He lied. “I’m just—”

“It doesn’t matter how you word it, River. You’re running and you’ve never stopped running.” Sunny, sparing a dark look down at his feet, ran his hands through his hair and pointed at River, jabbing an accusing finger in a way that he had never seen before. A part of River suddenly felt hollow. “From the very beginning you’ve hid from your problems, and now you’re—what? Talking about ditching town? Come on, River. Just give it up.”

Just give it up?

Just give Rosie up?

Just go home?

River stared at him, long and hard, thinking. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The voice of reason that River had always trusted had betrayed him at long last and it was now spewing nonsense all across the floor.

River parted his lips to speak but the words wouldn’t come. Not the way the used to, so easily, like he was talking to the brother he never ever had and never ever would. Now it was like talking to his father. And because of it, River found himself unable to move. Breathe. Think.

“I’m not just going to go back!” River exclaimed after a while, more incredulous than he knew he could possibly be. He stared. Hard. Trying to orient himself in such an upside down world where Rosie was gone and River was a runaway and Sunny was just another poisoned voice whispering in his ear.

“Well you can’t stay here,” whispered Sunny, whose head lowered and voice quieted. He looked away. Looked back again. Shook his head. Shrugged his shoulders. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, his voice so unbelievably quiet. But River knew right away that Sunny wasn’t apologizing for his betrayal. He was apologizing for something he’d done—something River knew nothing of, until, in one heartbreaking moment, he caught sight of the phone clenched between his friend’s regretful fingers.

“Sunny, what have you done?” It wasn’t a question. It was an accusation. River quickly threw himself to his feet, scowling at him from across the room. “You didn’t?”

“I had to,” Sunny reluctantly murmured. “You’ve hidden too long. At some point you have to face the truth—”

“And why now?!”

“Because I can’t see you live like this!” Sunny shouted, causing River to flinch; he took a step back until his legs were pressed up against the couch. “You can’t throw it all away like I’ve seen you do before.”

“Like when? I could have been happy! I could have—”

What?” Sunny whispered, and River froze. “You could have what?”

What could he have done? Run to the next town? But he didn’t have any money. He didn’t have any relatives that would keep him hidden. River had absolutely nowhere to go—he was backed into a corner and there was nothing he could do about it. But face the truth. Admit that Sunny was right. And go back to living without fear of being caught.

“Rosie Bryar is gone,” Sunny blatantly said, though the way he said it made him sound as if he were treading water. “I’m so sorry, River. I’m sorry I don’t know what to do. I’m sorry she up and vanished. And I’m sorry that you don’t trust that you’ll be able to get over her. But Rosie has cancer. You always knew one day you’d have to face the fact that she might be gone and she’s never coming back. And you’d have to get over it.” He lowered his head, suddenly falling quiet. “Rosie can’t be your excuse anymore.”

“My excuse?” River said, though more in the form of a statement than a question.

Is that what he was doing?

No. He loved Rosie. She was his biggest distraction when he left his home. She kept him busy when he could have just been hiding in his bedroom, counting the lines of paint that had dried funny on the ceiling. Rosie was the one thing that reminded him he could still be happy.

“You’re wrong,” River gently whispered. He didn’t know it to be true, though he said it regardless. River had made many mistakes in his short life, but trusting that he loved Rosie Bryar with all his heart was not one of them. “You’ve never been so wrong.” The words left his lips so sharply that their asperity slit his lips wide open.

“You could still go,” Sunny warned him, buttoning his coat and throwing open the door. “I’d say you’ve got about ten minutes. The door’s open,” he said, gesturing a hand at the doorway. “Go. Spend your life looking for Rosie. Pretend like you’re doing it for her when really we both know damn well you just don’t want to go home and face the facts that you might one day be alone!”


The word hit River’s stomach like he swallowed a stone.

River couldn’t believe what his friend was saying. The one person other than Rosie who’d never turned his back on him was tearing him apart and giving in—

No, that’s not what he was trying to do, not really. Sunny just wanted to help. And River knew that. He did. Because he didn’t believe his brother could change so easily.

“Do you know what it’s like?” River asked, grabbing his coat from the couch and throwing it over his shoulders. “Feeling like everything weighs on the balance of your shoulders?”

Sunny shook his head, slowly but surely. “No, and I’m trying to make it so that you don’t have to either.” He paused. “Rosie’s disappearance wasn’t your fault.”

Yes, it was.

It was my lips that sent her away.

River absentmindedly grazed his lips with his trembling fingers, remembering Rosie’s lips on his without conscious volition, wondering how all the creators of fairytales throughout the ages could have possibly portrayed true love’s kiss so wrongly.

“You’re better off just going home—”

“Maybe.” River started for the door and stopped, worrying away at his lower lip with his sharp, sharp teeth—they’d been sharpened by all the broken words that had ever wounded him deeper than his flesh. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I would be better off just going home. Facing the police. Facing father.” He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, turning back to look at Sunny.

Sunny’s eyes widened. “Really?” He looked hopeful.

“No,” said River. “I’m done fighting an unwinnable battle. I’m going after Rosie.” He glanced away and lowered his heavy head, tasting metal on his tongue. “Whatever it takes,” he quietly added.

And with that, not another word said, River stole out into the cold night as the echo of police sirens slowly began to close in.

River took no more than three steps before the storm siren sounded, cutting through the night like a hot knife through butter, stopping River dead in his tracks. It wasn’t an unfamiliar sound. He’d heard it plenty of times before. But this time it curdled his blood.

“River,” Sunny said, poking his head outside the door, fear in his eyes.

The air had warmed a considerable amount, but the wind was strong, like two hands pushing against River’s body, sending everything in its path fluttering out of its way.

“River! Look!” Sunny screamed, throwing his hands to the sky.

River followed his gaze.

There, unbelievably close, was the swirling vortex of doom that River had only ever seen in his nightmares. It swirled off in the distance, on the far outskirts of town—maybe even the next town over.

But it was close. And it was closing in.

“Maybe you’ve let go of Rosie!” River shouted over the loud clamor of the sirens and the wind, screaming in his ears. “But I haven’t.” His eyes grew hard and sharp, thrown like daggers in the dark. “I don’t think I ever will!”

And with that, without another thought against it, River turned and fled into the darkness of the street, delving deep into the shadows until the cry of the sirens, the scream of the wind, and the beckoning call of Sunny’s voice all blended together.

Then he was gone.

Gone, gone, gone.

| | |

If I die young, bury me in the dirt. Or set me on fire. Or toss me off a cliff. But don’t put me underwater.

This thought crosses my mind in the disembodied moments before I wake on the side of the road. The air is cold on my skin after having spent the entirety of three days in a warm hospital, and cold mud sticks to my clothes, sending shivers down my spine when I move into a sitting position.

Dread wriggles through my bones in the form of a tremor.

I slowly glance around me and wipe the tears from my cheeks, but not even time traveling is enough of a distraction to take my mind away from what’s happened. From Jefferson.

He’s dead, Rosie, I tell myself. But there’s stilla chance.

“I can bring him back,” I hear myself say. But I’m numb from head to toe. My body is one big shot of Novocain. After all this time I’m surprised I’m not used to feeling this way.

Looking around, I grit my teeth and tell myself to stand up. To do anything in the world rather than just sit here.

Get up. Do something for once.

Gravity cradles me in its heavy arms and never have I ever felt so unable to function. My bones are brittle and my muscles have forgotten what they’re there to do. It’s a side effect of, you know, dying.


I flinch from stillness’s hold, falling back to life. Directly beside me, looking sicker than a virus with a virus, sitsJessie.

“What have you done,” I breathe, finding it hard not to punch him while he’s down. But my severe lack of strength helps restrain me.


“It was you, wasn’t it?” I whisper, brushing some of my scarlet strands of hair out of my eyes so that I can see him better; so that I can stare straight into the windows of his soul until every word he’s ever said and every uttered sound he’s ever made and every single fragment of his being is displayed before me like a map to a road I never ever should have started down.

Jessie gags and spits up bile.

“It takes some getting used to,” I tell him, my voice still hoarse from crying; I quirk an eyebrow in his direction, my heart rapidly beating in my chest like lightning on a stormy night.

“Oh,” he manages.

I ignore him.

I glance around once more, taking in my new surroundings. We’re sitting off on the side of the road that leads to whereJessie took me to meet Jefferson that day that now feels like a century ago. No cars pass. No birds soar overhead. The trees in the distance are frozen in place because there’s no breeze to give them life.

Everything is still. More than still. Stopped.

Frozen on a Louisiana afternoon.

“W-w-what hagpfnd?”

“I took you back in time,” I tellJessie, who watches me withone eye still half shut and his tongue numb between his parted lips. He kind of looks like a painting that someone, when it was still wet, accidentally leaned their back against. Or sat on. So, still better looking than half the people I’ve ever met.

“Why?” Jessie asks me, and though I can understand his question, he sounds like he’s saying it while trying to hold water in his mouth.

“Because,” I whisper, clearing my throat. “Everything is wrong. None of this is supposed to be this way.” I stop myself. “Jefferson, I mean.” I flinch at the sound of his name on my lips. It’s beyond peculiar to think that he’s dead. That the father I never knew, never cared for, and constantly thought about came into my life like a bullet from a gun, and now he’s gone. He’s run me straight through the heart and left me to fall.

I feel broken. More broken than cancer has ever allowed me to feel. At least with my sickness I can close my eyes and drift away. But this—this endless burning in my chest—is enough to destroy me.

But I won’t let it. I refuse to. Not when there’s still a chance that I can save him. Not when I’m on the highwire suspended above reality; before me is Jefferson, my future, my happiness, while yesterday and cancer and my complacent life of binge watching crappy TV shows and overeating lies beneath me.

Never have I ever felt so cold and broken.

Never have I ever felt so made of steel. Iron. Titanium.

Never have I ever felt so invincible.

“What are ya sayin,”Jessie murmurs, his voice even more strained than my own.

“He’s not supposed to die.” I look into Jessie’s tired eyes now. “And yes, I do know the consequences of meddling with time. But I also know what will happen if I don’t, and I have much better odds trying to fix this.”

I push myself to my feet and plant my hands firmly on my hips, doing my best to catch my breath but it’s like the air is sand in my lungs and I’m dying on this hot, crisp, nothingness. It takesJessie a few minutes before he’s even ready to speak again, much less stand, so it makes me wonder why the effects last much longer on him than it did me.

“So ya know what I’ve done?”Jessie carefully, regretfully, whispers to me, grabbing my arm and drawing me close, holding me in a way that makes me wonder if he’s forgotten I could be dead in just minutes. Seconds. He holds my gaze and I’m not simply staring at a boy—a boy who will grow up to be the grandfather of the boy I’m supposed to be in love with—I’m staring at the stars and every dark cloud that hides them. It’s like staring back at every mistake I’ve ever made, every bad decision that has ever shaped my life.

It’s just too bad that there aren’t enough lies in this world to bury the truth of all my faults.

Dark clouds, that’s what Jessie’s eyes contain. Dark seas. Dark skies.

Beautiful, I think to myself.Deadly.

“You didn’t do anything,” I say back, but my voice comes out as a whisper. “I’m going to fix this. I’m going to put things back the way they were supposed to be.” I stare past him to where the midday sky cracks open the gray firmament above, igniting the vast landscapes around the barren roadway, knowing, most likely for the first time in my entire life, that I’m ready.

I have to be.

I can’t afford to be selfish. Comfortable.

“I’m going to save my father,” I tell him, my voice as thick and sturdy as stone, even though my bones begin to quiver and shake as cancer fights me back.

I look up atJessie, expecting to find a question staring back at me, but he doesn’t say anything. Maybe he knows. Maybe he’s always known. Maybe that’s why he’s never really liked Jefferson. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

I just wish I knew something for sure.

“I killed a man today—”

“Shut up,” I growl. “Shut up before I make you shut up.”

Jessie seems to come back to the present, and a look of hesitation crosses over his face. He takes a step back, releasing me, and I force myself to turn away from him. To think without such a big distraction taking me by the hand and leading me astray.

My thoughts are so muddled I can hardly think without wanting to cry.

“Rosie,” Jessie whispers, reaching for my hand with shaking fingers, and I can’t think and I can’t think and I can’t think and I can’t possible breathe—

I run my own fingers through my hair and scream—I scream and the wind finally blows and my knees are glass beneath me, left to shatter, and I crumble, I crumble, I crumble to the ground.

“Rosie!” he yells but it doesn’t matter.

I’ve let go. Again. Again. Again.

After I’ve finally convinced myself I have a reason to hold on.

“I can’t do this,” I say asJessie wraps me up in his arms and sifts his fingers through mine, holding tight. Reminding me he’s there, he’s real, and this world isn’t our world. This world is just an echo, a fragment to a whole, slowly shattering out of synch and I have no idea how to pull myself together. I just claw at my face and I can’t cry for some reason, I can only sob. So I sob. I sob like some sob story I’ve never cared about. “I have no idea what I’m doing—”

“Then figure it out,”Jessie whispers in my ear, and it occurs to me again that he’s holding me in a way that’s completely dissimilar to how River used to hold me—Jessie cradles me like he’s coddling a seed so that he can make it grow and show it what its thorns are really for, rather than holding me like River, as if I’m a rose that needs the sun and his touch is a thousand rays of light hovering overhead.

I just want to run.

I can’t do this. I can’t do this.

Oh, shit. I can’t do this.

I hear something. Actually,Jessie hears something, and I see it scrawled across his face. He looks at me, horrified and lost, as if he’s not seeing me but seeing the past—his past, the past that isn’t really real to me. So I quiet my sobs and I look around, listening.


Until I hear the tiniest hum in the distance, growing closer. Closer. And then I see a speck. And that speck turns into a shape. And that shape evolves into a car. A car moving at top speed.

And there’s a man standing in the road. I don’t know how long he’s been there but he doesn’t notice us and I realize what I have to do. But the car is so close. So close. I have to move. I have to get up. But I’m so comfortable here in the mud, caving in on myself. AndJessie’s arms are around me and they won’t let me go, anyway. They won’t let me run. So why try? Why not just turn off the alarm and go back to sleep? That seems like an okay thing to do—


I stop.

Not this time.

I look at the man in the road. At Jefferson.My Jefferson.

My heart nearly bubbles over with relief.

“Jessie,” I say, reluctant, fighting the fear inside my chest. “Jessie, you need to let me go. Let me go. Let me—Jessie, let me go!”

But he holds on tighter because he knows what I’m going to do.

So I’m kicking and I’m screaming butJessie clamps a hand down over my mouth and I see now that he’s trying to save me. Trying to save me from danger. But I don’t need saving. I need to be brave.

I need to be a hero.

I’ve stopped sobbing. I’ve stopped breathing altogether. And now I’m fighting—fighting to get free. Because I’m not just a girl. I’m not just a rose. I’m Jefferson’s little Red Rose. And there’s nothing in this entire world I’d rather be.

Time has a funny way of altering the way we see ourselves.

I’m not breathing because cancer is a noose around my throat that’s decided it’s time.

But I’m not ready yet.

Not yet.

| | |

The sirens were so loud now that River could no longer tell whether or not they were chasing him or simply trapped inside his head.

River stole a bicycle off the stoop of one of his classmate’s homes, scrambling to get away and accidentally leaving the helmet behind in his haste. Before he could get far, his eyes captivated by the approaching storm, the door opened and a boy staggered out into the cold, remaining silent when their eyes met.

River whispered his apologies but the boy just watched, his eyes hard with disappointment, but harder with worry, leaving River to wonder when exactly he turned into that kind of person. A thief. A runaway. An outlaw in the only city he’d ever known.

It wouldn’t be long now, River thought.

He pedaled faster than he knew his legs could go, but even as he descended into the darkness, River knew the damage had already been done.

There was nothing left for him now.

River had to find Rosie.

He was out of time.

| | |

Let me go.

Jessie tightens his grip on me and I strain against it, fighting to get away. I don’t want to leave him but I also know I have no other choice. I’m going to die regardless. So it’s time I choose. And this time I can’t make the same stupid mistake that I did the first time.

Choose, I tell myself. Choose now.

Myself. Jessie. This town.

Or. Or. Or.

Jefferson. Mother. The future.

I don’t even have to think about it.

I send my elbow into Jessie’s chest, struggling to turn. To face him. To meet his eyes. His grasp on me begins to wither and I unravel from his arms to the point where I’ve got my hands tethered through his. And our eyes are like two pieces of one whole fitting back together. Like the sun meeting the Earth. Like the moon smiling back at the stars—it’s blinding.

Don’t do this,” his eyes tell me. “Please, Rosie.”

But I don’t have a choice.

“I’m sorry,” I say. I’m hyperaware of the fact that these may be my final words, and I’m saddened by the mounds upon mounds of regret that these simple, simple words hold. Because if the car doesn’t kill me than my cancer surely will.

I shove Jessie, curling my fingers through the fabric of his shirt and wrenching him back to me, pressing my lips into his. “I’m so, so sorry,” I whisper against his sad, sad smile, allowing him to cradle me in his arms for just one more second.

Time stops.

I feel it still around me.

“Ya don’t hafta go,” Jessie tells me. “Ya don’t—”

“I’m so glad I met you,” I say up to him, cupping his broken smile in my fingers and wiping away the tears that stream down his face. “I just want you to know that I never found this world worth living until I met you.” I lie. Because some lies are too beautiful not to send sprawling into existence.

“I love you, Rosie,” he tells me.

“I know you do,” I tell him. “But I wasn’t born to be afraid.”

I was born to die.

And I now realize that I can’t waste my time learning to love when I can’t even love myself half the time. Besides, I don’t even know how to love—I hardly know how to work the stairs. But when I was with River—with River I remember why escalators were invented.

Time thaws and this chaotic world resumes its effortless rotation, pulling me back into its heavy, heavy arms.

Jessie’s hold on me loosens.

“Rosie,” I hear him say, but my name on his lips is just an echo, reverberating through time and space until it’s just a whisper, following me, pushing me, showing me that I’ve finally made the right decision.

I break free of his arms and push myself into a run. Even though I’ve forgotten how to run. How to breathe. How to keep going.How to stop.

I’m unstoppable. Invincible.

I’m screaming, straining for air, fighting to get Jefferson’s attention. I’m screaming, forcing back this hand that so effortlessly clenches my lungs. I’m screaming, knowing this is it. But he can’t hear me over the roar of the speeding bullet aimed at his heart—it’s almost like time is pushing me back, telling me this is how it’s meant to be. Telling me that I deserve to watch Jefferson die. Telling me that everything I’ve done has been for nothing.


It’s not.


I don’t.


It hasn’t been.

I was born to die. Not Jefferson.

He’s waving his arms in large arches over his head, expecting the driver to see him, to slow, to have enough wisdom and mercy to stop. But he doesn’t. Jessie just keeps driving, too blinded by his desire for Violette to see a perfectly good human being standing in the middle of the road.

Jessie just keeps on going.

And going.

And going.

And so do I.

Because this is it.

This is me being brave.

This is me proving to myself that I can be more than just a silly little girl who hides from the world, too scared and afraid to act like she’s actually a part of it. This is me learning to fly and having the strength to stay, even if it will destroy me. This is me breaking away from the shattered mold that’s always held me.

This is me. Rosie.

This is me.

Not cancer. Not death. Not destruction.


This is me being strong.

This is me standing up to cancer. This is me standing taller than whoever’s directing this horror movie I call life; standing taller than all those people who’ve ever sent Mother casseroles or baked ziti, convinced that I was going to die to cancer.

This is me.

This is me breaking—breaking free.

Because nothing’s stopping me anymore.

I was born to die.

I dig down deep. I grit my teeth.

I feel lightning run beneath my skin. But this time it’s different. This time it gives me purpose.

My heart beat-beat beatslike nothing I’ve ever felt before, completely dissimilar to that time that now feels like a million years ago when I was spinning through the fields of the Bloome estate. This time it’s faster. Sturdier. And something about it reminds me of Jessie’s music, tearing through me in a way that’s far into the deep of perfection, pressing against my skin until I tell myself I should let it escape if it wants to, but I’m far too selfish and I never want this adrenaline to cease.

This is why runners run.

My pulse strikes like a cobra, its venom killing me beautifully as I pass beneath the turning sky, its blue no longer as solid as it had been. I want to feel the pain and glory of near escape, and I don’t hesitate. I grip the pavement with my feet and tear down the nearly abandoned roadway, breaking for the setting sky, the freedom beyond, and a world I may never live to see.

I run for Jefferson.

I run for tomorrow.

Because I’ve stared down the enemy. I’ve seen into its soul.

And now I’m doing something about it.

