"What do you mean you're taking me to see my sister?" Alexandra's eyes were squeezed shut. Her arm burned, her leg throbbed, her head ached, her ribs hurt, and the little bumps and jostles and vibrations of the car made everything worse with every mile. None of her sisters were Healers, and none of them lived in Central Territory.
Ms. Grimm said, "Her name is Livia."
Alexandra's eyes popped open.
Maximilian had told her about four other sisters besides Julia. Alexandra had met three of them: Valeria and her older sisters Lucilla and Drucilla. The Whites were the daughters of Abraham Thorn's second wife. None of them had ever met their oldest sister. Maximilian hadn't even known her name.
"Livia," Alexandra repeated.
The car slowed. In her reclined position, Alexandra couldn't see above the dash panel, but a huge green creature loomed over the car on the driver's side, before Ms. Grimm tossed it a gold coin and it retreated, with the sound of a heavy chain dragging across the road in front of them. They had left the Interstate and entered the Automagicka, the magical highway that carried wizard automobiles between cities much faster than any Muggle car could travel.
"Where is she?" Alexandra asked.
"Milwaukee," Ms. Grimm said.
Alexandra grimaced. That was a long drive, even on the Automagicka. "Why are you taking me all the way to Milwaukee? There's a wizarding hospital in Chicago, isn't there?"
"You don't want to meet your sister?"
Alexandra narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Why take me to see her now? You've known about my oldest sister living in Milwaukee all along, haven't you?"
Of course she had. Diana Grimm and her sister were always withholding information from her. Alexandra winced again, and her breath quickened. She was hardly unfamiliar with pain, but she'd never broken two limbs before.
Ms. Grimm glanced at her. A flicker of concern crossed her face, before vanishing. "I don't have any Numbing Potions. I can put you to sleep if you'll allow it."
"If I'll allow it? How, with a Stunner?" Alexandra tried not to flinch at the thought; Stunning Charms hurt.
"A Sleep Charm, Alexandra. It's rather like a Confundus Charm. It doesn't work well unless you're willing."
"No, thanks." Alexandra wanted relief from the pain, but she didn't trust Ms. Grimm. Not that she could do much to resist the Special Inquisitor in her injured condition.
Ms. Grimm shrugged, as if she had expected that response.
Alexandra asked, "Does Livia know about me?"
"But she's never tried to contact me." Alexandra shifted in her seat, trying not to groan. "Is there a wizarding community in Milwaukee?"
"Not really. Livia is Wandless."
"Wandless? You took away her wand?"
"No. The Wandless have left the wizarding world voluntarily and chosen to live among Muggles without magic."
"Why –" Alexandra winced as Ms. Grimm swerved around a slower-moving tractor on the Automagicka. "Why would anyone do that?"
"It is hard to imagine, isn't it? Having seen the wonders of the wizarding world, knowing what you can do with magic, why would you ever walk away from it?"
Alexandra bit her lip. "Because of our father?"
"You'll have to ask her."
They drove on for a while. Then Alexandra said, "You said she's a Healer. Doesn't that mean she still uses magic?"
Ms. Grimm smiled. "She's not supposed to."
Alexandra stared at her. "You're going to use me to catch her using magic?" She fumbled for her wand with her left hand. "Stop the car!" she shouted. "Turn around and take me back to Larkin Mills! I don't care if I have to wear a cast, I'm not helping you entrap my sister!"
Ms. Grimm's hand shot across her and clamped around her wrist – her right wrist. Alexandra screamed as the broken bones ground together, and her wand fell from the fingers of her other hand.
"You foolish, headstrong brat!" Ms. Grimm said. "Always acting without thinking, always leaping to conclusions, always thinking you know better than everyone else." She released Alexandra's wrist. "Don't ever threaten to point a wand at me, especially while I'm driving."
