It took her a minute to realize that the girl in the creamy wool sweater, the girl with the glossy hair peeking out from under a cashmere cap, the girl with the bright smile on her pink-cheeked face was actually her.
As soon as it clicked in her mind, Laura found herself inside that coveted body, feeling health and happiness singing in the blood coursing merrily, busily through her veins. Only the tip of her nose was cold, bearing the brunt of a few random snowflakes, as she walked down the busy street, politely raising a hand or nodding at the people she passed. It seemed like her legs knew exactly where to go, so Laura gave herself over to the pleasure of looking at her town, all spruced up and decked out in lights and decorations for the holidays. She'd never noticed before how graceful the old-fashioned streetlights were, or how bright little red holly berries could shine. And she'd definitely never noticed the little building that looked like a barn, no matter how confidently her hand reached out to slide the door open.
Inside it was all warm wood, polished by time, and a wall made of mirrors. She shrugged the bag off her shoulders, changed into supple leather pointe shoes, and headed to the barre for a warmup. A flash from the mirror and she saw herself, hair smoothed back in a demure little bun, leotard and tights fitting snugly over toned muscles. She felt stronger than ever before, and ready to work. Touching her nose to her knees and arching her back in turn, she made herself limber, fit to move.
Her voice stuck in her throat for a moment, like the cold was enough to push it down, but within a few moments, she was warm enough to hum her accompaniment as she danced.
No, not that tune. That was something else, something out of a nightmare, something the monster had been humming as he pinned her up for his pleasure. Was it worse to keep her eyes open or shut as he reached for her, drawing the back of one hand down the fall of her hair, tracing her skull with such attentiveness? She tried to twist away, but there was nowhere for her to go, except, maybe, by closing her eyes.
Eyes wide to take in everything that made the town magical, Laura found her way home. The stone steps gleamed with a layer of powdery snow, and icicles hung from the top of the porch. She headed for the kitchen and opened the discreetly humming refrigerator. A mug of milk went into the microwave, and she stretched to reach the basket of ripening fruit hanging just above her head. Plump peaches sliced and arranged in slivers on her plate, she settled down on the couch and ate hungrily, picking up alternating pieces of fruit so as not to mess up the pattern she'd created.
She always liked things just so, Dad had always said, and she'd mastered the disapproving look before she could properly talk. Not that he'd seen it often; they'd never had problems understanding each other, once they'd been abandoned to be just the two of them. It was the best thing that could have happened, Laura always thought, and sometimes said, when Dad looked particularly down. He'd nod, but he never said he agreed.
It wasn't better for it to be just them, because two was such a little number, just two points needed for a line, and there was nothing stable about that. Three for a triangle, the strongest shape there was, and nothing could excuse her mother for walking out on them, for not caring that Dad would be lonely, for not caring who Laura would grow up to be. If they had been three, the nightmare would never have gotten her.
There's a sound like thunder as she heads up the stairs, but she doesn't remember seeing a single cloud in the sky. The shower spray is like a jungle downpour, and tropical scents drift upward in the steam when she bypasses Dad's plain shampoo for her own.
The heat has kicked in by the time she leaves the bathroom, hair still wet and feet bare. The paint swatches tacked to her walls flutter like aspen leaves when she brushes her arm along the wall, straining to reach the light switch tucked behind the bookshelf; she hasn't been able to convince Dad yet that he shouldn't be spending his publishers' advance money on her. She pulls on her old white nightgown and her fuzzy apricot robe and slippers, then heads back downstairs to make tea.
It's always a puzzle trying to figure out where Dad could have left his tea kettle, the one big enough for several cups; Dad lives up to the stereotype of the absent-minded writer with a vengeance, and she's resorted to lining all available flat spaces with hot pads. This time his travel mug is decently in the sink, but the kettle itself is mysteriously tucked away in the oven like a leftover casserole dish. Laura smiles and shakes her head, rinses it clean, fills it, and sets it on the burner. The flames jump, at the ready, sparking a blue brighter than the sky. While the water heats, she makes up the tray, fixing sandwiches for him and a few butter cookies for them both.
Kicking off the cumbersome slippers, she mounts the stairs carefully, tray balanced between her steady hands. There's no answer when she knocks on his study door with her foot. She manages to maneuver the handle with her hip, jiggling it deftly, and opens the door.
Inside is all ash and destruction, desolation and emptiness, and lightning streaks blue across the sky as she drops the full tray with a sound like thunder. Her first words aren't to him, but to whoever took him, or whoever saw. "Where's my dad?" She closes her eyes. "Where's my dad?"