I don’t have enough strength to grab Jefferson’s hand when I reach him, so I just wrap my arms around myself, shut my eyes, and I understand that I’m not breathing for a reason. I connect with Jefferson’s body like a hockey player, never once slowing to think, to wonder if I’m going to die, or to see if I have time to look back atJessie.

I shove Jefferson out of the way with all the power in my being, forcing him away from me like I’ve always wanted to do my fear; there’s a flash of light and time stops again, and Jefferson is standing before me for the first time, watching me, all the while knowing that we’re family and that he’s been waiting for the moment when we meet. He watches me and I’ve never truly noticed how much heartbreak resides in his eyes.

Don’t lose who you are, Jefferson once said to me. I know what it’s like not being able to stop things from happening. But we must think of the greater good before we think of the hearts we might break in our paths.

And that’s exactly what I do. I think of the greater good.

But the car just keeps going.

And I just keep p u s h i n g.

And the world just keeps s p i n ni n g.

I turn. And turn. And turn.

And I watch, like time has slowed to a halt, as my father crumbles to the earth, and me and the car and everything this world has to offer slowly caves in on itself, pulling together like a bow until one moment everything is one form of chaos, and the next I’m reconciling with the darkness in my head.

I don’t even care about the pain in my body—like every single bone has turned to dust beneath my skin.

I don’t know if the car actually hit me. Or if I vanished before it could. But regardless,I don’t expect to wake up this time. Not this time. There are some things in life that you just can’t come back from. And this—this is one of them.

I was dead before I even started running.

So I take a seat upon my throne and marvel at the vastness of kingdom come, staring back at the long road that’s taken me seventeen years to reach the end of.

And I smile. Because I didn’t lose to cancer. I lost to life, an unconquerable friend and foe alike. I lost because I tried. Because I finally learned what it means to die. And I wouldn’t trade that for a second chance. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

I’m finally home.

Home sweet home.

| | |

It’s hard to chase yesterday. But it’s impossible to let it go.

River was lost, his mind wild with fear and anxiety. He didn’t once stop until he got to where he was going, and while he thought he’d been heading out of town, the dilapidated thoughts weaving through his distraught head like the broken beat to his broken heart, River found himself even deeper, drawn to one of the only places his heart knew like the back of his hand.

Rosie once called it home. Now it was nothing.

His heart skipped a beat when he saw that a single light was on inside the house. He knew there was a good chance it was Mrs. Bryar. But he had to believe it was possible that Rosie might have returned.

Ditching the bike in the grass—or, the mud, more like—River strode across the lawn and pounded his fist against the doorway. His body was alive with energy, though he knew if he stopped he would pass out. So he had to keep going. He couldn’t stop running. Ever.

River was angry. Angrier than he knew he could get. And if Mrs. Bryar hadn’t opened the door, River was sure his foot would have gone straight through its surface.


“Rosie?!” he shouted into the house, pushing past Mrs. Bryar, relieved to get out of the storm. “Rosie? Rosie!” he bellowed, but no call came in return, leaving his heart to sink faster than a stone. He whirled around, his eyes on fire. “Where is she?!” River screamed, on the verge of tears. He searched the house, room by room. It was just as dirty and messy as it always was, but the only thing different, he realized, were the two police officers waiting for him in the kitchen.

River’s heart stopped and he took a step back, heartbroken and still.

“I knew you’d come here,” Mrs. Bryar calmly said, crossing her arms. She looked different to River, her messy hair neatly curling down her back the way Rosie’s always did. Her clothes were fresher and her eyes were softer, like ice that had been given time to melt.

Beside her, his hand in hers, stood a man that watched River like he was a ghost. Like they’d met before. Orange tufts of hair curled out from beneath a black hat, and a neatly pressed suit swathed his elder frame, crisp and elegant.

“River?” the man whispered, taking a step forward.

The officers rose. One started reluctantly after River. The other stood helplessly behind, his eyes caught by the storm raging outside the windows.

River quickly darted for the door and crossed the lawn—

“River!” Mrs. Bryar yelled, stopping him. He didn’t know why such a voice held him so, but River found himself unable to move.

“We have to go,” the man said to Mrs. Bryar, grabbing her hand, drawing Rosie’s mother’s attention away from River. She stared at the man, looking afraid; looking like she wanted to go but couldn’t.

“All right, Jefferson,” Mrs. Bryar quietly whispered back, looking momentarily hurt—an emotion River had never really correlated with such a malignant woman. But, glancing away, she held River’s eyes and he couldn’t seem to turn away. To run. “I’m ready,” she said. But then, taking a step away from the man she called Jefferson, Mrs. Bryar faced River across the weathered lawn and said, “I was wrong, River. I was—I was so, so wrong.”

She stepped back. The man—Jefferson—took her hand.

They blinked out.

They vanished.

Mrs. Bryar and the man at her side . . . were gone.

River was so overtaken by surprise that he nearly fell to the floor, scrambling to get away; his mind, already numb with adrenaline, grew thick with futility. The officers were awestruck, momentarily frozen in place. But River was revving to go.

Now’s my chance, thought River.

Without thinking, he hopped onto the back of the bike he’d stolen and quickly pedaled away as one of the police officers shouted his name and got into his car—the police car that was completely visible from every direction. The police car River had so absentmindedly missed upon arriving.

River’s mind whirled and his heart threatened to leap out of his chest, forcing his legs to go faster, faster, faster. But there was no use. The majority of River’s strength had depleted on his trek there, leaving him with nothing but Rosie’s words inside his head, calling him back to life.

“I love you . . .”

River turned the corner and slid to a halt before a police car that was already waiting for him, parked at an angle so that it took up the entirety of the road. And outside the car, his eyes swimming with distain, stood his father.

A monster. A villain.

A ghost.

River thought he was going to vomit then and there.

When he turned he saw that another car was coming at him, sirens blearing, lights drowning out the colors of the night.

River planted his feet firmly on the ground and spun, turning the bike so that it faced back the way he’d come. He had one shot to get away.

But even if he did would it be worth it? Could he run forever?

Behind him, the tornado called his name in a familiar voice.

“River! River! RIVERRR,” it droned, coming together to form his father’s voice as the man called out to him, his voice hard and stiff on the air, cool as it bit the night. “River, STOP!” his voice boomed, but it was no match for the echo of the storm. “It’s the end of the line, son. There’s nowhere left to go.”

River hardly paid the man any attention, for behind him the gates of Hell were churning the sky to bits.

Obliteration. There was no other word to describe the wrath of a tornado.

Everything in sight was blown away until, like a ball of spooled yarn, it was forced to come undone. In the distance the sky tore apart, every light of every star thrown away like any hope River had of running away. The roar of the siren was no match for the thunderous scream of the wind, the deadly vortex stretching a half-mile wide, unlike anything River had ever seen before.

Lightning crackled and shimmered through the heavens, dry and bright on the horizon. The wind whistling in River’s ears was sharp and piercing, digging in to him like a scream from a child. The voracious cyclone off in the near distance pummeled everything in its path, lifting the world up just to let it fall again.

There was something surprisingly beautiful about it, to River.

“We can finally start again,” River whispered his revelation into the wind, his words completely silent in his own ears. “It’s like a blank slate.” He watched the cyclone engorge itself on a decaying barn off in the rolling fields of Natchitoches, shattering the wooden structure without even trying.




River suddenly glanced over at his father, who shook with fear, though his eyes held River’s like iron—no, not iron. Never iron. Just with stupidity.


River didn’t care anymore. There was nothing left for him in such a world.

It was his life. And River knew better than anyone that he wouldn’t live forever.

“Blow it all away,” River whispered up to the sky, to the clouds and the stars beyond, shutting his eyes. “BLOW IT ALL AWAY!” River screamed to the heavens, and as if provoked by his words, even more lightning crackled overhead and the sky opened up. The rain came hard and fast, relentlessly pressing into him, filling every warm nook and cranny of his soul with icy, icy water, drowning his heart.

River let the bike fall away and he stood, shivering in the rain, finally standing before his father after all this time; finally standing taller than ever before, as if, somehow, the possibility of their demise made River braver. Because if they were about to die, it didn’t really matter what his father said in response or thought of him as a result.

Nothing stood between them save for the walls of the past, and only the tornado could blow them down—River had spent countless hours hoping and praying that there would be something that would set fire to every problem that had ever divided them. But that’s just it. All there ever was was this deadly, destructive fire, and River had spent so many years trying not to fan the flames, too afraid of getting burned.

Now there was nothing left.

Nothing to rectify. Nothing to nurture.

Some things needed to be destroyed to be made better.

Sometimes you just have to let go to find a better grip.

River tightly clenched his fingers and spun around. He didn’t want to be seen, not by such a nuisance as the man that now stood at his back, for River had never felt so unbelievably broken up inside as the rain failed to wash away his anger and regret.

His father knew every single one of River’s weaknesses, everything that made him crumble inside, and whenever the man stared directly into River’s eyes he felt as if his father were searching for exactly the right words to say that would send him sprawling.

But before River, ignited in the starless oblivion, the flashing red and blue lights signaled the arrival of the other police car as it skidded to a rough stop.

There was nowhere left to go. River was out of time.

He knew it would come to this. One day. Even if he did run.

“She’s gone and I can’t bring her back!” River shouted at his father, the wind threatening to tear him limb from limb. Rain ran down his face, left to cataract from his flesh like he was made of water and he’d been struck far too many times to hold himself together. “She’s gone and I—” a sob raked him and his words, heavy in his mind, caught in his throat. “She’s gone and I can’t bring her back!”

“I know!” his father said, and though his words were the same harsh sounding nothingness as always, River saw a look of understanding flash across his father’s face. But it was the same calmly disguised deceit River was tired of. His father didn’t understand. His father didn’t know. No one knew.

“Come back home, son. Let us help you—”

“Help me? You want to help me after all the hell you’ve put me through since mom died? You can’t help me—y-you can’t help me!” River screamed into the rain, fisting his hands down at his sides. Beneath him, his strength in his legs began to dwindle and he felt himself being drawn down toward darkness.

“You’re wrong!” his father said, and the old fool stepped forward, even as the police officer instructed him not to. His father only waved the man away. “Maybe you’re right! Maybe I have been acting wrong, son! But I want to fix it! I want to help! I want to—” He stopped, his glassy-eyed look falling on River. “I really do want to help you.”

No. No, you don’t.

“I don’t need your help,” River meekly said, and it was then that his knees buckled and the ground rose up to meet him, catching him the way Death caught his next victim, softly and sweetly with a little bit of a punch—so like a sports drink.

“RIVER!” his father called out, but he hardly heard it over the sound of the rain. He lay against the wet roadway, looking up and listening to his heartbeat in his ears—a part of him, he knew, was searching for the three stars through the rain and clouds that he always liked to look at with Rosie; his lucky stars.

“Please,” River said up to the sky, to the rain, and to the shadows swimming in his eyes. “Please,” he said again, and with his back against the world and his mind molding with the sky, he wished on each of the stars he couldn’t see.

River wished for everything to be okay again.

| | |

I dream of a field of roses, so thick and luxurious in color that I surrender to the splendor and rest my head upon their scarlet petals, delving deep into the embrace of beauty at its finest; the sun glints in the sky, an orange flame guttering in an invisible breeze, spreading its warmth across the rosy expanse.

For a moment—a moment of utter stillness—everything on the surface holds an identical representation to that of the manifestation of peace with which I’ve always told myself I desired. The beauty. The tranquility. The warmth. All of it.

But I feel a change coming.

Tomorrow breathes across my flesh, snaking its gangly fingers through my hair, and I arch my back, strain against its hold, but the oblivion I’ve spent seventeen years of my life cradling like the childhood I was forced to let sail on the ocean of forever holds me tight—grips me with talons I’m not strong enough to break away from, brave enough to convince myself I deserve a life free from.

A shudder goes through me.

In a single instant it all goes cold. My blood congeals beneath my skin and my heart thuds to an entirely different beat; my breath catches in my throat, and I try to reach my hands up as if I have the ability to physically pull it back into my lungs, but something’s got me from behind. Something’s holding me like a ball and chain to the earth and it’s refusing to give me up.

Beneath me, like the sun in the sky, the flowers begin to wilt and I descend towards the ground, the pillowing hold of each rose now gone, leaving me to a bed of thorns that wrap around me, briers snaking, thistles scratching, until they’re holding me so tight that if I had any air left in my lungs, I wouldn’t be able to breathe.

I struggle against the veining spurs digging into my flesh, but the more I fight the more the pain finds a way to break me open. It trails its way through my bloodstream, through the ice that I’ve become, rooting me to the spot—to the stillness of oblivion, taunting me with the echo of that sun still bright in the sky, left to that of stars—three stars in a black sky.

The thorns wrap around me and grow ever-larger to the point where I’m being surrounded by a serrated serpent, its grip on my torso tightening until I think I’m going to pop.

“Give me yer hand!” a familiar voice booms across the prickly expanse, and I look up to see Jessie’s hand extended down to me from above, his feet firmly planted on the mountainous thorns like a knight standing on the back of a slain beast. “I kin help ya! Jest trust me! Give me yer hand! I kin teach ya how to fight it—”

“Don’t listen to him,” another voice cracks across the sky like lightning, zig-zagging to my ears. River appears opposite Jessie, holding on to the thorny-edges of the serpentine briers, his eyes wild with hope. “You don’t need help. Not mine. Not his. Not anyone’s.” He pauses. “That’s what you’ve always told me, isn’t it? That you don’t need help? So—come on! Do something for yourself. Prove that you don’t need help.”

His words hit me so hard that I feel the thorns around me loosen as I’m thrust back, thrown by the longing in my frozen veins, the wistful air no longer in my lungs—but I’m still caught, still trapped, still driven to the ground and held by an iron grip; I twist, digging the heels of my palms against the flat of that which has me by the legs, but no matter how hard I struggle, no matter how hard I fight, I can’t break free—I can’t break free.

I . . . I need h—

No, no I don’t, I remind myself. I can do this on my own.

The thorns hold tighter, crushing my bones until I feel them start to break, one by one. Briers wrap up my arms, painting my body in shadows that match the tattoo on my arm, coiling a strand of needle-like spurs around my forehead, restraining me.

My hands are in cuffs. Blood splatters the ground, returning to the earth the scarlet pigment that it lost. And I wriggle in its hold, beat against the needles tearing me open one second after another, until I realize that struggling only makes the pain come faster, the cracks in my bones more substantial.

So I do the unexpected and I rest my head back. And I shut my eyes. Because I know exactly what this is—these thorns digging in so tight, these daggers kissing at my flesh. This is life. This hold on me. This pain. This is life.

And I L O V E it. Because it means I’m still . . . I’m still . . .

“I’m still alive!” I gasp, the revelation pouring from my lips in three small words. And, suddenly, like magic, the snaking briers release me, their tentacle-like arms falling away. Because words have the power to do what’s least expected of them. And these words—these fractured syllables still resting on my tongue—set me free.

“I. Am. Still. Alive.”

Air floods my lungs and I can breathe—I can breathe all the air in the world and it still won’t be enough for me. My bones heal and my heart starts again, and the blood that had painted the still life beneath me with brushstrokes of agony and defeat returns to my veins.

I want to fly. And I can. I want to run. And I can.

I’ve always had that option.

But I won’t. Because sometimes we take the hard road, and sometimes we have all the opportunities in the world to take to the skies and flee, flee this world and flee this life, but sometimes we stay. Sometimes we know things are going to get easier. And we stay.

I’m not dead. Not yet. So I’ll . . . I’ll . . .

I’ll stay.

Something’s telling me I’m not quite finished yet.

“You don’t need anyone,” I hear River say to me, his voice heavy inside my head like lyrics to a song that’s lost all meaning, and yet bears something so much more than the familiarity that keeps me crawling back.

And so I rest my head back, tighten my grip on these thorns, on life, and I hold on for dear life, throwing River and Jessie and all the pain and all the defeat and all the cancerous pieces of who I’ve become back into the void from whence I came.

Because . . .

The show goes on.


I have cancer.

I have spent seventeen years of my life hiding beneath these three heavy words. But not anymore.

When I was younger Mother forced me to go to a few different cancer support groups in all different kinds of peculiar places. The gym of an elementary school a few towns over. A meeting at some local pizza place with a weird name like “Philippe’s”, or “Reginald’s”, or “Pricilla’s”, or “Kevin’s”. I had one in a parking lot outside of some bank. But they were all stupid. Because cancer is stupid.

Cancer is a car you’re forced to enter alone knowing perfectly well you’re going to crash.

In this case, I was the girl with cancer who time traveled, time traveled again, and again, and ended up stepping in front of a car. But it’s the same thing. Because this world is just a waiting room. A very full waiting room. Filled entirely with people. And, well, people = cancer. So this world is just a case on a shelf holding a disease. And I’m just another speck of dust waiting to vanish on the air.

But. But. But. But. But.

I don’t want to be anymore.

I’ve always known I was going to die. I’ve always accepted that. I’ve never feared the inevitable, not really. But now I’m terrified. Now I’m shaking and my body is alive with a frazzled electricity, my blood boiling beneath my skin.

Jefferson. River.Jessie. Meat pies. Evelyn. Billy.Mary.Violette. Meat pies. Mother. Esther. Meat pies.Even Bosco.

Meat pies.

I’m not ready to give it all up.

So I go against the rules. Because what are rules, anyway? Simple guidelines. Just words to live by.But I’ve always lived like I was dying.

I have cancer. I do. It’s true. I’ll say it again and again. I have cancer. I have cancer. I have cancer. I HAVE CANCER. But so do a lot of people. I mean . . .Jessie has his father’s car—I would say Esther, but I’m pretty sure that cat owns itself. River has his dog, Bosco. I have cancer. What’s the big deal? We’ve all got our things.

Cancer is a monster. A devilish fiend.

But who said our demons can’t be beautiful?

They tell me to fight it. They tell me to listen to them because their words are healing.But I’ve never let anyone dictate my life the way that cancer has.

So I lay down my head now. I curl up into a tiny ball on the ground and I breathe one last time. Not because I have to. Not because I need to. Just because I’m stronger than the lungs wilting like flowers in my chest.

I’ve spent my life searching for something I never knew I wanted. Always sabotaging myself along the way. Always building up walls around myself and creating reasons to hide behind them. Now I know that I’m unraveling, and I realize that all the planes and all the stars in the night sky aren’t strong enough for one last wish. But I try it anyway.

I close my eyes and I wish . . .

I wish that I live. I wish for one last chance.

And then.

So easily.

So quickly.

So thoughtlessly. I come apart.

Piece by piece. One shard at a time.

This world has a way of destroying us in the most beautiful ways. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

| | |

Jessie could feel his heart racing in his chest.

Hismind was in a daze as he quickly threw an empty bag down onto his bed, went to his dresser, threw every drawer open, and gathered enough clothes to fill the bag up into his arms. Without hesitation, Jessie hastily placed the pile into the sac and grabbed the little money he kept under his mattress.

Jessie zipped his bag and ran to the door, freezing before throwing it open. His eyes went to the closet door, where, deep in the shadows, the device Rosie had given him not long ago still sat in waiting. It called to him, and the memory of that night upon the veranda beneath the starlit sky resurfaced in him.

Keep it as something to remember me by when I leave here—when I break this curse. A piece of the future to look forward to.

Dropping the bag, hardly breathing, Jessie opened his closet and slid the wooden panel out of place. He scooped up the now-dusty device—it was small and thin, and its flat surface reflected his weary face back up at him—and then added it to the bag.

When Jessie turned to the door, to his surprise, his little sister, Mary stood before him. She had her arms crossed and a frown painted across her face, heavy with brushstrokes of reproach and indecision. Her strong eyes held his, the same blue-green, like that of the ocean, and her pink lips were paler than usual, almost as if she were clenching down to keep herself from saying what she needed to.

It was in that moment that Jessie saw how much Mary had grown over the course of the last few years. The way she carried herself was much more sophisticated; her back was straighter, and she stood taller, her shoulders squared. Marywas no longer the child she’d been when Violette had first arrived. She was growing up.

“Yer goin again, ain’t ya?” she wondered. “Jest like ya did after Violette left?”

Jessie stared. He’d intended to slip out of the house without anyone noticing. He had a note concealed in the back pocket of his trousers that explained why he was leaving. Now he could feel it burning against his skin.

“I hafta go,” said Jessie. “I cain’t stick around fer another Bryar to come an turn this world upside down, Mary.” He dropped his bag onto the ground and slowly, slowly, knelt before his sister. “Ya understand that, don’t ya?”

Mary was quick to shake her head. “I don’t want ya to go.”