Alexandra would have shrunk away from her if she could. The pain in her arm, which had dulled to a throbbing ache, was fiery agony again. Tears poured down her face. She stared white-hot daggers of hatred at Ms. Grimm, then said, through clenched teeth, "I saved your life."
Ms. Grimm's face became expressionless.
"If you use me to get at my sister, I'll regret I did," Alexandra said.
Ms. Grimm drove for a while before she spoke again. "I have no wish to 'get at' your sister, Alexandra. It's not my intention to arrest her."
"Then why are you taking me to her? If you just want me healed, why not take me to Chicago?"
"That would raise awkward questions. Also, I imagine your parents would have a few questions of their own when they receive the bill."
Alexandra squeezed her eyes shut again. There was something the Special Inquisitor wasn't telling her, but she was in too much pain to argue. Going for her wand really had been pretty stupid. She hoped Livia could heal her, or at least do something for the pain. Right now, she wanted that more than she wanted to meet her mysterious older sister.
Milwaukee wasn't directly connected to the Automagicka. Alexandra was beginning to worry about how long it would take them to get home as they entered the city on Interstate 94. She took out her cell phone, reaching carefully with her left hand, and saw that she had a message.
"My stepfather called. I guess my phone didn't ring while we were on the Automagicka."
"You'd better call him back," Ms. Grimm said.
She did. Archie answered immediately. "Where are you?" he demanded.
"Brian's house," she said.
"I saw Brian return to his house. Without you. Why didn't you answer your phone?"
Alexandra let out a frustrated breath, trying not to gasp with pain.
"You were at that pond, weren't you?" he said. "I forbade you to go to Old Larkin Pond, so you made up a story about going to Brian's house. Where are you now?"
Alexandra looked at Ms. Grimm, but the Special Inquisitor was no help.
"Get your behind home right now, Alex," Archie said. "You are in a heap of trouble."
"I can't," she said.
"What do you mean you can't? Where are you? Are you in trouble?" Beneath his sharp tone, there was something else: concern.
"No. I'm fine. I just – ask Mom."
"What? Does Claudia know what you're up to?"
"No, but tell her it has to do with... stuff."
"Stuff? What the hell does that mean?" Archie was becoming more confused and irate. "Alexandra, if you don't start making sense right damn now, you'll be grounded so long you won't even remember what outside looks like!"
"I can't, Archie. Mom will understand. I – I've gotta go." She hung up the phone, then turned it off. She let her head fall back against the seat. "I am so screwed."
"That tends to happen when you lie to your parents."
Alexandra didn't say anything to that.
"So, I take it Claudia knows about 'stuff'?"
Alexandra swallowed. "Are you going to Obliviate her?"
"I believe Claudia has always known more than you give her credit for, Alexandra."
"Then why did you Obliviate her after you interrogated her, after I was born?"
"I told you before," Ms. Grimm said slowly, "that I didn't do that."
Alexandra frowned, and bit back the questions she wanted to ask.
They left the highway. They were in an urban area, full of office buildings, shops, and salons. Ms. Grimm pulled into the parking lot of a medical center ringed by various doctors' offices, then drove around behind the buildings, parking her car next to a large dumpster that had a sign on it saying: 'Caution: Medical Waste.'
"This isn't an emergency room, so bringing an injured teenager in through the front door would prompt questions and possible involvement with Muggle authorities," Ms. Grimm said.
"I don't understand. You said my sister is a Healer. These are doctors' offices."
"Yes." Ms. Grimm got out of the car and walked around to open Alexandra's door. She looked around, then held her wand out and levitated Alexandra out of the car. She magically opened one of the rear office doors and floated Alexandra through it. They proceeded down a carpeted hallway lined with framed pictures of the Great Lakes and generic flower portraits between rows of doors on either side. It looked and smelled like a doctor's office. Sure enough, when Ms. Grimm opened a door to their right, it was an empty room with a long, green examination table. Ms. Grimm gently lowered Alexandra onto the table.
