Her face is bleary and blurry and she seems disorientated for an alarmingly long time. "Gemma? Fee?"
"We're here!" we hiss, for we heard news of her progress this morning and have been begging them to allow us to speak to her, just for a moment.
"What... what happened?"
"We want to ask you the same thing!" Felicity leans dangerously close to Ann, and I see the hatred and resentment pooling like poison in her eyes. Why Ann? Why not Pippa? Surely not Ann.
"We ... we got to the waterfall and crossed. And it was blindingly white, Gemma, so very white. You couldn't see anything, not even your hand in front of your face. I had no hands. I had no body. It was just me and my thoughts spilling over into something else entirely. I could feel Pippa next to me, the weight of her decision and then suddenly there was this feeling inside of me as though I had made the wrong choice. As though there was something worth fighting for with you. But I could tell that Pippa had made the right choice. And I felt her happiness flood into me and, oh, it was the most glorious feeling ever, Gemma! Fee! She was ... oh, so at peace."
"But ... how did you get back? Without the magic? How did you do it?"
"Once I'd made my decision, I realised that that was what Evelyn was talking about. The Choice. Endless choice. Pippa had it too, she could come back to us, but she chose not too. And she chose wisely. If we had made the wrong choice, I fear we would have been stuck in the light forever." Ann's eyes flicker closed, and then she turns her head and gazes sadly at the sleeping form of Pippa, already dead and yet still breathing, on the bed beside her.
I can see felicity turn away, so that the angry tears of injustice fall unnoticed. But I can feel the question inside her head. What was so bad about the light, Ann? Why could you have not stayed there forever? Why must you come back and bring this grief back to me a hundredfold?
"Too much light can render you blind, Fee. Sometimes, we can see so much that we do not see at all." I mean to be a comfort, but I watch her shake off my embrace and crouch low on the bed beside Pippa.
"Ann, but how did you get back?"
"I stepped out of the light, and saw Pippa. Dancing with flowers in her hair with some handsome fellow in chain mail. She was crying with happiness, Gemma."
"But how did you get back, Ann?"
"That was my Choice."
After one week, Ann rejoins us in class. The other girls whisper and murmur behind palms and stare wide-eyed when she passes them in corridors. Some of the more ignorant creatures, including Cecily Temple, step back when she approaches, terrified of catching some hideous disease. Ann smirks. I think she is rejoicing in this newfound power. The power of fear. There are so many different kinds of power, some better than others. But who has the right to judge?
Felicity does not tell us what she is going to do before she does it. I think that is her way. But I am beginning to accept that we all have flaws, fundamental imperfections, that, curiously, make us beautiful. In our own quiet ways. None of us will ever be as beautiful as Pip. But I am beginning to believe what my mother said about beauty. In her own way, Pip was cursed.
She brings us to the sanatorium. The nurse on duty has fallen asleep in her chair. Her ample chest rises with each snore, and her lips ripple slight with each breath that she passes. So terrifying, to think that each breath we take leads us ever closer to death. To eternal stillness.
Felicity crouches by Pippa's bed. Her cheeks are slick with tears, but her gaze is firm, and I love her for it. With one swift motion, she kisses Pippa. The kiss is deep, and it means something, and I realise Felicity once loved Pippa as she now loves me. As I now love her.
"Pippa, you have earned your peace." The simple words are enough. With one broken and beautiful sigh, Pippa's breathing stills. There are some kinds of magic left in this world, and this is one of them.
When the nurse wakes, Pippa will be dead, and we will mourn her then.
Later that night, I slip out and make my way to Kartik's tent. And then we make love, broken, dying, hopeful love. And I fall asleep in his arms and know that I will never be anywhere safer.
Felicity does not smile or laugh for days. But inside her, I can feel a kind of release. A cage that has been locked tight for so long has finally been wrenched open, and what she initially saw as pain is, instead, hope. We can all hope. When everything else has been lost, only hope remains.
And I have made my choice.