“I know,” Jessie whispered. “I know. But I am.”

Mary’s eyes hardened. She pressed her back against the wall and flattened her hands out over its surface. “What kin I say to make ya change yer mind, Jessie? Please. I’ll do it—I’ll do anythin—”

“No, Mary. I have to go. I do. I do.” He smiled up into his sister’s eyes, and when he noticed a tear snake from her stern gaze, Jessie reached up his hand to wipe it away. “It ain’t gonna be forever,” he assured her. “I jestgotta get away fer a while.”

“Ya’ll come back?”

“Of course,” Jessie said.

“Promise me.”


Promise me ya’ll come back.”

“I will,” Jessie quietly whispered. “I do. I-I promise.”

Mary nodded her head and looked away, tears still spilling down her cheeks. “Will ya tell her goodbye?” Mary wondered, letting her eyes wander to the hardwood floor. “Rosie, I mean?”

Jessie shook his head. “She needs her sleep—”

“Pa says she might not wake up, Jessie.”

Jessie lowered his head. Panic and fear hastily unraveled beneath his skin, biting at the hollows of his chest; guilt worried at his bones, and when Jessie attempted to distract himself, all he had to do was look at Mary and all the pain would instantly return.

She was his weakness. She always had been.

Ever since Jessie could remember Mary was who he went to when he needed to get something off his chest. But lately, ever since Violette first left, Jessie had been keeping secrets from her. At first he didn’t want her to know how wrecked inside he felt. How demolished and confused he felt. And then the secrets kept building until all the lies disguised as protection built into a weight that not even he could find the strength to sustain.

“I-I know, Mary—”

“Then stay.”Mary looked fragile. So fragile.

“I cain’t—”

“At least till she wakes. Please.” Mary stared deep into his eyes, pleading. There was something in her voice, Jessie quickly realized, that held him in place, frozen to the floor. “Please, Jessie. Jest stay till she wakes.”

“And what if—?” Jessie tried to say but the words refused to come. He hated that he had to say them at all. But ever since he’d first discovered Rosie Bryar, drowning in the pond behind their house, breathless on their veranda, and collapsing at the beach, Jessie had known something was wrong with her.

He instantly thought of the markings that crept up her arm.

“Mary,” Jessie began again, finding it difficult to meet her eyes, “what if she—?”

“I know what yer gonna say,” said Mary. “What if she doesn’t wake up?”

Jessie nodded.

“Well, she will.”

“How d’you know?”

“Cause she’s like family. An family doesn’t leave.”

Jessie felt her words directed at his own heart, and they pierced him straight through like daggers in the daylight, quick and unyielding.

He slowly parted his lips to tell her it wasn’t true, that family left all the time, but instead Jessie restrained himself, holding the words on the end of his tongue, too afraid of what they might do to let them go.

“What about Violette, Mary? She left.”

“That was different.”


“Cuz she didn’t have a choice, Jessie!” Mary fisted her hands down at her sides and scornfully glared up at him, unmitigated anger in her eyes. Quietly, almost inaudibly, she added, “Violette’s back now, anyway.”

Jessie couldn’t remember a time when Mary had simultaneously looked so disheveled and so unbelievably graceful as she did then, like a bird falling out of flight. Her eyes were wild and stormy, a color blue never before seen by his eyes, and she held herself so calmly, so carefully, like a cloud about to burst.

“No, Mary,” Jessie prudently said, doing his best to keep his voice from trembling in his throat, “she ain’t. She’s gonna leave again. Jest like Rosie.”

Jessie winced at his own words.

“We all hafta leave at some point, Jessie.”

“Then what makes my leavin any different?”

“There is a difference,” Mary boldly said. “Violette an Rosie are both gonna leave cuz life changed’em. But it was never their choice to be here anyway, Jessie. They each got homes. People that love’em. An so d’you.” She dropped her eyes, and then, right when Jessie thought he was free from the guilt he saw reflected back at him, she said, “Yer jest leavincuz yer afraid.”

Mary was right.

Jessie was afraid. Afraid that Rosie might never wake up. Afraid that she might leave. But more afraid that another Bryar could fall from the sky and ruin everything. Again.Right when he got his life back together. The way they always did.

“Okay,” Jessie quietly whispered. “Okay. I’ll stay. Jest till she wakes.”

Jessie didn’t know it, but in that moment a part of Mary hoped Rosie never ever woke up again, for so long as she remained asleep, Jessie would stay. He had to. He promised.

Slowly, slowly, Jessie picked up his bag and moved to hug Mary, but she was already gone, slamming the door shut in her wake. So Jessie stood there, staring at the floor where she’d stood, wondering when he might see her again. When she might forgive him again.

Jessie didn’t know the answer. None of them did.

Though, as fate would have it, Jessie didn’t return for many, many years. And forgiveness came short thereafter.

| | |

I’m not dead. You can’t get rid of me that easily.

I don’t understand why I’m still alive. Why I’m sitting here in the most comfortable bed in the entire universe, staring through my windows up at the starlit night sky. I don’t know why that car didn’t shatter me into a billion pieces, or why everything went back to the way it was supposed to originally go. I don’t know why I’m smiling—maybe it has to do with the fact that I live another day.

My kingdom for an answer. For just one single answer.

I’ve spent the last six hours curled into a ball, convinced that if I move even an inch I might combust. Come apart. Break into too many pieces to be worth anything come morning. But now I’m wide awake and the stars are calling me out of the little den I’ve created beneath the blankets of the bed, beckoning me forth as the moon slides wistfully behind wavy clouds.

Muffled conversation permeates like smoke throughout the house, and for a moment I stand completely silent, my back pressed up against one wall. My heart throbs inside my chest and my breathing is heavy, laborious, to the point where white spots glisten before my unsteady gaze.

After about a minute I realize that I’m no longer even trying to pay attention, so I just close my eyes and make my way through the upstairs and out onto the veranda, gently shutting the door at my back. The air is cool against my skin.

I shiver. But it’s a good shiver. It helps me see that I’m not dead. Which is a good thing.

I close my eyes.

Jessie. Jefferson. The car.

I flinch.

Combustion. Implosion. Detonation.

Every time I shut my eyes I’m brought back to the moments that should have been my downfall.

“It’s nice out here,” comes a voice from the shadows, and I find Jefferson standing by the railing, staring up at the stars. He breathes and the clouds shift, sending down enough light for me to see his breath. He doesn’t turn to look at me. He doesn’t even think about it.

I’m so filled with relief . . . so overjoyed . . . so in disbelief that I nearly laugh. But I swallow it down and choke because I can’t even breathe right.

My knees quiver. My bones shake. My heart stirs.

“Jefferson?” I squeak—my voice gets strident when I get overexcited. Which is incredibly annoying.

Does he know? Does he remember?

“I didn’t know you were here—”

“You know, I never will begin to understand some people,” Jefferson says, a warmth to his tone. His head is tilted up at the sky and I wonder if there’s a reason why he’s refusing to look at me. Maybe I’m just uglier than I thought. But that never stopped him before.

“What do you mean?” I quietly wonder, reluctant.

Jefferson simply shakes his head, his lips curving into a tight little smile. “There are speed limit signs for a reason . . .”

I don’t quite understand what he’s talking about at first. But I start forward, my head tilted in incomprehension when it hits me like a wall. I stop. I freeze. I laugh. Because he remembers. He does. It’s true. He really doesremember what happened.

“I didn’t think—”

“That I’d remember?” he asks. “Yeah, well, same goes for you.”

Jefferson finally turns and I realize now why he wouldn’t look at me. His face is wet, glistening in the cool night, and tears run down his puffy cheeks like rain from the clouds. He’s smiling but they’re not letting up, the drizzle becoming a downpour that I lose myself in.

“Dad—” I say, and I throw my arms around him. Despite the age in his eyes and in his bones, he sweeps me off my feet and swings me in his arms, holding me the way a caged bird is held by the bars, kept safe from the pesky cat on the fence but still entrapped. Still locked up. But I don’t even think of breaking free. Not anymore.

“How is this possible?” I breathe into the fabric of his shirt, smelling of freshly cut grass and meat pies.

Meat pies. Oh, how I miss my meat—

Wait. Wait. Hold up. Huh? What? Excuse me?

Meat pies won’t even be invented for a few years—

“Jessie was never meant to crash the car,” Jefferson whispers in my ear. “And he was never meant to be driving at all. But because you made such an impact onJessie’s life, he felt drawn to you. He felt like he needed to protect you.” He nods his head like I’ve said something. “Love—or something similar to love—can be deadly.”

I pull away just enough to peer up at him, to find that his eyes are closed and his head is gently resting against mine, his tears matching the ones that run down my own face. “But when you pushed me out of the way—” Jefferson pauses. He pauses and he doesn’t speak again because I suddenly realize that he doesn’t know the answer.

“Time travel is all so confusing,” I whisper into the air, but I’m not sure if he hears me. I don’t care if he does. He knows the truth. I know the truth.

“But they don’t remember?” I ask, indicating the Bloome family. “They don’t—”

“And why should they?” Jefferson asks, pulling away just enough to look down at me. To stare into my eyes the way I stare into his. Like after all these years we’ve found the one thing we’ve been missing just to discover it scarred and bent, but easily fixed. “They didn’t remember after I had messed up the first time—when I thoughtJessie would stop when he saw me. But he was too blinded by love to see what was right in front of him.”

“He doesn’t love me,” I whisper, wincing at the weakness of my voice. It should be stronger.

“He most certainly does,” Jefferson says back, our voices hushed. “He’s different. He doesn’t simply attain an infatuation like every other young man on the face of this earth,” he warns me. “Jessie loves with all his heart. Unmitigated. Unalloyed. Without thinking of the consequences. And it helps that you wear a strikingly similar face to that of his last love.But—”

“I know,” I nod, looking away and finding my way back up to the stars. “Nothing can happen between us.” I inhale the night, exhaling the light of a thousand stars. “I never loved him, though. Not the way I do River.”

“I believe you,” Jefferson says. “But you already knew that.”

I don’t say anything.

“I want to go home,” I tell him after a moment, hugging him closer. “I want to know my future is secure—that I won’t one day wake up in the past. That I won’t end up like Violette. But I—”

“But?” Hope climbs Jefferson’s face like a ladder, clinging to his eyes for dear life. It would be a shame to see it plummet.

“I refuse to lose you again,” I breathe up to the night sky. I shrug, smiling. “The future isn’t set in stone, regardless, I suppose. And if I’m wrong . . .” I meet his eyes again, delving deep into the thick of his fatherly glow. “I want to be wrong with you. As your daughter. As your—”

“You’ll always be my little Red Rose, no matter what you decide.”

“That’s not true,” I whisper, my voice as brittle as my bones, but the truth as hard and heavy as my heart. I feel it weighing down on my shoulders where cancer used to sit.

“Maybe not.”

I breathe in once more, feeling the warmth of 1959 on my throat, but it comes out shakier than the last. I hardly notice. Because for the first time in my life I feel truly unstoppable. Invincible. Like not even this curse has the power to destroy me. Not anymore. Not the way cancer keeps threatening to. But even cancer is no match for me.

Leukemia has always been the shadow beneath my throne, constantly whispering to me secret tellings of kingdom come. Now it’s just an echo in my ears, concealed by the crescendo of tomorrow.

It has no control over me. Not anymore.

I’m a runaway train and I don’t care when I crash.

Jefferson smiles, and there’s a laugh just behind his clenched teeth; his eyes are cool on mine, drawing me in the way a wolf entraps its prey. Beautifully. Viciously.

“Do you remember what I told you?” he tentatively asks me. Reluctance is etched into his voice, applying a hesitant beauty to his words.

I shake my head.

“About everyone just being memories?”

“Oh,” I murmur, nodding and glancing up at the heavens above.

I discover my three lucky stars shining in a row and all I can think about is River. About the past. About who we used to be—I see his eyes and I see his lips and I taste his words in my mouth and I hear his thoughts in my head and I feel his hands on my skin and I observe the fireworks leaping from his gaze and I hold onto every single piece of him that floods my mind until my face is red all over. Until my heart is beating just a pace faster.

With River my heart feels like a flower allowed to grow.

WithJessie my heart feels like a bird set free.

But I don’t want to feel free. I want to feel like me.

“I do,” I whisper to Jefferson. I pause. Look up. Catch his eyes like they’re stars falling straight from the atmosphere atop the ladder of success. “But I also choose not to believe it.”

“By giving me up you could be happy,” says Jefferson. His eyes harden and I know he’s pretending to be brave in order to let me go. But I’m done with the lies. Nothing will send me away now. Not his words. Not his assurances. Nothing.

“For ten minutes. Or ten months. Or ten years. And then I will die, always wondering why my father left me behind. Why my mother was a lunatic. Why everything is the way it is.” I inhale and shake my head, shivering in the cold, yet I’m warmer than I’ve been in a long, long time. “You were right. I can’t go back to not knowing, Jefferson,” I whisper. “I can’t go back to a world where I’m just a cancer patient. I need to remember this. All of this.”

“But River—”

“Just because I let something go doesn’t mean I won’t ever see it again.” There’s doubt in my voice. How could there not be? But I don’t care. If I have to let go of love, of comfort, and of peace to live a long, happy life, I will. But I won’t let go without knowing I can hold on for a little while at a time. “I will see River again,” I tell him. I tell the stars. I tell myself.

Jefferson smiles and laughs again but this time it’s real. This time it’s true. This time I laugh with him.

“Don’t you even want to know how to break the curse, Rosie?” Jefferson asks me, squeezing my fingers in his own. There’s such palpable reluctance in his dry words. And just because I’m ready to let go of River doesn’t mean I’m ready to let go of Jefferson. Never. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready, despite what I told myself earlier today.

I think for a moment. Do I want to know? Just in case?

“No,” I finally decide. “The more bridges burned the better.”

“Okay,” he whispers.

“Okay,” I say in return.

There’s no going back. This is it. Only one way from here.

“Good,” says a voice from the dark, spoken so softly it takes me a moment to realize that it isn’t Jefferson who’s said it. But rather a shadow moving closer, gliding from the warmth of the house and into the night, her hair long and dark in the moonlight, looking almost blue. “For a second there I thought I’d have to try and convince you . . .”

I know that voice.

It’s different now. Stronger now. Happier now.

“Mother?” I say into the starlit dark, my hands coming up to cover my face as Jefferson slips free of my hold, releasing me to the sudden heavy silence that falls between me and the stranger standing directly in front of me.

I’ve known her all my life. The same face, the same eyes, the same messy hair and tired smile. But now everything’s changed, and behind the weariness of her facial features and her languid movements, a new light pours through her like someone’s taken over her body.

“Mom, I—” I don’t know what to say. I don’t have anything to say. So I turn back to Jefferson. “How is this possible? H-how—how is she here?”

“I found the locket Mrs. Bloomegave you,” Jefferson tells me. “And I still had the white rose from that night that seems so long ago. So I—” He doesn’t have to finish his sentence. I understand.

“You gave Violette—young Violette—the locket. With the rose inside.” I pause. It was you,” I realize, my mind momentarily blown. “All along. You healed her. And it actually worked?”

“It worked.” Jefferson nods, his smile greater than the night is dark. “I was almost positive it was supposed to be you, Rosie. ‘The rose’. But all this time Violette has been searching for her locket. For the rose petals inside.”

“Her sanity,” I breathe.

Jefferson gently smiles. “When Violette woke up, her mind returned to her, I sent her away. I told her to go and live her life far away from here, and one day she will find her happy ending. And when things get hard again—when everything seems like it will fall apart—know that the rose will always bring you back home.”

The rose,” I whisper beaming. “Everything’s in place.”

“Indeed,” replies Jefferson. “We did it, Rosie.”

“He traveled to 2015 and found me,” Mother explains; her voice spins me back around, no longer as cold and haunting as it used to be. “He told me what happened—he told me what you did. How you saved him. How you saved me and the rest of this world. There’s pride in her voice and I don’t know how to respond to something so astonishing. Like a smile on a scorpion. Or a second butt on a donkey.

I think of telling her that I was the one who almost broke all of time and space in the first place. But I decide to keep that to myself.

“You’re amazing,” Jefferson adds, stepping forward and swiping a lock of my red hair from my face.

No. Don’t say that. Don’t say anything. That makes me sound like I’m a superhero. Like I’m actually braver than I am dying.

“All I did was step in front of a car,” I whisper, letting my head hang. “I’m no braver than I was before I first time traveled.” Even as these words leave my mouth I know they’re not true. Not entirely. Though I might not be all that brave—and I still go pale when I see a spider on the ceiling—I feel stronger. Like cancer doesn’t have a hold on me. Like I can breathe knowing it’s okay. I can go now. I don’t want to go. I don’t ever want to go. Especially now. But I’m ready.

I’m ready to go.

Mother slowly pulls a necklace from beneath the concealing fabric of her shirt and I immediately recognize it as Violette’s locket. Her own locket. The locket I was holding when I died. When I thought I died.

“I’ve had this for so many years,” she whispers. “I’ve always known Jefferson would come. That the rose was somehow, in some way, connected to you. You, our little Red Rose. But everything I did—” She lets her eyes drop to the floor of the veranda. “I know I can’t be forgiven.”

I stare at her long and hard. She seems taller now because of how she’s carrying herself. Her shoulders are straighter and her face is less smug. Her eyes are cold but only to herself, and the clothes she wears are free of stains of any kind.

“Mom?” I wonder, still confused by this stranger.

She can’t be Mother. She can’t be. She . . .

“Mom?” I ask again, and when she meets my eyes, the shadows that divide us thicker than the light streaming down, I feel myself start to break.

Violette, Mother, nods her head and covers her mouth as she begins to sob. “It’s me, Rosie,” she whispers. “It’s me. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. It’s—it’s me, Rosie.” She breaks faster than the thoughts inside my head, shattering the walls of this delirium I’ve come to know so well. “It’s me,” she sobs a final time.

And I hear it now. The same sweet, calm, merciful voice of the woman who used to sing to me. The woman who used to hold me tight. The woman who used to wipe the blood from my wounds and scare away the shadows beneath my bed. Before she became one.

I hear my mother’s voice the way it’s always meant to sound, and, more than anything in this world ever will, it reminds me of Evelyn Bloome. That same fear of loss. That same protection. That same strength that comes with maternal instincts. It’s all there. And it’s all real.

“Rosie,” Mother says a final time, “it’s me—”

“Mom!” I shout.

I come undone. I break apart.

I’m running. I’m charging. I’m hugging her before she can even give sound to the words bubbling up in her throat. Because I know it’s true. I know she’s been waiting. Waiting for the day when her husband found her again and everything went back to the way they should have been.

“Mom,” I whisper up to her, but she hushes me and runs her hands through my rosy-red hair, holding me to her like I’m everything. “Mom, I’m so sorry—I’m s-so sorry,” I hiccup. “If you’d just told me when I was young—”

“I was afraid,” Mother whispers in my ear. “And you have absolutely nothing to be sorry about. All these years I thought what your father told me was wrong. That the only way to get him back was to lose you. That’s why I—” she stops. “The hammer.”

I almost want to laugh. “You threatened me with a hammer,” I whisper into the silence between us.

“And if I’d known you would be what led to my happy ending, Rosie, I never would have done it. But knowing as much as I did, I still would have done it. Anything to keep you from losing your happiness the way I thought I lost mine.”

I nod against her head, safely positioned above my own as she kisses me over and over again. “I want to go home,” I whisper up to her. “I want to be with you. I want to be happy.”

“And happy we will be, Rosie. I know we will.” She cradles me in her hold like I’m the child she thought she lost, and when I look up at her, I can’t help but notice my lucky stars suspended just over our heads. Orion’s belt, I think.

“I just . . . I just want to go home,” I repeat, turning against Mother’s arms. Jefferson comes over and I take his hand, thankful for the warmth.

“So let’s go,” Jefferson whispers, holding out his hand to me. “Wherever you want to go, Rosie.”

I start to take his hand but freeze.

“No,” I breathe, retracting my hand. “Not yet.” I tear away from their hold on me and run to the doorway. “Not before I say goodbye.”

“Then let’s say goodbye,” Jefferson murmurs, gently clamping his hands down on my shoulders. “And then the world is ours.” I glance back up and smile at him, and when Mother kisses me on the head one last time, I can’t help but be afraid. Afraid that I might one day lose this. This perfect, perfect ending. But I shake the thought from my head because I’m done being afraid of the inevitable.

“We’ll go come morning light,” says Jefferson.

I smile at this before turning and running back into the house, laughing as my mother and father watch me go, like the last two pieces to the puzzle I thought I threw away years ago.