"Wait here," the Inquisitor said.
Alexandra clenched her teeth in frustration. She raised herself up with her unbroken arm and looked around. There were pictures on the walls showing cross sections of the ears, nose, and throat, and diagrams of the human skeletal system and internal organs. Q-tips, wooden sticks, tissues, and latex gloves sat on the counter next to a gleaming chrome sink. It looked like every doctor's office she'd seen.
Someone was arguing with Ms. Grimm in the hall in a low, angry voice: "What do you mean, you couldn't bring her anywhere else? This is outrageous! You have no right!"
A woman in her early thirties, wearing a white coat over a light green blouse, entered the room. Her eyes fell on Alexandra, and her anger vanished, replaced by shock. She turned on Ms. Grimm. "You brought her here? Her? Here?"
"She's injured," Ms. Grimm said.
The woman turned back around to stare at Alexandra. She had straight black hair pulled back in a bun. Her face was thin and angular; behind square, black-framed glasses, her eyes were the same shade of green as Alexandra's, and the shape of her nose was familiar. The nameplate pinned to her breast pocket read: 'Dr. L.J. Pruett.'
"Hi." Alexandra wasn't sure what to say to her sister. "This wasn't my idea."
Dr. Pruett pursed her lips and walked to the table. "What happened to you?"
"I fell out of a tree."
"Aren't you a witch?"
Alexandra winced as the doctor examined her arm. "It turns out that doesn't make you immune to gravity. Also, I'd just splinched myself."
"This is a compound fracture," Dr. Pruett said to Ms. Grimm. "Why did you bring her all the way to Milwaukee instead of taking her to the hospital in Larkin Mills?"
"I think she wanted us to meet," Alexandra said.
"I don't suppose you gave her anything for the pain?"
"I offered a Sleep Charm," Ms. Grimm said. "She refused."
Dr. Pruett put a hand on Alexandra's leg, and her face softened when Alexandra hissed through her teeth. "You're a minor. I can't treat you without your parents' permission."
"You're kidding," Alexandra gasped.
"Unless it's life threatening. I have to obey the law."
"Yes, Doctor Pruett, and you are so careful about obeying the law, aren't you?" Ms. Grimm unfolded her arms and walked into the examination room, pulling the door shut behind her. "You would never dream of using magic, for example, to treat a Muggle."
Dr. Pruett glared at her.
"A few potions hidden away, for emergencies," Ms. Grimm said softly. "A charm every now and then, for someone in pain that no Muggle medicine can relieve. And perhaps – every once in a while – there's a patient you just can't stand to let die when you know there's something you can do about it."
"I'm not a Healer anymore. I'm a doctor. What do you want, Ms. Grimm?"
"I want you to mend your sister's broken bones."
"Why did you bring her here? Why not the Queen of Chicago Sanatorium?" Then the other woman's mouth fell open. "Did you do this to her?"
Ms. Grimm shook her head. "Where do you get these ideas? The two of you are so alike."
Dr. Pruett turned to look at Alexandra again.
"She didn't," Alexandra said, feeling like she might pass out. "I really did fall out of a tree. Look, if you won't help me, can I at least have some aspirin?"
Dr. Pruett sighed. "Wait here. I... have a wand in my office."
"Of course you do," Ms. Grimm said.
The doctor pushed past her. Alexandra lay on the table with her eyes closed so she wouldn't have to look at Ms. Grimm. A minute later, Dr. Pruett returned. Alexandra opened her eyes. The Healer/doctor held a wand and a familiar-looking old-fashioned bottle with 'Fudd's Grow-All' on the label.
"Get out," Dr. Pruett said to Ms. Grimm. "I want to be alone with my patient."
Ms. Grimm raised an eyebrow, then walked out the door, closing it behind her.
Dr. Pruett murmured something and touched her wand to Alexandra's arm. The pain subsided quickly. She did the same to her leg, and it likewise stopped hurting so terribly.