I don’t know why I’m still alive. I don’t know who’s looking out for me up in Heaven. But I won’t question it. This is my second chance. My last chance. And every time a door closes another one opens—which is fitting for this ghostly life I live.

I’m going to make something of myself.

I promise.

| | |

“I cain’t stay here.”

Jessie’s words are enough to leave me breathless.

“What are you talking about?” I shout, chasing him out onto the front lawn, where streaks of dawn paint the gravel of the drive with buffeting rays of colored luminosity. The dark sky has begun to dwindle and the stars that have held me like ropes slowly begin to vanish.

“I cain’t do this,”Jessiewhispers. “Not anymore.”

“What are you talking about!” I repeat.

“You, Rosie! I’m talkin bout you!” His words are sharper. Sharp enough to pop the bubble I’ve constructed around myself after all this time. Sharp enough to wound me—the one person I never expected ever would.


You,” he says again. “Time travel. It’s—it’s too hard. I cain’t keep pretendin like it ain’t.” His generally warm face suddenly goes dark, and I hate more than anything that I’m the reason why. I hate that I didn’t just vanish when I had the chance.

But I can’t leave without saying goodbye.

I can’t. I won’t.

“Oh,” I murmur, coming to a stop, my hands stupidly limp at my sides. I think of taking another step forward, of running my fingers over the side of his face, of telling him that everything will be okay. But I’m a better bringer of pain than I am a liar.

“I cain’t say here,” he tells me. “I’ve lost two of the most important people in my life to this curse, an it all centers round this house. I—I cain’t stay here anymore, Rosie. I hafta leave.”

“You don’t have to run away!” I tell him.

Jessie reaches up and presses his hands to his head, curling his fingers through his hair. “It don’t make no sense to me an it’s destroyin me, Rosie! Jest today ya left me on that veranda in the rain,” he says, pointing up at the house over my shoulder. “An when I left to find Jefferson to see if there was a chance he could go after ya, I found Violette. Like she used to be! An jest when I think I can be happy again, I nearly crash because I thought I saw you—I thought I saw you standin in the road.”Jessielooks like he’s going to scream. Like he’s falling apart.


“That’s Violette, ain’t it?” he asks me, referring to Mother standing in the doorway, her fingers intertwined through Jefferson’s. Father’s. They watch us, looking worried. But I don’t pay them any attention.

I hesitate before nodding. “She’s my mother.”

“And Jefferson?”

“My father,” I breathe. “I’ve known for a few days now,” I quietly add, lowering my eyes.

Jessie looks so broken. So fractured. So ready to shatter that I want to pull out a roll of duct tape and hold him together. But that’s not how this works. Duct tape can’t fix everything. Just like glue can’t be used to reconfigure the pieces of your heart. Trust me. I know. I’ve tried.

I part my lips to speak but before I can say anythingJessie takes a step forward and runs his hands beneath my jaw, pulling me in for a kiss that I don’t see coming like the floor at the bottom of every staircase in existence.

His arms are more than happy to cradle me in the most wondrous way, setting the blood and kerosene beneath my flesh ablaze. But this time is different. This time he’s kissing me and the world isn’t dissolving.He’s kissing me and I don’t hear the music.

Jessie pulls away and stares at me, his large eyes sweeping mine, searching for an answer he knows he’ll never receive. “Is there anythin I kin do to change yer mind?” He looks so desperate. So weak. So fragile.

“No,” I shake my head. My voice is so thin, so quiet, so brittle. “No, there’s not.” Tears glisten in my eyes and I want to keep them there so that I can hold this distorted image ofJessie in my heart rather than be forced to acknowledge that I’m the one who put the pain in his sky-blue eyes.

“So yer jest givin up, then?”

Listen to your heart, I tell myself. Your happiness is on the line.

“No,” I say, shaking my head from side to side. And it’s only then that I realize thatJessie’s still holding me so close. Still staring into my eyes. Still seeing me as a rose rather than the wrecking ball I’ve grown to be.

“No,” I repeat, my voice soft, lingering with the silence of his own. Our eyes speak a different language, his calling out to me and mine turning away, too tired and afraid to say what’s blooming on my heart. “No,” I whisper. “I can’t be the girl you want me to be—I can’t be like Violette.” I can’t. “I’m sorry.”

Closing my eyes, I slowly pull him towards me until we’re breathing the same air and standing in the same spot and our lips are playing the same game of cat and mouse, playing the same notes to the same bittersweet requiem I’ve come to enjoy.

I remember the way his fingers pressed mine into the keys of his piano what feels like many, many years ago; the feel of control, the brilliance of our music. I remember the way he made me feel protected and free, riding alongside him in his father’s car and walking down by the lakeside. I remember when he spun me on my very first real Easter, and how we were perfect in those moments, tranquil and thoughtless.

I remember it all.

The tectonic plates of my heart shift and I’m perfectly okay with breaking so long as I’m breaking in his arms. On his lips. On his smile.

Being with him is like being a cancer patient who can only breathe underwater. He opens up an entirely new world for me. An extraordinary world. But nothing lasts forever. I should know better than anyone. And one day I will run out of air. Or water. Whatever.

It’s evanescent. Transitory. As most things are. But if I’m going to live a long life, and live it well, I can’t constantly be afraid of drowning. I need to learn to breathe. On my own. And be happy. On my own.

I hold ontoJessie for one last moment, tasting his soul on his grin; the heat of his smile has gone cold, colder than cold, and I’m caught, struck by the chill.

“I guess that’s just it,” I whisper as I pull away, holding the image of him inside my head before letting it go. “I’m not giving up on you. I’ll never give up on you. On us. On this.” I smile, the heat of my decision pressing through my skin like sunlight through clouds. “I’m choosing differently. I’m choosing to be happy. Because I don’t think there ever really was an ‘us’.”

“An ya ain’t happy with me?”Jessie’s eyes plead for the truth. But the truth is deadly. Dangerous. Disastrous. And a lot of other words that start with the letter D. And as much as I hate it, hate its weight and hate its influence, I hate lying to him even more. Because lies are pretty. Powerful. Painful.

“If you asked me yesterday,” I whisper to him, running my fingers across his cheeks like his skin is a mockup of memories I’m leaving behind, “I might have said yes.” But now I’m listening to my heart. And it’s telling me to walk away—no, it’s telling me to run away. Something Violette didn’t do. Something Violette should have done.

I step back, letting his hands fall from mine. “Go if you have to,Jessie,” I say. “Go find the person you’re meant to be. But nothing will change how I feel about you. And nothing will change the fact that we aren’t meant to be together. This isn’t my place. This isn’t my life or my home. And this isn’t where I’m going to find my happiness.” I slip my hands into my pants pockets to keep myself from reaching back out to him; to keep my fingers from visibly shaking. “You deserve better anyway.”

Jessie takes a step forward and stops, his hand outstretched to me. When I think he’s going to try to hold me again, his eyes hungry for my embrace, I’m surprised to find him holding back, his own hands trembling on the air.

“Yer right,”Jessie unexpectedly whispers, solemn in his response, almost as if it’s a revelation to himself. “Ya ain’t Violette.An ya ain’t never gonna be her.” He shakes his head. “I jest wish ya could be.”

“I know. But I can’t. I’m just her daughter.”

The last word that leaves my tongue seems to strike Jessie harder than I imagined it would; he flinches away, his brow furrowed in wonder and confusion, and I try to imagine it from his point of view, hearing that word uttered for the first time.


“Will I see ya again?”Jessie quietlyasks.

I smile and turn away, and when Jessie repeats himself, I keep going, walking back to the house like I don’t feel as if I’m leaving a part of myself behind. In my pockets, I ball my fingers into fists.

“Rosie?”Jessie calls after me, his voice breaking on the air. It makes me want to turn around. It makes me remember everything that we’ve been through over the past few days—our trip to Denny’s. When he taught me how to swim. When he stood with me on the veranda. When he took me to meet Jefferson for the very first time. When he played his piano. When we played his piano. When we kissed.

I see it all flash before my eyes.

“Rosie!” he calls to me.

I stop.

“Ya don’t hafta go,”Jessie desperately says. “Don’t let me go.”

Never, I think inside my head. I’ll never let you go.

My eyes shut.

I have to be stronger now. I have to be happy. On my own.

“Rosie, please,”Jessiesays. “Don’t do this.”

A part of me wishes that we were still strangers so that I don’t have to endure the everlasting pain I see in his too-bright eyes, haunting me like ghosts I’m not brave enough to vanquish.

I open my eyes and take a step forward, followed by another and another until I’m walking and I’m not stopping. I feelJessie at my back. But I just keep going. I just keep pretending like this won’t be my downfall.

“Rosie!”Jessie shouts one last time.

I shatter just enough to let the light in.

“Goodbye,JessieBloome,” I say, holding back my tears until I reach the house, leaving one of the biggest fragments of my soul behind on the front lawn. “It’s been a pleasure—a real pleasure.”

And then he’s gone.

Gone. Gone. Gone.

Forever gone.

| | |

Jessie stood on the front lawn of the Bloome estate long after Rosie had gone, simply staring up the steps to where she had so simply disappeared like all those times she purposefully vanished on the air. And there, standing in the doorway was Violette, much older than he’d seen her last, watching him the way he watched her, uncertain.

“She’s right you know,” she said to him across the yard.

“About what?” he softly asked.

“You don’t have to go.”

“I know.”

“So why are you?”

“Cuz—cuznothin’skeepin me here.”

Violette slowly shook her head from side to side. “You always were careless when it came to others,” she whispered, staring after him. “You never really knew how much others loved you.”

“You never did.”

“Perhaps not,” she said. “But I thought I did.”

“An that’s supposed to change anythin?”

“I wish it would.”

“It doesn’t.”

“No, I suppose not.”

Jessie walked over to the front steps and retrieved the bag he’d packed, careful not to look at Violette as he did so. For some reason the bag felt heavier now than it had before, though Jessie thought little of it as he walked away, burden-less and free, carrying with him not only his supplies, but his sister’s words as well. And he wondered if it were her words that weighed it down.

Promise me ya’ll come back.

He stopped and turned around as if Mary were there with them.

“So that’s it?” Violette said to him across the lawn; a breeze blew her scarlet curls around her head, and though nearly twenty years had passed in her eyes, Jessie still thought her the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid his eyes on. “After all this time? This is it?”

“This is it.”

“You’re just going to leave? Run away?”

“No,” Jessie said, shaking his head. “But ya always did think me leavin this place was me tryin to runaway.”

“With good reason, too.” She paused. “Why are you going, then?”

“Cuz,” Jessie said without turning back around. “Somethings never change. An somethings should.” He kept walking the way that Rosie had, and though he still tasted his last words on his tongue, he stared out at the horizon and walked into the new dawn breaking in the near distance, until he neither tasted sorrow nor regret upon his lips.

Jessie never knew when he’d make his way back to Natchitoches, Louisiana, but the further he walked from the only place in the world that he knew, the more Mary’s words grew inside his heart.

“I promise, Mary,” he said to the new day, and his words rang true. “I promise.”

| | |

“Son? Son? Son, speak to me!”

River’s father’s voice reverberated loudly in the night, and like an ugly cloud before the dazzling sun, his face appeared from the dark. River stared deep into the stranger’s eyes and thought, for perhaps the first time, that he caught a glimmer of sorrow in the old man’s gaze. There was a moment, a split second of weakness, and River held onto it as his vision began to go dark.

His hand searched the asphalt for something that would send it all away; for something that would give him the strength to run. River’s hand searched for Rosie’s the way words searched decades for the right voice to bring them to life, to make them real.

And it was in that brief moment, that perfect twinge of time, that River stopped. He stopped searching for Rosie. He stopped thinking about her altogether. And he looked back up at his father.

River rested his head back and sank into himself, not giving up in his endeavor, not letting go of Rosie or his love for her, and not giving into the darkness that had him in its grip. Merely, like a change in the air, River was coming to his senses.

For the first time in what seemed like forever, River looked into his father’s eyes and saw something other than hatred and anger. River saw himself. River saw every part of himself, both real and make-believe, both wonderful and hard to bear. But, where there wasn’t one before, a smile stretched his lips from ear to ear, and the source of it hung in the oblivion above his face.

His father.

River let go of the moment. He let time flow through his grasp and he let the shadows invade his vision. He let go of Rosie and held onto his father, digging his fingers into the old man’s coat for support.

It was time River stopped running from his problems. Sunny was right. It was time he stopped using Rosie as an excuse to run away.

River didn’t know where Rosie had landed in time. He didn’t know if his theory had been correct, and that if he’d just tried a little harder he might have once again held Rosie in his arms. All he really knew was that he was tired of running. Tired of hiding. Tired of feeling like Rosie was his only chance for happiness.

“Everything is going to be all right,” his father, like a phantom in his head, whispered into the dark. River, though completely gone from Natchitoches, from the earth, and from his father’s arms, felt a slight tug like someone was pulling him back. Pulling him home.

He didn’t know what would come next. Life. Death. Oblivion. But he wasn’t afraid. He learned not to fear death from Rosie, and he was right not to. Death was just an event. The final words of a story. A song. It wasn’t something to fear. Not really.

River envisioned Rosie at his side. It was fitting, too, he quickly realized, for where he lied was just around the spot where he’d let her go. And then when the tug came again, this time more urgentlylike the hands of hope leading him back into the light, River went happily, fearlessly into the darkness of tomorrow, through the shadows of oblivion, and to the brilliance of her embrace.

River Bloome was not afraid.

Even as the tornado struck down.

| | |

I hate goodbyes.

Evelyn and Billy are hugging me and they’re telling me they’ll never forget me and I don’t doubt them. I’m pretty damn unforgettable. But all I can say is that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused them. I’m sorry for dying. For not dying. For dying again. For waking up and finding everything in disarray all because of me. But mostly I want to apologize to them for being the reason whyJessie left.

He left early this morning and no one’s seen him since.

Mary tells me he’ll be back. He always comes back.

But I don’t believe her.Jessie is . . . he’s on a different path now. He can never be with Violette and he can never be with me. But I’ve always known that, haven’t I? He has to find the one he’s meant to be with—his princess—even if they’re never as happy as we were when we were together.

I’m sorry for so many things. Things I caused. Things I didn’t cause.

But one of the biggest things I’m sorry about is that I’ll never get to seeJessie again. Not for quite a few years. And I don’t even know if he’ll remember me then. Or if he’ll care. I just know that he will always be my biggest regret in life. Not meeting him. Not loving him or liking him or whatever the hell it is that I feel for him. It’s knowing he’s out there somewhere, lost and alone, and knowing that he’s the one that got away. Because I let him. Because I had to let him.

“I know th’ future is a tricky thing,” Evelyn says to us, “but if ya ever have th’ chance, come back to us. Visit. I ain’t sure I kin handle knowin yer not on this here earth. It’s as if ya’ll are dead. I don’t think I—” and she’s crying again. Again. For like the sixth time just in the last hour.

I’ve never meant so much to someone I’ve known so little.

“No,” Billy says as he lights a cigarette and places it between his teeth; his voice is just as low and gruff as it’s always been, like sandpaper that’s run out of the—well, the stuff that makes it sandpaper—but it’s different this time. Softer, I suppose. “What my wife here says may be true, an God knows we’ll miss ya more than anythin, especially this kiddo,” he says to me when he claps Jefferson on the shoulder. “But I refuse to be so selfish as to ask you three to return here. To risk yer happiness jest fer us.” Billy wraps an arm around his wife and plants the other on his daughter’s shoulder, and Mary smiles up at him the way a daughter should. With pride. “Our happy endin is near, my friends. An we’ll spend every blessed day thinkin of ya. But ya won’t be dead. You’ll just be somewhere in th’ distance.”

I hug him. I hug him so tight.

“I’ll never forget you,” I whisper, my eyes glancing from Billy, to Mary, to Evelyn, whose gaze I hold the strongest. “You’ve helped me in a way that can’t be repaid, and because of me your son is . . . he’s gone. But he’s finding his way.” I pause and glance down before looking back up at Evelyn. “And I know he’ll find his way back to you.”

Evelyn, without an ounce of hesitation, charges forward and wraps her arms around me one last time. I hug her back. And when I bend down to say goodbye to Esther, drawing my hand down her back and scratching beneath her chin, she bites me. So I prod her along and flip her off when no one’s looking.

“Violette,” Evelyn whispers, reaching out and grasping Mother’s wrist. “Ya’ve raised a good one, that ya kin be sure of.”

Mother shakes her head. “She practically raised herself.”

Evelyn only smiles. “It’s only bin a few years. An yet—” she says, pausing to reach her hand up and caress Mother’s cheek. “So much has happened fer ya. So much has changed, sweet, sweet child.”

“And things will only ever continue to change,” Mother whispers, glancing over at me. “But change is good.”

She’s right, of course. Change is good.

And then we vanish. We disappear. We poof.

But not before Jefferson says goodbye to his bus and grabs some stuff from the home I only ever saw once.

With my fingers looped through the straps of a suitcase, I grab my father’s hand, his other resting in my mother’s, and together we take one step forward and we jump. We jump and we don’t look back. Because it doesn’t matter where we’re going. It doesn’t matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done to get where we are today. All that matters now is that we’re together.

Even if I die in the next ten minutes. I’m just happy I don’t need a stupid locket to remind me why I should be happy.

Adversity knows not of where I’ve been or even where I may stay, but only of where I will go next. And I’m going home.

Home sweet home.

| | |

Roses are red.

The sky is blue. Life is hard. Pain isn’t comfortable.

There’s no time like the present.

These were all obvious statements. True. But River could think of another. And even in the darkness, lost in the ecstasy of Rosie’s warmth, his mind ripping at the seams as his body, woven flesh and blood, threatened to unravel, River let his words echo into the starless night of forever.

I haven’t given up yet!

And River never once let her go.

| | |

River didn’t know how long it took before it came. But he didn’t close his eyes until the thick, swirling vortex of the monstrosity above was knocking at their doorstep. It bulldozed everything in its wake, violently thrashing the world River always thought he knew.

But he didn’t know this world. Not anymore.

River shut his eyes.

He saw Rosie. Standing. Sitting. Laughing. Crying. Smiling. Breaking. Growing. Blooming, Flourishing.

He saw every single piece of her, and when he tried to hold her together, she only shattered faster in his hands. But that’s reality. Nothing beautiful lasts for long. That’s what makes it special.

When River did open his eyes, nothing was left.

Rays of sunlight crept from the blue-gray sky, but it wasn’t bright enough to wash away all the mistakes of yesterday that still marked the streets of soot and rubble. He slowly pushed himself up off the ground, careful not to topple over as the world spun inside his head.

The distant fields were ripe with destruction, smoke clouding the sunlit air. And all around him, like a bomb had gone off, destruction ran its course for as far as the eye could see. Heaps of debris climbed up, some higher than River, and the decaying structures of the past still reached for the sky.

“River?” a weak voice whispered from behind. But River didn’t turn around. Because it didn’t matter who stood at his back. It didn’t matter now that everything was gone. Everything was over.

River inhaled the dusty scent, wondering if this was all just a dream and that when he woke up Rosie would be waiting at his side. He wondered if this was real, and everything of Natchitoches was now beneath his feet, like the blood and the bone of a dynasty.

Smoke billowed to the sky abovewhile ash rained in reverse, flooding the atmosphere atop the distant hummocks of decay with bits and pieces of his shattered yesterday.

River leisurelykicked a pile of stones at his feet and watched them as they tumbled down into the crater of destruction in the earth from where the tornado had spun its web, and whispers of decimation still clung to the air like all the words River had wasted on searching for forever.

There was nothing left of yesterday but ruble and silence. Only a single, growing light bloomed from the darkness that had come, budding from the shadows like a sign of things to come, and River prayed that it would learn to flourish.

RiverBloome closed his eyes to yesterday. When he opened them again . . . everything was changed.



There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think aboutJessie and the rest of the members of the Bloome family.Except on Mondays. But who remembers anything on Mondays? Mondays are stupid. Cancer is stupid. People are stupid. Food that is good but isn’t ‘right’ is stupid. The fact that I can no longer eat meat pies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is stupid. Inequality is stupid. Displeasure is stupid. Everything is stupid.

But it’s Tuesday and I can’t stop thinking about them. About what I left behind.

“Are you sure about this?” River asks me.

It’s been almost a week since I returned from my trip to 1959. And amongst the devastation, of course, my cancerous home looms like a beacon from my nightmares, unmarred and untouched by the storm that’s left this town dilapidated.

“Positive,” I say, turning all the nobs on the stove so that four large flames leap up at me. Setting the tank of gasoline, now empty, on the kitchen table, I spin around, observing everything.

I stare at the places where Mother used to mark my height; the crooked cabinet above the fridge that we never bothered to fix; the spots on the ceiling from when cancer thought it was a good idea for me to take an involuntary nap on the bathroom floor with the bath running.

I graze my fingers over the bookshelves and smile at all the words Mother taught me how to read. I run my touch over the illustrations, the binding, the rips and the tears.

“What if you come back—?”

“I will come back.” I look into River’s eyes and I find it nearly impossible not to see Jessiestaring back at me; to see all that I’ve done; all that I did that can’t be forgiven.

“And if you don’t?” River says, his voice softer than usual. So soft it’s breakable.

I shake my head. “That’s out of the question. I’m coming back.”

River doesn’t say another word but I see the doubt in his eyes and it takes my breath away.

“There’s nothing left for me here,” I whisper, taking care to assure River that I mean this house and not him. “This house was just a series of walls around the lies Mother used to tell me.” I pause. Shake my head. “It’s nothing I want to remember.”

“That’s understandable,” River says, fingering a rip in the ugly wallpaper, gently smiling. “Do you remember that time we put a hole in the wall with the coat hanger?” River laughs.

I walk over to an ugly picture frame on the wall containing an ugly painting of the ocean and I toss it over my shoulder, revealing a gaping hole in the sheetrock.

“This one?”

“That’d be it.”

“Mother never even knew,” I smile, remembering.

River nodded. “She was pretty oblivious.”

I lightly scoff. “That’s an understatement.”

He nods. “Is there anything you’re going to miss of this place?”

I glance around again, studying my home in a way I’ve never done before. I part my lips to say no. No, there’s nothing I want to take with me. But I would be lying.

“Yes,” I whisper, moving to a little desk we keep in the corner of the living room for important papers and crap I never cared about. I feel inside and find my ugly pink piggybank—shaped like an actual pig.

“What’s that?” River wonders.

I throw the ceramic pig down like I’m spiking a football and it shatters on the ground. I bend down and carefully pick through the pennies, nickels, and dimes—as well as the occasional button—and come across a folded envelope.

Opening it, I slide the paper that lies within and toss away the envelope.

“What’s that?” River repeats, his curiosity evidently getting the better of him. He stands on his toes to get a better view but I’m pretty sure he’s just trying to see down my shirt.

“Do you remember what you told me on September 16th, 2013?”

River shakes his head. “That you’re beautiful?”

I nod. “Probably. But no.”

“Then no,” River says, narrowing his eyes in that devilish way that he always does when he’s inquisitive. “What did I say?”

“You said,” I whisper, smiling down at the slip of paper in my hands, “that if you had a dollar for every single time you fell deeper in love with me . . .”

“I’d be rich,” River whispers, smiling. “I remember.”

Tears glisten in my eyes when I hold up the crumpled paper. “I didn’t believe you so I wrote you a blank check,” I say, handing him the paper.

River takes it and stares at it until tears warp my reflection in his gaze.

“You remembered?”

“How could I forget?”

River shrugged, folding the check and slipping it into his pocket. “Easily.”

“Not with you,” I say. “You’re a bit unforgettable.”

River smiles, holding out his hand. “I should hope so.”

The fire catches, and instantly the room is glowing, set ablaze. River is quick to grab my hand and hold me close. He leads me from the house I’ve always known and out onto the front lawn by the road, where Mrs. Passerine stands in her stupid pink robe with her stupid gray cat and her stupid cup of tea.

“Must I call the police again, Miss Bryar? Trespassingis illegal.”

“This is my house,” I spit, taking a step forward, standing my ground.Standing up for myself like I’ve never done before. “This is my house,” I repeat.

“Not anymore it’s not. It’s being foreclosed.”

I laugh. “If the bank wants my house,” I snidely say, feeling braver and stronger than I ever would have a few weeks ago, “then they’re going to have to take it from me.”

From my cold dead hands.

Mrs. Passerine makes a noise that makes me want to drop a house on her and turns away, raising her cellphone to call the police.

It’s then that I see the smoke.

“Look,” I whisper to River, smiling.

Mrs. Passerine hears and she follows my gaze up to where plums of dark smoke rise up the midmorning sky. Flames flicker and dance in the windows, bright orange and red, drowning my house in fire.

But not my home.

Like I said before: my home is where my heart is. And it was never ever here. Not really.

“What have you done?!” Mrs. Passerine gasps, dropping her phone. She tightly grasps her cat like she’s afraid it might go and take a nap in the warm, warm flames, and she lets her coffee mug clatter to the earth, where it shatters like my fear of her. Of anyone and anything.

The house catches so fast that before she can find her phone the upstairs windows are already glowing. The place is blazing, fire running its bitter-sweet touch along every surface of my past, bringing it down.

“Farewell, Bryar house,” River says, saluting to the building set aglow.

I shake my head. “One doesn’t solute to cancer.”

“Right,” he whispers, glancing down at me. Then, taking my hand in his, he raises the other and flips the burning building the bird.

I do the same.

And then we both turn our raised fingers to Mrs. Passerine until she goes away.

“Wish we had enough gasoline left for her house,” I spit.

“That would be considered arson, Rosie.”

Arson? The thought brings me back to Jefferson.

We watch the house start to sink in on itself, delving deep into the glow of the fire, the flames flickering to the same beat as my heart.

It crackles and pops and the heat forces me to take a step back. I stumble but River’s there to catch me. He’s always been there.

It’s weird to see my past go up in flames. When I was younger I was convinced this was my forever house. My safe haven, an island away from the rest of the world where I could go and be alone. My empire. My dynasty . . . all blown away.

Cancer has taken siege inside my lungs for the last seventeen-years of my life. Built a wall around my heart.Now I’ve never been so proud to watch this castle fall.

Forever used to tease me. Cancer used to abuse me.

Tomorrow might shatter me.

But that’s okay. I’d like to see it try.

“Take it all away,” I breathe up to the heavensand to the god I’m only now starting to believe in. “I’m letting go—just take it all away.” I close my eyes and inhale the scents of all the black roses blooming from the flames, and when I open them again, I seeJessie, born from the cinders glowing in the fire.

He reaches out to me and I have to do everything in my power to keep myself from reaching back. River takes my hand and grips it tight like he knows something’s drawing me back. Like if he doesn’t I might run straight into the fire.

Take it all away . . .

All the clothes I never wanted to wear. All the pictures and mementoes I never wanted to keep. All the words to every story that ever buried me further in my self-loathing. All my scars and all my fears. All my tears and all my screams. All my broken, broken dreams.

The monsters under my bed.

Burn it all. Ignite it all. Make it glow.

I watch as the rundown building slurps down gasoline and blooms a fire in its belly, taking with it every haunting memory and every moment that I ever felt like cancer had the upper hand.Every moment that ever gave me cause to hide my head beneath my sheets.

“It’s beautiful,” River says, squeezing my hand.

I nuzzle into his warmth and lay my head on his shoulder.

It really is beautiful. It’s like a disaster, the way I can’t look away and my heart is beating for it to be real, to be hard, to be devastating just to prove to me that this world isn’t turning in one direction. Not really.

Nothing will pull my eyes away from my burning palace.


“Just like you.”

I was wrong.

River’s words beckon me to his lips, his eyes holding me the way the sun holds the sky. For dear life.

I am beautiful. Not because of makeup. Not because of my clothes or my weight—well, the lack thereof. Not because of my teeth or my body or my voice. Not because of my boobs or my butt or the curves of my edges.

I’m beautiful because I’m happy.

I wrap my arms around River and shut my eyes, closing out the world save for the crackling of the flames engorging on my castle and the blanket of skin cradling me in this euphoria.

“I don’t think I was wrong,” I whisper, opening my eyes again. “About us.”

River holds me tighter, enveloping me in his warmth like I’m the biggest, brightest present sitting under the tree come Christmas morning, pressing a kiss to my forehead.

“I know I wasn’t,” he says against my skin. “But where there is life there is death, and where there is summer there is fall.” River closes his eyes, the windows to his soul shutting tight, and when he pulls away he sighs into the mere inches-worth of space that divides us and I want to bottle this feeling inside my chest.

“Where there is love—”

“There is loss,” I say, I whisper, I breathe. I stare into his unforgettable eyes, the blue-green oceans drinking me in and gulping me down. “I just thought I’d win this one.”

River smiles. His voice is even softer when he speaks. “I always knew I would lose you in the end, Rosie Bryar. I’m just glad I’m giving you up to liferather than cancer.” He shakes his head and cups my face in his hands, running his thumbs over my skin in the same circular movements that used to save me when I thought I was over.

“I wasted so much of your life—” I breathe, letting my head hang on my shoulders as I pull away from his touch, his heat, the warmth I don’t deserve. Guilt is a dragon I will never ever learn to slay, a lion I will never ever learn to tame.

Tears well in my eyes and I think it’s so stupid—when did I become so emotional? I don’t like it.

“Jefferson’s right,” River quietly says, smiling down at me. “You are a little stupid.”

I laugh and rest my head against his chest.

“I’ve wasted nothing,” he tells me, and I believe every word of it. “I didn’t feel that way when I thought I was going to lose you to cancer, so what makes you think I’ll feel that way now? Every minute you’ve spent with me, Rosie has been the biggest honor anyone could have possible bestowed upon me.”

I shake my head. “I just feel so guilty.”

“Then you are stupid.”

“I’m . . . nothing,” I so quietly breathe.

A twinge of laughter permeates from deep within River, sending a delightful reverberation through my bones that I hold onto with everything I’ve got left.

I glance up at him to see what’s so funny.

“You’re nothing, Rosie?” River shakes his head and laughs—he actually laughs—and I want to freeze time and hold the sound of his happiness in my hands. “Yes. You are. You’re the nothing I see every single time I shut my eyes. You’re the nothing I think about when I pretend not to be. You’re the nothing I dream about every time I go to sleep. You’re the nothing I wish for every birthday. You’re . . . you’re right, Rosie. You’re absolutely right. You are nothing. You always will be.”

I kiss him and the world falls straight out of orbit.

This is love. This has to be love.

But Jessie . . . what I feel . . . what I’ve done . . .

“I only ever gave you scars,” I cry against his lips, my tears hot as they stream down my cheeks.

“And I will wear them with pride every single day of my life, so long as I shall live, Rosie. Because they were from you.”

River kisses me back and I no longer care if cancer stabs me in the back. Because nothing in the universe is strong enough to break the reality that is his lips on mine. Not the stars. Not the darkness in-between. Nothing.

This love is a hand at my throat and I hate how good it feels. This love is a figure eight that I never want to reach the end of. This love is absolutely everything I convinced myself it wasn’t.

Now regret cradles me the way only cancer has ever done.

He kisses me and I’m at the top of a tower looking down, unafraid. He kisses me and I’m about to jump with the wings he’s sewn from his words.

It’s like we’ve always had a plan laid out before us: we’ll be together until I’m dead. And now, out on the edge of anything and everything, I let the echoes of yesterday ricochet like bullets off the distant landscape, feeling the voices and the memories roll like thunder beneath my skin, free and unfettered, bound to nothing but the truth: we have no plan. But we’re here and we’re now and we have to let each other go. We have to let each other grow.

You have to let a bird go to see it soar.

You have to let the ground go if you want to see the stars.

You have to let go.

So I’m letting go. For the better.

I suppose the sad aspect of reality is that we find freedom in the little things—whispered words, sidelong glances, the smile of someone worth looking towards. The things most people take for granted. Everything I’ve spent my seventeen-years of life on this earth ignoring.

And now that I’ve seen the stars I’m too afraid to set foot back on the Earth.

“I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving you, Rosie Bryar,” River whispers, pulling away and dousing the fireworks between my teeth in the fire they desire to light. He kisses me and I taste the evanescence on his lips, but it’s not as heavy as I thought it’d be. “You’re like a butterfly who can’t see the beauty of her own wings. But everyone else can.”

I’m mortally wounded by the beautiful words on his tongue, and though they hold me captivated, as most disastrous things do, they also dangle me above the me I used to be—the me I was before I shattered and broke free.

“You made me beautiful,” I say to this perfect manifestation tearing me at the seams until I’m ripping, I’m ripping, I’m ripping so fast and I don’t know how to stop, I don’t know how to save myself.

But it’s true.

True to me. True to him.

True to us.

RiverBloome effortlessly commandeered my heart like the hunk of metal that it isand rode it straight to the stars and the vast, dark oblivion of my soul.

“You’ve turned my life upside down,” River whispers to me, “and I love the change in gravity.” And when these words leave his lips, bold and brave and brilliant with brevity, he lifts me up and spins me, and I hope he never lets me go.

“Stay with me,” I say to him when River pulls me back into his arms.

“I can’t.”

“Because life is stupid. And hard.”

“Life is supposed to be hard. Otherwise no one would try.”

“River . . .” I murmur.

“Rosie . . .” he breathes.

“If I don’t try . . . does that mean I can stay?” I whisper up to his smile.

River doesn’t say anything. He just holds me and I hold him, and I love how easily it is to melt back into the mold of my past-self. The me that made me who I’ve always wanted to be.

“I made it home because of you,” I tell him. I don’t care that my voice breaks. I don’t care that my legs shake. I don’t care that I can hardly breathe now that I’m supposed to. I don’t care about any of it so long as this night never ends. “I’m happy because of you—”

“And that’s all I’ve ever wanted, Rosie. For you to be happy.” River’s voice is firm; it grips me and it holds me and it keeps me grounded when all cancer ever wanted was to see me drift away.

“But how can I be happy without you?”

“The same way that you were in 1959,” he says. The words leave his lips like they’re hard to say; like they’re heavy and they’re hard and they want nothing more than to hurt him and cut me free but how can I be free when he’s still tethered to this town?

How can I breathe knowing I stole all the air from his lungs?

I can’t. I can’t. I CAN’T.

I shouldn’t want to. I shouldn’t need to.

But I have to.

Jessie is unforgettable. But he didn’t let me go. He desired his own happiness rather than mine; he pleaded for me not to go, to stay with him forever. And I wanted to. But River—River just looks happy to have had the chance to have loved me. He’s honored.

River is the embodiment of my past. The parts I never want to see burn. The parts that taught me that death comes for us all, healthy or not, fearless or not. But what we have is forever.

His eyes bleed into mine but they’re drenched in delight, and the warmth dilutes the pain that lies therein.

“I will never forget you,” he says, sending his whispers into the broken space that divides us. “But there’s a difference between searching for love and searching for happiness. And you need to go—go where you’ll be happy.”

Slurred. His words are slurred in my ears because I don’t want to hear them. I don’t want them to push me away like they’re doing—I don’t want them to save my life like River knows they will.

“Yes, you will,” I say, holding him the way he’s always held me. Not like I’m a glass about to shatter. Not like I’m made of cancer. Not like if he breathes too hard everything will come undone. But like I’m the last words of his favorite story. Like I’m unforgettable. “I know you will,” I tell him. “I’m nothing.”

River smiles, cradling me in the blue-green tides of his open eyes. “Right, Rosie. You’re nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Love is like an arm or a leg. Dawn before dusk. The sun before the rain. The rise before the fall. The heat before the cold.You don’t always notice how important it is until it’s gone.

Gone. Gone. Gone.


“So it happened right here,” River regretfully whispers to me several hours later. It’s raining, pouring actually, and I can’t help but lose myself in my attempts to discern the Bloome family home in 2015 from the Bloome family home in 1959.

We sit on his front porch and engorge ourselves onmeat pies, Bosco at our feetlooking like he’s been struck by lightning—he probably has been for all I know. But he’s ten times better than Esther,Jessie’s peculiar cat that liked to stare at me and follow me around. I think.

I shiver in the cold, pulling my jacket tighter around myself. “Yeah. Right there,” I murmur, pretending like this conversation isn’t capable of brutally destroying me. I lower my gaze. “I’m sorry—”

“Stop apologizing,” River says. Then, his eyes alight with wonder, “Was it raining?”

“Why does it matter,” I finally say with a sigh after a moment or two.

“Because,” River says, smiling. “The rain is romantic. And I want to know who was better.”

I stare, chewing hungrily. Nervously. Awkwardly. “Better?”

“Yeah. At kissing.”

I nearly choke on my meat pie. “Seriously?”

“I want to know. If you’re going to go live in some other time period for the rest of your life, I would at least like to know before you go who was a better kisser. Me or my grandfather?”

Such a weird thing to say.

“Besides,” he says, “you owe it to me for going off and falling in love while I waited here like a dog watching from the window, waiting for you to return.” The light in his eyes diminishes, but he lowers his head, and when he looks at me againthere is that familiar feigned amusement that often douses the pain of his smile.

“I didn’t fall in love,” I hastily reply, shaking my head from side to side. “I wish I couldtake it all back. I—I wish I can make you understand just how sorry I am—”

“I know how sorry you are, Rosie.” There’s truth in his eyes—in the depths of his blue-green gaze. “It still doesn’t change the fact that after today it’ll be like you don’t exist—like you’re not even alive.” Gone—the light fades from his eyes.

I shake my heavy, heavy head once more. “It’s not like I won’t visit,” I tell River, trying to worm my way out of these sentences piling up on top of me, threatening to bury me. “1866 isn’t that far away.”

“Still,” River persists. “I want to know.”

Damn it.

“Okay,” I say, obnoxiously eating my meat pie in front of his face, trying my best to break the tension. Then, gulping it down with a swig of lemonade—God, I love lemonade—I grab his face and quickly plant one right on his lips. Or, at least that’s what I intended to do. Before time stopped. And now I’m just not breathing. But I don’t care. Because if this is really the last time I’ll see River again, I want to be able to remember this.

We part after another few moments, and River’s left wide eyed and silent. I mirror the image but I snap back to life much quicker. Then, smiling at his frozen face, I lean in like I’m going to kiss him again, but instead whisper, “Definitely your grandfather.”

I give him a shove and tear off at a run out into the rain.

“Hey, you don’t really mean that!” he calls after me, chasing me beneath the crying sky.

I don’t know if I meant it or not. But it’s not something that matters anymore.

Jessie is just a memory I have to let go of. And soon River will be the same.But for nowI can just be me. I don’t have to worry about a curse. About my cancer. About losing everything that’s ever mattered to me.

“Rosie?! Rosie!”

I let my laughter fill the air until the light that once flooded the sky slowly begins to slip behind the distant hillsides, and I know it’s almost time for me to say goodbye.

We slow dance out on his front lawn, drenched from the rain, while his father sits on the porch and claps us on, singing songs that sound like they were written by cowboys. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I hold onto River for as long as I can before I have to let him go like I didJessie and the rest of the Bloomes in 1959.

Letting go of River is like letting go of the rope holding me above the darkness that’s always had it out for me. But it’s time I get a grip on something new. Something wonderful.

“This is Daisy,” River tells me at sunset, walking me down to where they’ve been keeping the horse they took in after the Christmas tornado ran rampant through the streets of Natchitoches. River watches me as I marvel at the beautiful creature before me. “Want to say goodbye the right way?”

I stare. “What? Ride into the sunset with my knight in shining armor?”

River smiles at me. “Something like that.”

He reaches out and takes my hand, and when I don’t protest, he guides it along the horse’s side, letting my fingers flow over the coat of silky hair; something about this reminds me of when Jessie took my hands and pressed them into the keys of his piano, but not nearly as heart-stopping. I smile at River and we stand like this, lost in each other’s eyes, stroking Daisy and pretending like the sun isn’t going down.

“Shall we?”

I don’t answer right away. Instead, I search the area around River’s house until I see it—something I’d always marveled at as a child, having spent mostly every day here at this house.

“I want to ride that,” I say, pointing.

River quirks an eyebrow. “Dad’s motorcycle?”

I nod.

“Everyone’s perfect fairytale ending,” he says with a stiff smile, winking at me. “Riding along on a metal death trap.”

“I’m not everyone,” I quietly say.

“You are to me.”

I freeze. And bite my lip. And do everything in my power not to respond.

“Let’s go,” River says.

“Your dad won’t mind?”

“If I have to look back on this day for the rest of my life, Rosie, I don’t want to have to wonder what could have been.” He grabs my hand and leads me away from the horse. “I want to remember this day until my last. Doing the one thing I know you’ve always wanted to do.”

“You knew I wanted to ride it?” I ask.



“You always used to stare at it,” River replies, letting his gaze wander over the rusty bike half-hidden beneath a sky-blue tarp; when he looks at me, his eyes rove mine, bright and steady, almost like spotlights searching a stage for its star. “Like you used to stare at me.”

I grit my teeth against these words.

These d e s t r u c t i v e words.