"Thank you," Alexandra said. "I'm sorry Ms. Grimm is harassing you."
"Doesn't she harass you?" The Healer twisted the top off the potion bottle.
"Yes." Alexandra studied her older sister, the sister whom none of her other siblings had ever met. "You said Larkin Mills – you know where I live. You've known about me all this time, haven't you?"
"I've known about you since the day you were born."
"But you never wanted to meet me?"
Dr. Pruett held out the bottle of Fudd's Grow-All. "This will mend your bones overnight, but you need to keep your limbs still. And it will hurt. Can you go home and rest until tomorrow, and handle the discomfort?"
"When I get home, I probably won't be able to do anything but rest, since I'll be grounded for the rest of my life." Alexandra took the bottle and sniffed the contents. It smelled innocuous enough, but this wasn't the first time she'd had to have bones magically healed.
"It tastes terrible," Dr. Pruett said. "You have to swallow all of it."
"I know." Alexandra tilted it back and gulped it down. She almost retched. The earwax-and-beetles taste was worse than she remembered, and the pungent aroma filled her mouth and nose, making her gag. She choked and her sister held her shoulders down to keep her from rolling over.
"Swallow it," the doctor said. Alexandra gulped the mouthful of Grow-All with an effort, and then stuck her pasty, coated tongue out, trying to taste clean air.
"You're a little old to be climbing trees, and a little young to be Apparating," Livia said. "I'd avoid both in the future."
"What's it like, being Wandless?" Alexandra asked, in a choked voice.
"I have a wand."
Alexandra looked at the wand in Livia's hand. There were tiny letters carved into the wood, and it was devoid of any leather wrappings or metal bands or gems or any ornamentation at all; it was just a plain wooden stick. It made her think of the cheap wands sold at Grundy's Department Store.
"Ms. Grimm says you gave up magic."
"Mostly." Livia put the wand in her coat pocket, then screwed the cap back on the bottle of Fudd's Grow-All and put that in her pocket, too. "You'll start feeling pain shortly as your bones heal. Here." She held out a bottle of white pills. Alexandra held her left hand out, and her sister dropped two into her palm. Alexandra put them in her mouth while Livia went to the sink and filled a paper cup with water, which she handed to Alexandra.
Alexandra washed down the pills. "You really didn't want to meet me, did you?"
"I'm sorry, Alexandra. It's not personal."
"Is it because of our father?"
Livia didn't say anything.
"Did he abandon you, too?"
"I'll ask Ms. Grimm to take you home now," Livia said.
Alexandra stared at her angrily. When she walked to the door, Alexandra said, "Did you know we had a brother?"
Livia paused, with her back still to Alexandra. "I heard about Maximilian. I never met him. But I am sorry."
Alexandra's arm and leg were beginning to tingle unpleasantly. She opened and closed the fingers of her right hand slowly. "He wanted to meet his oldest sister someday. So did I. Too bad for both of us, I guess."
Livia stood there silently. After a minute, someone called, "Dr. Pruett?" from down the corridor outside the office.
"I have other patients. Move your limbs as little as possible. Stay out of trees, and don't try to Apparate before you're ready." Dr. Pruett turned her head, and said in a quiet voice, "I'm not your oldest sister."
"What?" The question came out as a gasp, as Alexandra felt the first stab of pain in her bones.
"I'm not our father's oldest. I'm the second-born. Your name is Alexandra Octavia, yes? The eighth child."
Alexandra opened her mouth, but Livia Pruett had already gone out the door, sliding past Ms. Grimm, who walked in.
"Why did you do this?" Alexandra asked.
Ms. Grimm eyed her appraisingly. "I thought you deserved to meet your sister."
"Like hell." Alexandra clenched her teeth. "Are you going to take me home now, or is there another sister you want to take me to see and mess up her life?"
Diana Grimm stood there for a long, thoughtful moment, but said only, "I believe it's time for you to go home."