Don’t reply, I tell myself. Don’t say anything.

“Ready?” he asks me, drawing me closer.

I smile and gently nod. “I was ready ten years ago.”


River removes the tarp from the motorcycle and I help him stand it up; frost glistens on its metal, cool against my skin where I touch it. The radiating glow of the sun tiptoes across its surface, and something about the eddying refraction of light reminds me of how the light glistened on the water of the lake when Jessie taught me how to swim so long ago . . .

I wait for River to swing his leg over before hopping on behind him, holding tight to his jacket.

River turns the key in the ignition and the machine revs to life beneath us; a tremor goes through me, a shiver of apprehension, and I part my lips to tell River that I’ve changed my mind. That I don’t want to do this anymore. But River simply looks at me, really looks at me, and then he kisses me like nothing’s changed between us. Like I never time traveled. Like I never cheated on him with his Grandfather. Like a day hasn’t passed since he told me he loved me.

Because after today none of it will matter.

After today, we both start again. And he knows that.

“Ready?” River asks again.

I nod. “Ready.”

And then we’re gone. He leans forward, his back arched, and the motorcycle zooms down the gravel driveway and through the shadows supplied by the looming trees.

I tightly grip River as we shoot forward like a star across the night sky, and trepidation takes a seat on my lungs in these moments. But I let it—sometimes the most fun comes from the strongest sense of fear. It’s . . . it’s thrilling.

I laugh as all the air in the world presses against me—

And I learn to fly. Finally. After all this time.

There’s a fine line between reality and fantasy, between silence and sound. But on the back of a speeding motorcycle, the wind splaying my short scarlet ringlets behind us like ripples in our wake, everything seems to blend together; chaos collides with peace, disaster crashes head-on into perfection. It’s indescribable; words are unable to capture the enraptured bliss of entangled color and the captivation of crescendo. Where veins of sorrow weave across my skin, the fire beneath crackles and stirs, and the lightning in my heart draws a smile to my lips, leaving me torn—torn between the beauty and the horror of the mechanical stallion carrying me ever-deeper into the world I’ve never truly trusted myself with.

I ride with my arms tightly wrapped around River’s waist as we rush down the nearly deserted roadways, dodging car after car like blurs of illusion. My eyes helplessly wander to the sky where rain clouds thickly gather, jaggedly billowing together like opaque puzzle pieces.

The rev of the engine engenders a bubbly laugh from my throat that not even the wind can contain; when I know I’m stable, my legs locking me in place, I relax the tension in my arms and raise them at my sides like I’m a bird and the world is a swatch of flypaper I’m only just learning to escape.

For one of the first times in my entire life I feel beautiful. All the briars have spilled from my hair and the thorns have loosened from my smile, releasing all the ugliness of my shadow into the blunt of daylight stretching across the horizon. My short hair is a fire in the wind, darkly dancing, and I no longer feel cold, ashamed, lost and alone; I no longer feel like the world is a weight on my chest, wondering when I’ll give it the answer it’s looking for.

I hold onto the sky with my eyes, the deep and guttural growl of the motorcycle the only thing tethering me to earth. I don’t look down until we’ve left the more urban part of Natchitoches behind and flown to where the streets wind around pillaring copses of trees and looming houses, untouched and clean. Not many cars dime the marred pavement and very few motorcycles stand at slants beside uplifted sidewalks, but the ones that do appear frozen in time, a fine layer of unscathed snow covering everything.

White picket fences and black iron gates encircle flats of dew-covered grass and straits of stony gray marble, reaching across plotted land to where the shadows of balconies stretch. The entire town looks completely still as River and I soar through the sunlit beauty of it all.

I remember how I used to see this town. As fatal. Cancerous. Now I see it for what it really is. A home. Maybe not to me, but to those who find comfort in its open plains and quiet streets. And maybe it will be a home to me. Maybe not in this time period, but perhaps the next. Or, rather, the last.

When the day passes by like the clouds overhead, River takes us off-roading; we ride out into the nearby pastures and bask in the glow of the conflagration burning a hole in the atmosphere above, painted to perfection with flames of pink and red and ivory; sunset’s woven through the dark-blue firmament set beneath Heaven’s open doors like a carpeted stairwell leading back to Hell on Earth. And I can’t take my eyes off of it.

The warmth is breathtaking.

I sit with my arms looped around River’s waist, and I rest my head against his back, remembering all those years when he was my best friend. No more. No less. Back when cancer was just a crack in my flesh and not the final blow that I always expected would destroy me.

The comforting groan of the engine helps to scare away any thoughts of tonight, when the day must come to an endand I will take my leave of this world like a flightless bird with an agenda. Lost in a reverie of flight and distance, of sunshine through clouds and stars in a matte-black sky, I hold River and smile at all that has come to pass—at all that I have overcome to get to where I am today—and I don’t let fear ruin my final night in the twenty-first century.

We drive on, and whether River knows it or not—though I suspect he does—I turn time about us so that we crisscross in between this century and the last, racing through the seasons until leaves fall like raindrops, and the summer sun melts away every shiver running down my bones like spiders.

“I’m going to miss you,” River whispers over his shoulder, and when our eyes meet I feel his heartbeat, originally pulsating to the same tune as my own, skip a beat.

I think of lifting my head to respond but there’s no point. He already knows I’m going to miss him more than the sky misses the sun during nightfall. For now, there’s nothing left for me to do but hold on and pretend like I won’t be perfectly fine if I slip away; like River’s hand is the only thing keeping me above the water that’s no longer threatening to drown me.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy as I am in this moment. The sun hot on my back. My arms around River. The explosive inferno of the evening expanse above, beautiful and gilded like the pages of a book.

“I love you, Rosie Bryar,” River says. But he doesn’t say it to me. He says it to the sky, to the clouds, and to the birds that aimlessly circumnavigate the atmosphere. He says it to the motorcycle, to the fields of grain, and he says it to the cold breeze on the back of my neck. He says it like it’s a promise. An oath.

I don’t say a word. I don’t need to. Ever.

We come to a sudden stop in the center of anything and everything, and I can’t help but balk at the sunlit knolls and shadow-splayed hummocks of the near-distance, the Louisiana plains stretching out all around us like a battlefield of golden sunlight and green, green grass; birds dance above our heads, hovering as they sing their lilting songs, and I smile up at them as they soar this way and that, searching the heavens for that lonesome isolation I’ve only really ever known.

“I’m glad we never ran away,” River whispers to me when we slip off the bike and saunter over the sea of emerald I’ve never wanted so badly to lay down in.

I stare into those sea-green irises of his. “What do you mean?”

“We always talked about leaving this place one day. When you got better.”

“Those weren’t plans,” I whisper, “that was a dream.”

“To you,” he says.

Yes, to me.

“I always knew you’d find a way, Rosie.” He smiles that smile I know he knows I love, and when I grin, he drops his gaze; he reaches out and takes my arm, and his fingers tiptoe down my flesh, lingering over the tattoo that still sweeps to my wrist. “This will fade, won’t it?”

I nod my head. “That’s what Jefferson told me.”

“Damn,” he says, clicking his tongue. “I think it kind of suits you, Rosie Bryar.” He brushes my cheek with his thumb, and I raise my hand to brush it away but he catches me and smiles. “Just let me look at you a little longer, okay?”

Because this is it, he doesn’t say. Because this is the last time we’ll see each other again, he doesn’t say.

I drop my hand to my side and flick my eyes up to his.

“I like you with short hair,” he tells me. “You look—”

“I don’t care how I look,” I softly say. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“You never did care about appearances.”

“I didn’t care because I thought I was ugly,” I say. “Now I know that I’m not.”

“A little cocky, are we?” he laughs, and I can’t help but join him.

“Shut up,” I tell him, wrapping my arms around River’s torso and letting my hands slip down to his back, forcing the distance between us to obliterate like the fear that once so easily coated my skin. I lean up to kiss him and he leans down, his lips hovering over mine.

“You always did have a way with words,” River breathes.

“I also have a way with my fist,” I whisper up to him, shutting my eyes as I draw his lips down to meet mine.

And then.

And then.

And then.

Something truly magical happens.

A golden light surrounds us like another layer of skin, dancing along our flesh and our clothing until we stand like two candles guttering in the breeze; I see myself in River’s eyes, my reflection cast so brightly, and I study the way my rose-red hair elongates and becomes a tangle of flames above my head—

A heavy breeze cuts through the meadow and I’m lifted up into the air like the sac of bones my body’s always been weighs no more than a balloon; River’s hand remains in mine as I glide three feet above the ground, invisible hands pulling me towards the sky.

“What’s happening to me?” I apprehensively ask River, throwing my quavering voice down to him as I rise, the light emanating from our skin growing evermore intense, like two heartbeats thrumming to the same discordant beat; I strain to see him through the brilliant radiancetethering me to him, and even through the harsh glow, his facial features limned in age-old light, I can’t help but see the boy I’ve always known—the boy that was my friend, my best friend, not whatever we’ve become.

“You’re . . . Rosie, you’re changing!” he quietly exclaims.

“Changing into what?” I wonder, struggling to keep a hold on his hand as the wind forces me away. I dig my nails into his flesh until a flash of pain glints in River’s eyes, but he doesn’t let me go—he doesn’t let me go. He keeps holding on, even when his feet leave the ground below, and he follows me up, up, up into the open expanse above; he doesn’t let me go, even when I’m not the same girl I used to be.

And then.

A surge of lightning passes through me—that same electric current that zip-zaps beneath the surface of who I am whenever I time travel, but this time I don’t go anywhere—this time I stay because this feeling inside my chest makes up my wings, my glowing-golden wings, and I’ve finally learned to stay. But I can’t stay—and River knows it.

I wasn’t born to die. I was born—I was born for the same reason as everyone else. To live. Now. Today.

A beautiful smile passes over River’s face, great and prodigious like nothing I’ve ever seen before; there’s a twinkle in his eyes, a glint of happiness and sorrow mixed together in the deep of the sun-dazzled blue-green. And he does let me go. So easily. Like he knows what he’s doing.

My hand slips through his.





My stomach does summersaults inside of me as I go, my flesh gleaming ever-brighter; River, still set ablaze with whatever this enchanting light is, lands on his heels and falls back, rolling in the grass, still smiling—always smiling.

I catch River’s eyes from such an unfamiliar distance, and I can’t help but wistfully follow the strands of luminosity gleaming therein, the innocence of the softly roiling waves in the ocean of his gaze enlivened by the angelic hue painting this masterpiece that has become him and I.

But everyone knows paintings are worth more after you’re gone. It’s like the light of day, if you really think about it; it’s always there, the colors always warm and blooming, bright and perfect and real for you and everyone around you to see, but you don’t know what you’ve lost until it’s already slipped through your fingers and the veil of darkness holds you tight—so tight.

River is a painting—a work of art—that I’ve never fully understood until this very moment; the color in his eyes, cool and sweet and warm like honey, have always been there to take me and hold me and douse me in the waters of his soul and wash away the pain blooming from the surface of my skin.They’ve always been there—they’ve never changed—but here I am, rising above it all. Here I am, for the first time seeing that I am who I am because I was a shadow and River gave me a light to see in the dark. And that’s it.

There’s no such thing as magic, I remember telling Jessie, myself. But I was wrong. So wrong. Because I was faded—molding with the darkness of oblivion—and River got me out. River never let me go. Until now—until I needed him to.

I study my hands as I rise another few feet, noticing how each and every imperfect line and hollow undulation in my skin glimmers with golden light; I radiate, a star rising into the sky, and I’ve never felt so—warm.

“You’re . . . you’re—” River begins, but he never ever finishes that sentence. But maybe it’s for the better. Maybe I no longer need someone to tell me exactly what I am.

Because I know what I am.

I am happy.

I am invincible.

I am not afraid.

My hair is no longer as short asit had been moments before, but long and curling like a rose on fire, glowing in the breeze; I lean back and stifle a laugh as my body does a flip, rotating in the wind, gliding up, up, up to the clouds above my head.

Weightless. Thoughtless. But not selfless—never selfless; I covet this light the way that I once, and possibly still do, desire Jessie’s music, but I want it all for myself because that’s just the person that I am. Greedy.

I’ve spent my entire life feeling so empty.

Is it wrong to wish to be full? Fully full?

No, I tell myself. It’s not, I tell myself. It can’t be, I tell myself.

I don’t get more than a few feet higher before the intensity of the light peaks, and a flash tears through me like sunshine through shattered glass, igniting the world around me. For no longer than a moment, I’m suspended above it all, marveling at the world I’ve come to know, so, so, so still here in the sky. As still as a star.

For a split second, segregated from anything and everything I’ve ever known and thought, I’m as still as I promised myself I’d never be again—I’m as still as that girl with cancer watching from the window, waiting for something to jumpstart her heart the way that life tends to do when we least expect it.

And then I drop. I sink.

And I plummet.

And I shoot across the sky. Like I’ve always told myself I might. And, as quick as day turns to night, the world rises to greet me, rushing up from down below.

Gravity, my old friend, I think as my heart lands in my throat, and I swallow it back down with the echo of lightning still racing across my tongue like flexible fire furiously fighting to get away. To break free.


I. Just. Keep.








to the earth like rain.And I know I’m going to crash. I know what’s coming. Cancer and the reality of death’s impending strike has prepared me for this expected chaos, this oblivion I’ve been suspended above. But I’m not holding my breath anymore. And I’m not about to lose sight of what I’ve found. Not after all this time. Not after all I’ve been through.

I am not afraid. Not anymore.

So I close my eyes.


And River catches me like I’m just another star in a twilit sky we can’t see; I fall back against him, and the force of my fall sends River sprawling, carrying me as we collapse to the ground. I roll out of his grasp and onto my side, and his smile lands beside mine, bright and beautiful and glowing like the moon at night.

I feel a sudden burst of heat, like too-hot sunlight on my flesh, and I glance down to find that the markings on my arm are fading in and out, shadows rippling in the light, almost like they’re breathing; the dark blue of the supernatural ink rolls beneath the surface of who I am, losing its color and blending with the snow-white of my skin. And then they vanish altogether, the flowers and the thorns that once ran across my soul now gone—gone like yesterday.

True love’s kiss, I can’t help but think inside my head.

“Maybe Jefferson was wrong,” I whisper, staring down at my forearm. “Maybe I . . . maybe I was cursed.” I shake my head. “But it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s over.”I smile and drop my hand back to the ground, my eyes focused on the sky. “But can we do that last part again?” I add with a pretty little laugh.

“Do what again?” River quietly wonders. His eyes crinkle into confusion when he looks into my eyes, and before I can memorize the contours of his smile, it fades—the light just . . . blinks out. “Who are you?”

Three words. These three words. They wound me in a way that’s unexplainable.

“What?” I say, narrowing my eyes. “Don’t joke around with me, River,” I growl, rolling closer to him; I wrap my arms around him and hold him tight, and when I lean in to kiss him, he says:

“I don’t know who you are.”

“Don’t play games,” I murmur. “Not now—”

“Games?” He stares at me like he’s never seen me in his entire life—like I’m a . . . a stranger. And I hate that—I hate that because of all the ghosts in this world, I’ve never ever wanted for River to become one. Even if I am leaving. It’s just not right.

“River?” I lean closer, look deeper.

And. He. Pulls. Away.

So. Slowly.

“River?” I flinch from his grasp and rise to my feet faster than I knew was possible; my bones vibrate with a newfound strength, a power I don’t fully understand—a power I might never understand. It comes off of me in waves, radiating like sunlight.

“That’s my name,” he quietly says, roving his eyes over my body. When his eyes flick to mine, he says, “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what’s going on.” Panic flashes before his eyes, and he looks past me. “Is that my dad’s bike?”

“Yes, but—”

“What is it doing here?” a suddenly frazzled stranger says to me. “My dad will kill me if he knows I took it!” He runs his hands through his short hair. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but I have to get home.” He moves to the bike and gets on. “Do you need a ride?”

I didn’t think I’d ever feel this breathless again.

I stare at River—I stare straight into those beautiful eyes of his—but there’s no sign of recognition in his gaze; no sign that he knows who I am or who I was or what we went through.

No sign of his love for me.

Tears sting my eyes and my throat, and I can hardly form a single thought, much less a sentence.

“No,” I manage. I drop my head.

I don’t know what to think. To say. To do.

“Okay,” he says. “Well . . . goodbye—”

“Don’t go.” Two words. They leave my quivering lips like a spell; River’s back goes rigid and he stares at me, his eyes wide. “Please,” I repeat, the word broken before it even reaches my tongue. “Don’t leave me like this.”

A blank stare. “What are you talking about?” A bored question.“I offered you a ride.” An empty statement.

“I don’t want a fricking ride, River,” I nearly scream, doing everything in my power to keep from breaking down. “I don’t want to leave you like this.” Tears. Hot, heavy tears begin to spill down my cheeks. “Not like this,” I whisper, shaking my head from side to side.

It’s only when I look back into his eyes that I see that all the familiar light—all the painful, beautiful, glorious memories in his smile, his gaze—has faded from existence. Gone. Poof.

“O-okay,” River says, quirking an eyebrow as he reluctantly swings himself off his father’s bike. He stands, staring at me, clearly contemplating whether or not he should turn and run, or remain another moment longer; and then he looks away, like the sight of me is too much for him to bear.

That same strong, glorious wind presses into us, and for a moment River’s the same boy he’s always been, perfect in every single way to me; his eyes are bright and glowing a color green that I know doesn’t really exist, and when I smile, so does he.

River moves to my side in one swift stride, wrapping me in his arms like he’s always done.

“I don’t want to go. Not when you don’t remember.”

“You have to,” he tells me.

I stare through the tears blurring my vision. “What?”

“Go,” River suddenly says, pulling me into his embrace and squeezing me tight. “You have to.” I don’t want to. “You don’t belong here anymore.” I want nothing more than to belong with you. “You’re safer with Jefferson.” I’m perfectly safe in your arms

Jefferson. He remembers Jefferson. He remembers me.

I hold him tight until I feel like I’m going to cry.

“Go,” River repeats, his hold on me loosening.

I slowly shake my head. “But—”

“You deserve so much better, Rosie Bryar,” River smiles. “You always have.”


Don’t do this to me.

Don’t let me go.


This is whatJessie must have felt.

Destroyed. Deflated. Devastated.

This feeling is detrimental.

River, slow to do so, lets me go and turns on his heels, and when I call his name, my voice broken in my throat, he keeps walking—walking back to his father’s bike, where he stops; he swings his leg over the motorcycle and settles down into a sitting position, and he meets my eyes one final time beneath the sunlit expanse above. And he smiles—he smiles so brightly.

“Go, Rosie,” River whispers to me, and his words blast me back until I’m screaming on the inside, almost screaming on the outside. He glances away, looking up through the shredded clouds to where the stars will soon ignite the darkness of the night—at our stars—before looking back into my eyes. “Celebrate your life.”

I’m standing here. Alive. But I’m not breathing. Not really.


But it’s too late.

The wind blows a third time. And he vanishes.

All the familiarity in his face . . . poofs.

“Goodbye, Rosie,” he says to me.

And in the seconds before he drives off into the world I finally understand, I see him contemplate why my name came so easily to his tongue.

“Goodbye,” I say to the dust rising in his wake, to the engine growling beneath the setting sun. “Goodbye,” I say to the heat on my skin, the warmth of River’s body beside mine. “Goodbye,” I say to the friendship that lasted seventeen years, the love that will last forever—and I watch the horizon as the memories run rampant in the sun, waiting for the day when they’ll come back to me again.

I feel my knees begin to quaver beneath me and my voice catches in my throat, trapping all the words I never had the chance to say—all the words I had every chance to say but was too afraid to.

The clouds gather and it begins to pour, but light still sifts through patches in the cloud-cover, shining down on the Louisiana plains.

I remain, standing in the rain for many minutes, left alone to wonder what just happened. With the light. And the disappearance of my markings. And—and River.

“I love you,” I say to the rain, letting my eyes fall shut.

I hold the memory ofRiver’s gaze in my mind as I crumple to my knees, sinking down to the world below; it remains with me like a beautiful scar upon my flesh, or a tattoo upon my heart—I feel it in me, pulsating with my stone-cold heart.

It’s indelible.


I turn time around myself so that night has fully fallen on Natchitoches, Louisiana, and when the stars watch me from above, I rematerialize on the front steps of the Bloome estate.

I look through the window in the wall and smile at what I find—River, lounging on his couch with Bosco in his lap, and his father beside him, smiling and talking with an arm wrapped around his shoulder.

I want to knock on the door.

I want to walk in and spoil it.

Because no matter what anyone says I am still the selfish girl I’ve always been—the selfish girl I’ll always be.

But something inside me freezes my hand before it knocks against the wood of their front door; I stare at myself, at my reflection in the window, and I’m startled by my decision.

I drop my hand to my side and I force myself to turn around—the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do.

Memories have the potential to destroy us.

And here I am. Destroyed. Inside and out.

So I turn. And I leave everything I’ve ever told myself I want in life in my wake, like ripples in the ocean, drifting on toward a different tide.

I’m surprised to find that after all this time, like a crack of thunder left to echo following a storm, I run out into the field and race into the rain, and I can still hear the sound ofJessie’s piano calling me back to it.

I feel it in my ears, on my skin, my heart, and I need to break these chains keeping me so still; these beautiful and deceiving shackles refraining me from living my life to the fullest. Because I’ve learned how to break. And I’ve learned how to break free. Now it’s time I learn to fly—fly away from yesterday.

Memories have the potential to destroy us.

River said to me.

Love? Yes, Ma’am, love is a curse. A weapon with the potential to destroy.

Evelyn said to me.

Love is our biggest downfall, Rosie, and it’s turning you into a disaster.

Mother said to me.

Sagacity and stupidity balance on the same thread. I’d take care not to let it fray.

Jefferson said to me.

I hear everything they told me over and over again in one jumbled mess until I feel their words begin to run down my skin with the rain, washing away the dirt and grime of yesterday, cleansing me as I make my transition into my new life, my future.

My sundress whirls around me as I kneel down in the mud. I place my fingers on the earth and glance up at the Bloome estate, grand and weathered after all these years; I imagine River standing on the veranda, his smile cast down at me like sunshine from above, and I can’t help but smile.

Slowly, slowly, time begins to turn around me, and the rain pelting my skin fades away, and the grass grows and dies, and the sun goes away and the snow falls and the wind turns, and the flowers sprout once more, rising with a new dawn. Time passes so slowly. So, so slowly. But I let it. Because I’m like a child playing on the beach, sifting sand through my fingers because it’s warm and soft and I like the way it makes me see things differently, like each grain is a day I took for granted worrying about tomorrow.

I look down at my hands on the ground, and when I glance back up, I’m in 1959 again. The mud beneath me has turned to grass, and the house before me looks freshly painted and bright, and the daylight on my back is fiercer—it must be summer by now.

I wonder how many weeks have gone by since I left them.

Billy Bloome sits on the front porch in threadbare overalls, one strap broken, and a straw hat rests upon his head, tipped down to shade his eyes; he smokes a cigarette and whittles a stick into the shape of a bird with a dull knife; leisurely, in a rhythmic manner that tells me this is what Billy must do in his spare time,he brushes the shavings off of the steps and onto the dirt with his bare, wrinkled old feet, and he doesn’t notice my presence for quite some time—time that I take to examine the state of things.

“What’s the significance of the bird?” I wonder.

Billy doesn’t jump. He doesn’t look shocked, either, when he finally lifts his head to look at me—I wonder if he knew I was here this entire time.

He waves to me and I smile.“You’re back,” he says, no hint of surprise in his voice.

“No,” I whisper, making my way back across the lawn. He watches me as I slowly grow closer, clearly dismayed at my sudden reappearance. But not shocked. Never shocked. “I’m not.”

Billy nods his head. He rests the woodcarving and the knife on his lap, staring at them for a moment or two with a severe expression that I don’t understand; he blows a puff of smoke into the air, savoring the smoldering plume that leaves his lips. “I like birds,” he softly intones in that gruff voice I grew to love. “Birds see the world differently, I done think. I dunno—guess I jest think it ironic that these winged creatures,” he says, holding up the woodcarving, “risk their lives to see what all the hubbub is down on earth, and all we ever seem to want to do is go higher.” He motions with his chin to the sky, and I follow his gaze to a low flying plane circumnavigating the wending clouds above our heads, glinting in the afternoon sunshine. “‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest’,” Billy adds, wistfully gazing up at the sky. “I’ve always had a hunger for flight, I suppose.”

“You belong down here on Earth. The people here still need you.” I try to smile but all I see when I look into his eyes is Jessie. “But ‘look at the birds of the air’,” I whisper to him. “‘They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them’.” I pause. “Maybe you’ll get your fill before your time is up, Mr. Bloome.” I tell him.

“You quote the Bible like it means something to you.”

It’s not a question.

“Maybe it’s starting to.”

I hear my name quietly uttered in question from just inside the doorway of the home, and whatever Billy is about to say dies on his lips with the glint of longing so evidently focused on the clouds above.

Mary stands in the open doorway, staring down at me from the steps. Her hair is still damp from a bath and a snow-white dress hangs from her still-young shoulders; onyx-colored shoes glint in the sunlight, dark compared with the lightness of the gown.

“What are you doing here?” she wonders.

“I’m doing what someone should have done a long time ago,” I say, flashing a brief smile over at Mary. She nods her head but doesn’t say anything, and I’m relieved—I know that if she says anything I’m just going to get pulled back into their lives. But I can’t be. I have to let them all go.

“Hand it over,” I say to Billy, holding my hand out to him. He quirks an eyebrow, momentarily confused, but then he understands, and with one last quick puff of his cigarette, Billy stamps it in the dirt and places it in my hand.

“Jest like Evelyn,” he groans, though there’s a lightness to his eyes that tells me he’s happy with how I’ve turned out.

“There are better things to do with your life,” I tell him, holding my hand out a second time.

Billy sighs. He retrieves a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his overalls and places it into my hand, and when I don’t retract my hand, he places two more on my palm.

“Good,” I whisper. “There’ll be no more of this,” I tell him, waving the packs of cigarettes in my hands.

“Rosie?” Evelyn appears in the doorway beside Mary.

“Here,” I tell her, walking up the steps and placing each of the packs in her hands. “Do what you will with these,” I say before she can speak. And when I descend the steps once more, spinning in the wind, I slowly walk backwards into the field. “You’ve helped me in more ways than I count,” I tell them, “so I wanted to help you, even if it will never compare.”

Evelyn nods her head, slowly.

And then.


I glance over at Billy, who reaches into his pocket and takes out yet another pack of cigarettes. He throws it to the ground before the steps and stomps a foot down on it, crushing it into the dirt.

I smile and nod.

“I know what it’s like to live like you’re dying,” I whisper. “But we have a lifetime to make something of ourselves. A lifetime to live like we belong.” I glance from Mary to Evelyn, and back to Billy. “Don’t waste what you have. Not when you have a choice.”

I turn away and let my hands fall to my sides—

“Rosie, wait!” Mary shouts. I close my eyes.

And I turn back around.

“Jest hold on, okay?” She runs back into the house, leaving Evelyn and Billy and I to stare after her; I can’t help but contemplate whether or not I should vanish before Mary returns and save myself the trouble of being sucked back in again, or remain and succumb to the fact that I’m simply not destined to live without these people in my life.

Too late.

Mary returns only a few moments later, clutching a few sheets of loose-leaf paper between her hands. “Here,” she says, holding the papers out to me. “Jessie would want ya to have this.”

I stare down at the papers and smile.

It’s Jessie’s piano music, I quickly realize, noticing the way a scattering of music notes sprawls across the yellowed parchment, dancing like the butterflies in my belly. And at the top of one of the papers, scrawled in beautiful calligraphy, are the words: Roses Are Red, and beneath them:

For Rosie~

I’m sorry I couldn’t teach you how to fly away, but some lifetimes are worth sticking around for . . . and sometimes you just need to start all over again.

I glance up and watch as all the breath in my lungs vanishes with the guilt inside my chest, and I stare into Mary’s eyes. I hold tightly to the music sheets in my arms, clutching them against the wind.

“What about when he comes back?” I ask Mary.

She shakes her head. “He ain’t comin back, Rosie.” She lets her head drop, and I hate that I’m the reason that it hangs so low. So, so low. “An I don’t think it matters anymore. Th’ song is yers. Even if it didn’t start out that way, he finished it cuz of ya.” Mary smiles and glances up to meet my eye. “It’s yers.”

I look down once more at the papers in my hands.

Roses Are Red, I think to myself.

“Thank you,” I say at last, stepping back.

They each smile to me in turn, and I hold the memories of them in my hands, never to be forgotten.

Time spins around me once again, and I vanish.

I smile against the breeze that presses into me, and when I look aroundI recall two different lives I’ve lived. Both good and bad. Both cancerous and fatal. Both beautiful. So I close my eyes and I hold them in my hands like they’re the parts of me I’m terrified of losing. But when I open them again, my eyes spread wide, I see the life I’ll spend the rest of my days living, and every single piece of my past slips through my fingers like water, washing my touch clean of my mistakes.

And I let the shards of yesterday gather at my feet.


It’s no surprise that despite the storm that ravished our city, the church nearest to my house remains standing. It looms atop the same grassy knoll as it did in 1959, dark and brooding like a judgmental fist—so much to the point that I think about turning around upon approaching the steps.

But I don’t.

Because fear is stupid. And I’ve made a mental oath never to do stupid things ever again.

So here I am. Walking up the hill.

Families have already begun gathering in the pews; they look around at one another with smiles scrawled across their faces, and when I enter, they turn and stare at me—and they smile and wave me in. And this dark and brooding building instantly becomes the brightest place I’ve ever known.

I don’t speak to anyone upon entering, but take a seat in the very last row and fold down the cushioned wooden beam for kneeling; I rest my knees and clasp my hands together before me, and I don’t care that I recognize some of the faces in this room and they’re watching me, studying me.

After all, I am still supposedly reported MIA.

I hang my head and say:

“I don’t know how many breaths I’ve taken in my life,” I say out loud, “but I know I would have taken a lot fewer if you hadn’t answered my call—if you hadn’t stepped in.” I pause. I open my eyes once more. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” I say, letting my hands slide to my sides; I glance up at the ceiling. “I thought this would be easier—but the fact is I don’t know if I believe in you. I just know that I prayed and suddenly my life miraculously changed for the better.” I raise my hand to tuck a strand of my scarlet hair behind my ear, and I smile, laughing to myself. “But I also know that I don’t care. Real or not real. I believe in change. I believe that things will get better.”

Evelyn Bloome’s words come back to me now.

Despite what we may go through in life, an no matter the hardships that plague us with internal and external war, God has a way of makin it up to us in the end, dear Rosie, an don’t ya forget it.

I didn’t forget it. I still won’t.

Slowly, after another few seconds, I hesitantly rise to my feet and make my way over to the door, leaving all the watching faces in my wake. When I reach the entrance, just as I’d done the last time I’d entered this building, I turn back and look around. “Thank you,” I whisper to the ceiling; to the man beyond the curtain. “I don’t know if you’ll ever be real to me—but my life will never be the same. And I know I didn’t do this on my own.” I wink. “And if you are real, God, I’ll worship you until the day I die. I’ll worship your holy name,I swear to you, and I won’t stop until I’ve reached the morning light.”

Morning light. That’s what Mother always called Heaven when I was still just a child—a place of eternal light that dispelled every spot of darkness from the souls lucky enough to breach its walls.

I suddenly recall what Billy Bloome told me not long ago.

We love cuz God first loved us.

“Rose,” someone says, and I turn. I stiffen.

A girl from my school stands before me. I know her name, her family, her phone number, what her favorite flower is; I know more things than I should about this random stranger and she doesn’t even know my name.

I wonder if she thinks my last name is Cancer.

She looks me up and down, from head to toe, an eyebrow quirked as she says, “It’s really brave of you to come here and say those things. To let everyone”—she spreads her arms in a wide, obnoxious arc to represent everyone in the room—“hear just how thankful you are that God—”

“Two things,” I interject, stepping up really close so that my face is right in front of hers; I see myself reflected in her eyes like a mirror, and I can’t help stir with excitement at what I’ve become. “One: My name is Rosie Bryar, not Rose. Two: There’s a difference between bravery and what I’ve done.You’d be wise not to forget that.” I smile at the taste of Jefferson’s words on my lips.

And I go.

I spin on my heels and raise my hands above my head, and without moving to open the great and bulkydouble doors of the church, I wrap time about my fingers and spin it around myself until I walk through it like a portal and vanish in front of no less than thirty people.

Poof. No longer tethered to this reality, no longer a ghost forced to haunt in the stillness of the shadows. I’m free—and I’m going to act like it.

That same lightning that’s become a part of me strikes my bones and ignites my heart and soul, and I swallow back the euphoria that’s gathered on my lips, shiver at the exhilaration climbing my spine like a ladder.

My head is full of thoughts when I land, and I’m torn right open so that all the festering questions in my heart topple out onto the ground at my feet—I want to kick them aside, pretend they don’t exist, but it can’t be done. They have a hold on me that can’t be ignored.

But these cracks keep c o m i n g.


I wonder.

Have I changed? Or is it just this world that’s changed?

Stupid question. Of course I’ve changed.

It’s actually funny how much we tell ourselves the world changes around us, when, in all reality, we’re the ones that change; we’re the ones who either grow stronger or get weaker because of that which has stood in our way, the ones who either end up happy or shrivel up inside. And I am happy—I mean . . . I will be. Soon. I will be happy. I know I will.

I have changed. And I love myself for doing so.

I break w i d e open.

And I can’t stop. These cracks. From shattering me. But that’s okay. Because. The light has to get in somehow. And save me. From myself. And. From these questions:

Was Jefferson right? Did I ever love River? OrJessie? Or did I just love the way they made me feel? The way they made me bloom? Will I ever love them? Was I ever really happy with either? Could I have been happy?

I don’t think I could have ever stayed with Jessie. Not when all I ever was to him and all I ever would be was a reflection of the girl he’d lost. But with River—with the stranger I once called my best friend—could I have made it work?

I don’t think I know what love is yet. I think I’ve got a taste. But not the full thing. And I want to find it—I don’t want to be hungry anymore. And I want to find it where I belong. In my own time period. My own home.

I know now that I’ll be happy. On my own.

Because I’ve always been on my own, really.

Self-reliance can take you to some far-out places.

Mother always warned me not to fall in love. I thought it was pointless. I fall off of, over,and into things each and every day. I’m clumsy as all hell—actually,I’m not clumsy at all. And I don’t run into walls. Sometimes they just look like they could use a hug . . . with my face—so there was no preparing me for this. For that. For what’s become of me and yesterday and tomorrow.

Today is all that matters now.

It’s funny how I almost traded my happiness for comfort. Actually, it’s not funny at all. But I know now that I will never ever make that mistake again.So long as I’m alive.

So long as the sky doesn’t fall.

And so long as roses are red and violets are blue.

My name is Rosie Bryar. Welcome to mydaydream.


She had cancer. Before she died.

That’s what River told people when they asked, and he was sort of relieved to find that not too many people did ask what happened to the infamous Rosie Bryar. It was sad, really, that he was one of only a few that actually had the chance to know her like he did. But in a way it was sort of beautiful, knowing that someone as kind and wonderful as Rosie spread her grace amongst the few, rather than be absorbed by the many.

There were many nights where River didn’t sleep in which he contemplated whether or not he’d done the right thing all those years ago in pretending to have forgotten Rosie Bryar. Many nights he’d find himself drenched in sweat, sick at the thought that she was out there somewhere, living a life in which she believed River to have forgotten her.

But he didn’t. He never could.

So he’d spent every day of the last four years wondering if he’d made the right decision. He hoped he had. He wished on every star in the night sky that he had. Every night.

“Was she happy when she died?” The question was stupid.

“She was,” he constantly said in response, always convinced that she was.

Today was the hardest day in history for River Bloome, and he always knew it would be. The funeral was arranged by himself and his Great Aunt Mary, who often spoke to River of Rosie in the four years that had come to pass.

It was a beautiful occasion, sure. The funeral home smelt of old lady perfume and death, and rows of chairs and couches were set up before an uplifted stage where a single finely carved casket gleamed beneath a dozen roses. People Rosie never even knew hovered above the empty box where a body should have been, and they cried; they cried because someone wonderful had vanished from the face of this earth and she was never ever coming back.

The hardest part for River was knowing that Rosie was probably still alive. Knowing she was out there somewhere. And she said she’d visit. She said she’d come back and take him to the 1800s. But he knew better. River knew she wouldn’t risk coming back there. He didn’t blame her.

All he needed, though, was to know that she was still alive.

And she was. Up until six weeks ago.

For four years Rosie had been sending River messages by writing in ancient novels down at the library that she knew he loved to read and reread. Week after week she’d sent him letters assuring him that she was alive. That she was growing accustomed to her new world. And that she was happy. And that she missed him. And that her life wasn’t the same without him.

“Why a funeral after all these years?” a stranger asked.

River didn’t have an answer that didn’t make him sound insane. The truth was that up until that point they all hoped Rosie was still alive somewhere. And maybe she was. Maybe she was finally happy. But he wanted to move on—finally move on—and the only way River felt he could do that was to let her go. The right way. The way he always knew he might.

“Because it’s her birthday,” came a voice from behind, and River turned to find his grandfather standing in the doorway in an old fashioned suit with a red rose pinned to his chest. He took off the black hat that he wore on his head and held it before his heart, the way River saw people do during the National Anthem at a baseball game. “And why not?”

The stranger smiled and wandered away, leaving River to stand before his grandfather. They didn’t meet often. It was always awkward when they did.

“Rosie would have loved this if she were here,” he whispered.

River shook his head. “She would have hated it.” His lips curled up into a small smile.“Rosie wanted nothing less than a funeral fit for a king.”

“And that would have been fitting if she were a king,” his grandfather said with a soft laugh. He stepped forward and patted River on the shoulders before hugging him tight. “Don’t fret, my grandchild, she’s out there somewhere.” Then, pulling a little black box from an interior pocket of his jacket, he handed it to River. “This was hers. It broke when we first met. She told me all those years ago to keep it until the moment we met again. But, well, I had it fixed. And—just turn it on, my boy. You will see.”

River, taking the box and slipping it into his pocket for later, smiled up at his grandfather and was left to stand alone while the old man searched for River’s grandmother in the milling crowd of black.

River stared down at his shoes and time turned slowly around him, but he found himself alive even though he’d nearly managed to convince himself that he would never survive such a day.

So the day came and went, and the lights of the funeral home dimmed upon his exit. He stood on the steps and stared out at the rain, momentarily struck by the memory of Rosie’s last goodbye all those years ago. He sat, staring down at the puddles forming in the street, crying and smiling and wondering what could have been.

Because that’s all humans seemed to be good for. Wondering what could have been.

River sat on the steps for over an hour, his trembling fingers playing with the stem of a rose until they grew firm and the tears on his cheeks dried. When the rain began to let up, he sat in his car and stared through his windshield at the funeral home, knowing Rosie wasn’t there. Knowing she was happy. She had to be. Dead or alive.

And even as he drove away, letting the casket and the roses and the darkness of the building pass in his rearview mirror, he never once let go of the rose in his hand; the thorns bit into his flesh, sharp and piercing, but he was entirely numb to any pain.

River pulled his car to a stop in front of one of the bars in town and made his way in with a heavy heart, knowing perfectly well this was where he’d end up. He took his place at the bar, where his head swam before the scent of alcohol even made its way forward, the rose still woven in-between his fingers like a rope holding him together.

River sat for twenty-three minutes before he even said a word to the bartender, staring down at him with a towel slung over one shoulder and a smile stretching his lips from ear to ear.

He ordered a beer and decided to take out the box his grandfather had left him. Inside, gently swathed in a bed of velvet sat a phone. Taking it, his eyes narrowed in confusion, River turned it on and froze.

The phone looked almost half a century old, but the screen saver was a photo from only a few years before. It was of Rosie and himself, holding each other, posing in the spring.

River held the phone like it was all he had left. But before he could begin to cry, for he could feel the tears prickling at the forefront of his gaze, a beautiful girl no older than himselfwith strawberry-blond hair took a seat beside him and stared deep into his eyes. It was peculiar, River thought, that some random person would just sit and stare at him. But there she was, a beautiful stranger in a beautiful dress staring with beautiful eyes. She looked familiar.

“River Bloome?” she whispered, her eyes alight with a nervous energy that made River smile.

“Yeah?” he asked a tad bit wearily. He cleared his throat. Prayed his eyes weren’t red with tears. “How can I help you?”

“This is going to sound crazy,” she said, reaching out and taking his wrist. She opened her mouth but whatever she wanted to say didn’t come, for she looked down and stared at the counter’s surface for several moments. “I don’t even know where to begin . . .”

River shook his head. “Have we met before?”

The girl shook her head slowly from side to side, her gentle eyes flitting up to meet his. “No,” she breathed. “Not yet,” she nearly inaudibly added, the words said mostly to herself. But River heard.