They didn't speak much on the drive back to Larkin Mills. Alexandra was in less pain than she'd been in on the drive to Milwaukee, thanks to Livia's charms, but the Grow-All still hurt as it forced her bones to heal at magical speed. She bit her lip and stared out the window and thought about what Livia had said. There were seven of them now. Seven sisters. Why hadn't her father told her about all of her siblings?
"I will speak to your parents, if you think it will help," Ms. Grimm said, as they entered Larkin Mills.
Alexandra looked at her for the first time in many miles. "You mean Confound them? Or Obliviate them? No thanks. I'd rather just take my grounding."
"As you wish."
"When is anything ever as I wish?" Alexandra snapped. "This is all a game to you, and you treat me and my sisters like pawns, and Muggles like less than that!"
"I'm not the one moving you about the chess board. It's your father who put the pieces in motion, before you were born."
"I never asked to play the game."
"Most people don't. The rest of the world is indifferent to your suffering. I, at least, am willing to listen to you."
"Only if you think I might tell you something useful."
"I didn't make you a Secret Keeper, your father did."
"I'm not a Secret Keeper anymore!"
Ms. Grimm smiled thinly. "Aren't you?"
"I told you everything I know about the Thorn Circle. I told you everything about Maximilian and Darla and the Lands Below. There are no more secrets to protect."
Ms. Grimm didn't reply to that, but her cold smile made Alexandra wary and suspicious.
She hated Diana Grimm and her sister, Dean Grimm, and her father, and right now she pretty much hated the whole wizarding world. Ms. Grimm seemed to sense Alexandra's mood, and didn't say anything more until they pulled up in front of the Greens' house on Sweetmaple Avenue.
It was late afternoon, but not yet time for her mother to have gotten off work at the hospital, so when she saw her mother's car in the driveway next to Archie's truck Alexandra knew there was no hope of sneaking inside. Then she saw Brian sitting on the front step. Her expression was as dumbfounded as his when he sat up and looked at Diana Grimm's car.
"That boy," Ms. Grimm said. "How much does he know?"
Alexandra tore her gaze away from Brian. "Nothing," she said quickly. "I hardly even talk to him anymore."
"How much does he know, Alexandra?"
"Please, leave him alone."
"How much does he know?" Ms. Grimm repeated a third time, in an implacable, commanding voice.
Alexandra closed her eyes. "He's known I could do magic since we were little. But once I started going to Charmbridge, we stopped talking." She opened her eyes again. "You're the one who animated that store mannequin right in front of him."
"Yes, so I did." Ms. Grimm regarded Brian thoughtfully. "Muggle friends and family have always seen glimpses of our world. But the restrictions are much tighter than they used to be."
"Let me guess – the WODAMND Act says it's a crime if I tell him anything, even though you can do whatever you want."
Ms. Grimm said, "I'll leave your friend be – for now – on one condition."
"Promise me no more attempts to Apparate. At all. Not until you've taken Apparition classes and gotten a license."
Alexandra narrowed her eyes. Brian stood there watching the car, shuffling his feet. Pretty soon her parents would see them.
"I promise," she said.
"You still have my card?" Ms. Grimm asked.
"You ask me that every time. Yes, I still have it."
"One of these days, you will want to call me. Go on, then. Remember what Dr. Pruett said – get plenty of rest. Have a good year at Charmbridge."
Suspiciously, Alexandra got out of the car and closed the door. Ms. Grimm waved and drove off, leaving Alexandra standing in the street a few feet from the curb, facing Brian across her lawn.
She hobbled to the curb, then strode across the sidewalk and slowly up the path, trying not to limp. Each step was like pressing a hot iron on her leg.
"Who was that?" Brian asked.
"Someone from my school," she said. "What are you doing here?"
He stared at her incredulously. "Your arm and leg were broken."