Not yet?

River couldn’t help but stare. “Just blurt it out, then,” he whispered, shedding a tight smile. It was the absolute worst time for a conversation, River thought, but he enjoyed the distraction. “Sometimes that’s the best thing to do . . .”

“I’m from the future.” The words left her lips like a revelation but River found himself particularly indifferent. The girl stared at him, waiting for a look of astonishment to hit him; waiting for him to call her crazy; waiting for it all to fall apart.

“Okay,” River whispered, grinning. “What can I do you for?”

The girl appeared a little taken aback. “You’re not surprised?”

River shook his head. “I’ve had my dealings with time travel,” he said. “Only a few years ago, actually.”

The girl nodded. She glanced nervously back down at the counter, looking grave. And then River noticed the way her lips trembled—she was anxious. Afraid.

Afraid of what? Afraid of him?

River looked deep into her eyes, which glinted about like two small unforgettable diamonds—and he froze. He knew those eyes. Or at least he thought he did.

When River didn’t speak, she released a shaky breath and turned to the bartender and ordered a drink. Then, looking back at River, she said, “My mother told me I’d find you here.” The girl looked around the place, taking it in as if she were seeing it through different eyes. “My name’s Marie. But they call me Sugar. Must be because I’m so sweet.”

River couldn’t help but laugh as excitement and relief bloomed inside his chest, making it hard to breathe. His voice came out in a squeak when he said: “You’re not . . . I mean—” Hope and fear and surprise blossomed inside his heart, growing a garden of astonishment far beneath the surface of his skin. “You can’t be—”

She said you’d be open minded to what I’m about to tell you,” Sugar whispered as the bartender slid her drink across the counter to her; she grabbed it and took a long sip, doing her best to drown out the weakness in her voice and the crazy in her words—River had to admit he’d do the same. “But I’ve seen what the truth can do to people,” Sugar whispered. “It’s a scary thing. It’s dangerous, really.”

“I can handle it,” River said, unable to look away from the eyes he knew so well. The eyes he’d learned to memorize after so many years.

Despite what he said, Sugar took her time, slowly sipping away at her drink. “You’re my father.” She took a sip. “In the future.” Sip. “Of course.” Sip.“My mother.” Sip—

River slid her drink out of her reach. “Your mother?” he wondered, raising his eyebrows.

Sugar nodded. “My mother—she says she needs your help.” Her eyes caught the light, cold-azure diamonds refracting the rainy luminosity streaming through the crying window. “I told her I could handle it on my own. But I was wrong. I-I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”

River didn’t even flinch. “Rosie . . .?”

“Rosie,” Sugar nodded. “I’ve come back to find you.”

“Rosie . . . she lives? In the—in the future? And she has a daughter? We have a daughter?” River is so shocked by her words that all he can do is stare at the rose on the counter—Rosie’s rose—and wonder what would be.

“It’s too much,” Sugar whispered to herself. “I told her it would be too much for anyone person to handle.” Her eyes flitted to her fingers—her chewed nails—and then over at the rose, water from the rain still running from its petals.

River threw himself to his feet, his hope spreading like a warmth throughout his entire body, shocking him back to life. He grabbed Sugar’s hand and pulled her to her feet, letting her drink fall to the floor, where it shattered like his fear all over the floor.

“If what you’re saying is true,” he gasped,“then there’s no time to waste—”

“Hey,” Sugar said, wrenching her arm away. She looked angry and scared and a little tired, reminding River of Rosie in more ways than he could count. “I have to pay for my drink,” she whispered back at him, glancing down at the mess at her feet. “And then we can go. Trust me. The future will still be there.”

“Are you sure?” River asked, sitting back down beside her while the bartender went and got the broom. River stared into her eyes and tried for the life of him not to see Rosie in her. But there was nothing he could do. She was there, sitting before him like the sarcastic angel that she was, stripped of cancer’s abysmal hold on her.

All of the walls River had managed to construct around himself after Rosie left came crashing down. Every brick and every stone; every tooth and every nail, reduced to rubble at his feet.

Sugar nodded, her lips drawing into a bright smile. “We have all the time in the world.”


“Would I lie?”

“I don’t know,” River had to admit.

Sugar shrugged her shoulder. “Your loss.”

“But . . . Rosie went to the past . . .” River said. “How did she make it to the future?”


River only stared. “Me?”

“I don’t know,” Sugar unwillingly admitted. “But mother always told me you were her past and her future—you would always be her future.” She cleared her throat and stared him in the face. “You are my father. So you did something to get me where I am today.”

“I—I . . .”

“But you’re also not that bright.” She paused. “I know what you did, dad.”

“What did I do?”

“You were stupid.” She scowled. “You let her go.”

“I don’t understand—”

“In that field. When you pretended you didn’t know who she was. You lied. You let her go. And because of that, dad, we’re in this mess.”


River didn’t know what to think. “How do you know this?”

Sugar’s scowl lightened and her lips formed a playful smile. “I know a lot more than I lead on.”

The bartender returned with the broom, and Sugar took it and did her best to sweep up all the glass. River simply watched her—scrutinized her every move—wondering how something so pure and devoid of imperfections could possibly come from him.

“Can I buy you another drink, MarieBloome?” River said with a smile. “If what you say is true, and we do have all the time in the world, I’d like to get to know you better.”

Sugar shook her head. “No, I’m not that big of a fan of alcohol. But I like Hot Waffles—they’re waffles with hot sauce. Know anywhere we can get those?” She glanced to the window, to the rain washed town beyond. “I’d love to explore the past. Like my mother did before me.”

River extended his hand. “Then allow me to show you.”

Sugar took his hand. “Where to, dad?”

River couldn’t help the smile that was so effortlessly creeping from the shallows of his face. “Casa Del Bloome. I can cook ya up a mean egg.” A laugh blossomed from the warmth about him, and he liked the light that seemed to bleed from his flesh. “And then we can see about getting you those waffles.”

| | |

Many, many years had passed in the blink of an eye for Mary Bloome. She’d grown up quite nicely. She’d married young to a local boy named James, and they’d had two children several years later. When the twins were a little older, the small family moved into a house not too far from Mary’s parents’ home in Natchitoches Parish, and her house had a similar veranda to the one she’d spent countless hours upon growing up.

It was one afternoon in August that Mary had decided to sit out on the veranda and read like she’d done countless times over the course of the last few years. The heat wasn’t as strong as it had been only a few weeks before, and a cool breeze snaked through, soft and perfect, still heavy with the glow of fireflies and the scent of distant smoke. Down below, the first signs of the oncoming autumn lingered in the form of fallen leaves, fluttering in the wind.

She opened a novel she hadn’t read in many years, and Mary remained until sunset ignited the land far below her, and blues and greens and reds cracked the sky wide open. Mary loved to watch the sky. It was her favorite thing to do when she wasn’t with her daughters or helping out down at the hospital.

“Rose, Violet,” Mary called into her house. “Come here.”

Both her daughters stepped out onto the veranda to see what was the matter, and it was then, struck with awe, that the girl’s saw the beauty in the heavens that Mary wished would remain for the rest of her life.

Rose had her father’s soft-hazel eyes, ringed with dots of gold towards the center, and her mother’s long dark hair fell in ringlets down her back; she wore her favorite dress, playing with the hem while the wind blew it around her knees.

Violet looked more like her father. She had almost identical eyes to her sister, and the angular shape of her face and the fairness of her hair reflected that of Mary’s husband. Though, there was something that so often reminded her of Mary’s long-lost brother, Jessie, who’d left when she was still only a child.

It was not long after that Rose, Mary’s quieter daughter, tugged on the hem of her dress and pointed down at the lawn below, wonder caught between her young eyes.

“Mamma,” she said, and Mary turned to peer out over the edge of the veranda—

And to Mary’s dismay, a stranger was crossing their lawn.

“Honey?” she called into the house.

James, Mary’s beloved husband, stepped out onto the veranda moments later. He was well dressed, and his hair was neatly cropped to one side, slicked into place; he wore a smile, as he so often did, and his eyes gleamed with the refracted light from the fiery firmament above—James came from a wealthy family, and it was because of that fact that Mary’s life had grown so easy following the events that had caused her dear brother to leave home.

Time travel, Mary remembered with slight disdain.

“Yes, dear?” James casually wondered, stepping up beside her on the balcony and staring down at the ground below. When he saw what she did, James fit his fingers through Mary’s and held strong, keeping close to her as if to show her he was there if she needed him.

“It’s him,” Mary softly whispered in astonishment; she held James’ gaze for many moments before adding, “At long last.” She sucked in a breath and strode to the balcony’s edge, hugging her daughters to her as the world began to turn around her.

And then she was running.

Mary tore through the house, taking the stairs two at a time, and as she went she could feel her family fast on her heels the entire way. She shoved the front door wide open and stopped on the short set of stairs leading down to their front lawn, where the stranger stood, a black hat atop his head; where long, dark curls of hair once spilled, his hair was neatly kempt beneath his hat.

He kicked at the stones in the drive, leisurely making his way forward as if pondering something the others couldn’t see. Only when he glanced up and found Mary staring at him did he freeze.

“James,” she whispered, turning back to her husband. He carried Violet in his arms and held Rose’s hand down at his side, and when Mary parted her lips to say his name again, he simply nodded his head.

“Go to him,” James whispered in return.

And then, without a moment’s hesitation, she was gone.

Mary turned and ran straight into the open arms of the stranger that had been waiting for her as many years as she’d been waiting for him, and when he held her, he spun her in the air three times before even thinking of setting her back down on the Earth.

He had a habit of making people feel like they were in the clouds.

“Jessie!” Mary exclaimed.

Finally, after all those years apart, her brother was home.

“Hello, Mary,” he said.

“Hello, big brother,” she said in reply.

And that was that.

Neither talked of time travel as the years went on, even as Rose and Violet aged, and Billy and Evelyn met their happy ends. It wasn’t until the late 90s that the talk of time travel came up in conversation, and neither Mary nor Jessie’s lives were ever the same. Not really.

For, just down the road, Rosie Bryar had arrived.

| | |

The future is even uglier than I remember.

I pull my arms around myself for warmth, looking all around me, at the city that gave me life and almost took it away, and at the place where it all began. Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Peppermint clouds speckle the evening sky, struck through by subtle strands of orange and gold, forming the most perfect conflagration on the horizon, where the trees lead off into the distance like the world just drops away.

Having spent the last four years of my life in the nineteenth-century, it’s peculiar being back and seeing people walk into things while playing games on their touch screen phones, or fall off the sidewalksbecause they’re trying to dance and walk at the same time while listening to music.

I forgot how easy the people of the twenty-first century are to mock.

I stand outside the window of a bar and marvel at my reflection. My eyes aimlessly wander to my arm where, many years ago, black markings had woven into my skin. Roses. Intertwined roses. But now they’re gone. They’ve been gone for a long, long time now—but sometimes I feel the tattoo, hot against my skin like a reminder of what I’ve gone through to get to where I stand today.

I’m twenty-one, today. It’s my birthday. So I figured I’d come back and check on things—and I stumbled upon my own funeral. Now I’m just standing here, staring, looking past my reflection in the window of some bar to where River Bloome and some unknown stranger sit together, talking away. Beside his drink, I realize after a moment, is a single red rose that matches the ones from the funeral, and a chill goes down my spine.

I can’t stop smiling because I know it’s the one thing keeping me from crying.

I want to enter. I want to walk in and hug River in front of everyone. I want to tell him that I’m alive and that somehow cancer hasn’t beaten me down and apparently time travel agrees with me because here I am. Four years later. When I was supposed to have been dead a long time ago.

But I don’t dare walk in there.

River looks happy. Happier than I expected.

So when he stands, helping the stranger into her coat, I start to walk away from the bar when I notice that River’s forgotten the rose at the counter. He’s left it behind. And I’m frozen solid for a moment, struck through by wonder, left standing like a statue.

Is this the girl? Is this the girl that will one day make River the happiest man alive? The one he’ll love until the day he dies? In sickness and in health?

The door swings open and I vanish. And I reappear three minutes after River and his new companion have left the bar. When I enter, the bartender asks me for my ID. But I don’t look at him. I don’t even say a word. I just walk up to the counter, pick up the rose, walk back outside, and I close my eyes.

I don’t want a keepsake from a place I don’t want to remember. It’s like keeping a phone number when you don’t have a phone and when you don’t even want to talk to the person the number belongs to. But I hold onto the rose and I say goodbye to the year 2019 because if I let go now than I’d be letting go of the ladder I climbed to get to where I am today.

And I refuse to do that.

So I hold the rose and I don’t even care when it pricks my finger. I shut my eyes and try not to think about what I’m doing here.I don’t know if I should have stayed. If I should have said hello.

So I hold fast to my memories and discard any ties that I have to the twenty-first century, and I slip away, first into darkness, remembering all that has become of my life, and all that I’ve made of myself, and I fall back into the light.

For a moment I don’t open my eyes because I know what awaits me. My future. The rest of my life. So for just one single drawn-out moment, one precious second, I hold onto River andJessie and every piece of my past that has ever shaped me as a person. And then I let it all go.

The rose slips from my fingers and I don’t know where it lands—kind of like life; you let go of one day and you never know where you might end up. You never know what tomorrow will bring, if anything at all.

I open my eyes.

| | |

I often dream of roses. Red roses. White roses. Roses, roses, roses. Father tells me it’s because I’m finally in my natural time period. He tells me that’s why my cancer is gone. Why I can finally breathe like I’m not ten feet underground.

I’m forced to believe him.

But what I don’t tell him is that every night I have similar nightmares provoked by my seemingly irrevocable nostalgia for my past; for the life of youth and easy decision, and for the life of always knowing there will be a guiding hand to lead me home to comfort. I suppose I just have to accept my life now, all grown up with many, many years to go, and dwell on the happiest parts of this reality, rather than lose myself to the darkness of change and the destruction of time.

One question has always lingered at the back of my mind.

“Why 1959?” I ask one day while taking a stroll through the grounds with Father at my side, reading a novel I’ve already read three times before. I tuck my finger beneath the folded covers of the book and hold it down at my side, gazing back at his sunlit face.

I wear a very pretty scarlet-colored sundress that reminds me of the attire that I wore when I first danced with Father; I often wear it, finding comfort in the way its satin trim seems to glisten when I walk, and the way the skirt dances in my wake like all the pages to the eulogy I once wrote myself.

I can’t help but glance down every so often with a smile laced into my lips, remembering that night at Rosewood oh so long ago. I remember the way Father made me dance; I remember the labyrinth of gardens that led astray from the light and trailed off into the dark. But what I remember most is what Father said the day he first took me back in time:

It’s not a bad thing to be compared to a rose, Rosie Bryar. Roses aren’t born, they’re grown. Like fires. Like heroes. Like hope.

Memories dohave the potential to destroy us. But this one will only ever save my life.

Father smiles but doesn’t answer right away. He’s too busy admiring our house in the distance—it’s a stone manor that climbs up to the Louisiana sky, a burly looking edifice protruding from the ground, completely unlike the wilted house I used to search for solace in.

A great balcony juts out from its front in a way that constantly reminds me of theBloome estate back in 1959, where Mother sits in her violaceous shawl, marveling at the gentle breeze giving voice to the taciturn countryside; two sets of stairs curve up to meet the veranda, now sullenly hidden by a drape of moss and greenery, as well as the flourishing colors of Mother’s porch-side gardens.

Diamond-shaped balustrades encircle the overhanging terrace, and where the light strikes them, silhouetted patterns illustrate the stark ground below, as austere as a canvas, unadorned with color. Faded ornate shapes and peculiar sigils are scrawled upon the entrance—a set of large, wooden double doors—from when Mother tried her hand at painting, and windows, stained blue and green and yellow,stretch around the structure, delving deep into darkness.

Father had the sense to bring back old-time currency before we left our home in 2015, and to the locals we’re as rich as they come—it’s not a bad life to live, I tell myself. Just an easy one. And I think I deserve it after all that I went through growing up.

“Because,” Father says to me, smiling up at the drifting sun setting the skyline ablaze with every color I like to spend most nights dancing beneath—I know. Me. Dancing. How absurd.

“Because?” I wonder, waiting for his eyes to flit to mine.

“Because,” he nods, flashing me a smile. “Fate has a funny way of bringing you back to me, Rosie.” He brushes aside a strand of my scarlet hair and holds it for a moment, as if remembering a time when it was the hair of a stranger. “Fate has a funny way of returning to usall that we’ve lost. A little changed. But for the better.”

Father takes my hand and I hold his tight, and I can’t help but remember a set of handprints at the bottom of a painting in a dream, the smaller, more fragile impression residing inside the protective embrace of the larger one—almost like a daughter’s heart resting in the palm of a father’s hand.

“Really?” I beam up at him, thinking back to when he was just a smartass I found living on an abandoned school bus in the middle of Natchitoches, Louisiana’s state forest—before I knew he was the father I’ve always needed.

“Really,” Father assures me.

I open my book once more, and together, father and daughter, we walk along the river flowing through the grounds. When darkness comes for us, as it must for all, Father sings to me in the moonlight.

Roses are red, violets are blue. Sugar is sweat, but so are you. And if you love me as I love you, with a hand of candor and a heart just as true, then no knife can cut our love in two. Thou are my love and I am thine; I drew thee to my Valentine. The lot was cast and I drew, and Fortune said it should be you.”

I fold his words and tuck them into my pockets, and I save them for a time when I’ll need them more than anything.

This world thinks it’s funny. It always does.

So it’s a good thing I learned how to laugh.

“What shall we do tomorrow?” Father wonders.

I take his hand in mine and I don’t respond. Because it doesn’t matter what we do tomorrow. Tomorrow is no longer a mark on my flesh the way that oblivion was a scar on my heart; it doesn’t matter what tomorrow brings. It just matters what the moment brings.

The city of London had grown dark beneath the starlit sky,” I read aloud from my book, winking at Father when I glance up at him, catching his smile and placing it in my pocket with all the words he’s ever said that’s made a difference in my life. “I sat before the large glass window that looked out onto the sleeping city of London, half lost in a daydream I learned to misplace by the time my sisters called my name, beckoning me back to life. I rose to my feet and swung the window shut, smiling back at the stars through the frost-driven lattice with which blew me silent kisses, and I threw the latch into place, locking out the shadows of the night.

I read on until my voice mingles with the stars, and the absence of silence at our feet falls faint, engendering a stillness with which only the wind seems to be able to tamper with.

We sit upon the riverbank, drawing stories from the quiet waters that flow here, connecting the stars that glimmer in its pull until we run out of constellations; wewave to the man in the moon, and sing to him until a strait of light blooms across the horizon.

Dawn sheds a lazy smile on the day.

Tomorrow, I think to myself.

“I love you, my little Red Rose,” Father says at daybreak, staring off into the distance, completely entranced by the intensity of the amber firmament above the rolling hills and the shadow-splayed knolls of the Louisiana countryside, flourishing into a conflagration there in the heavens—I count the colors until I run out of words to describe them.

I don’t respond—for many years afterwards I wondered if I should have, but in that moment I merely nestled my head upon his shoulder and watched as the sun rose slowly but surely into the sky. Fragments of yesterday loiter in the shadows at our feet, spinning in the unlit sections of the river, flowing past until they exist only in the distance, too broken and lost to hold onto the way that I once did.

“Come on,” I say, “The day awaits.”

“Surely you must be tired,” Father whispers to me.

I slowly shake my head from side to side. And I smile.

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

| | |

Time can’t break me. It can only change me. For the better. Because, just like Mother said, sometimes change is good. Sometimes change is necessary. But people will try to prepare you for life. They’ll try to tell you that you can learn from your mistakes. That you can’t go back and fix everything, so you need to learn to plant your mistakes in the earth and grow your future. Because life doesn’t have a rewind button.

But mine does.

And so I try to think back to who I used to be. To the person I was when cancer still liked to call my lungs its home,and Novocain ran through my veins like blood. I think back to the ice before the thaw—the heartless person I half-convinced myself I wasn’t becoming. The chaos before the calm—the car driving straight towards my heart, trained like a bullet set to kill.

I think back to a house on fire, a knife aimed at my heart glittering from the flames. I think back to the girl who couldn’t hold her own because of all the blood she’d lost to cancer, the girl who’d rather die than fight for what was real, what was true, and what was worth every single mistake planted in the earth to grow her future.

I think back to the rose wilting in the spring, her petals gone and her briers stripped. But all I see is a shadow of the person I am today, a shattered reflection of who I never knew I’ve always wanted to become.

Just a ghost.

A remnant of yesterday.




— THE  E N D —

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