Alexandra cursed inwardly. The Confundus Charm might have made him compliant, but it hadn't taken away his memories. "No. It just hurt a lot right after I fell. It looked worse than it was."
"Your arm was broken!" he insisted. "I could see it!" He looked her up and down. "And you were bleeding." He was becoming agitated. "I... I left you there. I don't know why I did that! That woman, did she take you to a hospital?"
"Forget it, Brian. I'm all right now." It hurt just to stand there. Alexandra wanted to go inside and get the yelling over with so she could lie down.
"I saw you! You fell out of a tree and your arm and leg were broken and your hands were bleeding –"
She held up her hands. "See? I'm fine."
He shook his head stubbornly. "I know what I saw."
Too much, she thought. All her weight was on her good leg, and she was gritting her teeth. Her sister's pain-numbing charm must be wearing off.
"How can you walk around after that?" he asked.
Out of patience, she gave him a flat stare and said, "Magic."
He stared back at her. Then the door behind him opened, and Alexandra's mother was standing there. "Alex! Brian – what...? Never mind. I'm sorry, you have to go home now." When she spoke to Alexandra, her tone became hard and angry. "Inside, now."
Brian didn't say anything. He just watched Alexandra go inside, with a confused expression on his face.
Alexandra was used to being in trouble. Usually her stepfather yelled at her, her mother gave her an exasperated lecture, and she was grounded. But this time was different. Archie called her a runaway and said he'd almost had the Larkin Mills Police Department looking for her. Her mother had not been reassured by her cryptic message.
While her parents were remonstrating with her, Alexandra sat stiffly on the sofa trying to hide her physical discomfort.
"All Brian could tell us was that he saw you with a woman you'd been with before in the mall," her mother said.
Alexandra held herself very still. Her arm and leg bones felt like hot metal warming to a fiery glow inside her flesh, and she didn't dare show it because her mother would insist on knowing how she'd been hurt and what had happened to her. "It was Ms. Grimm."
"What the hell was Ms. Grimm doing with you out at Old Larkin Pond?" Archie said. "There's something awfully damned strange about that school of yours."
Alexandra snorted, which allowed her to wince without showing pain. "You think?"
"That's enough," her mother said. "Alexandra, go to your room. Archie and I need to talk."
"Give me your phone first." Archie held out his hand. "No more phone privileges for you."
"Don't you want me to be able to call if I get kidnapped again?" Pain was not improving her judgment.
Archie's face turned red and he was about to yell something else, but her mother, who had been watching her, asked, "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." Just taking her cell phone out of her pocket was a trial. Alexandra held it out with her left hand while keeping her right arm pressed to her side. Archie snatched the phone.
"Go upstairs," her mother said. "I'll be up there in a few minutes."
Alexandra wondered what else her mother wanted to say to her, but she rose to her feet and forced herself to walk as normally as she could up the stairs. When she reached her room, she collapsed to her bed and pressed her face into her pillow to stifle a gasp.
Charlie jumped off her desk and landed next to her. "Troublesome!"
She groaned. Charlie always knew when she was in trouble.
"Troublesome vexes, Troubles woes," said the raven.
She groaned again. "I'm not in the mood, Charlie."
The bird croaked a compunctious "Sorry."
She closed her eyes. A few minutes later there was a knock on her door. From outside her room, her mother said, "We were really concerned."
Without opening her eyes, Alexandra said, "I used to run all over Larkin Mills by myself or with Brian. Why are you suddenly worried about me now?"
There was a long pause. Then she heard her mother open the door and enter her room.
"I've always been worried about you," her mother said. "What did Ms. Grimm want with you?"
"Just to talk."
She felt a hand on her leg. She flinched.
"What happened to you?" her mother asked.
Slowly, Alexandra rolled onto her good side. "You really want to know?"
"Yes." Her mother's face was tense, but she didn't look away.
"I fell out of a tree at Old Larkin Pond and broke an arm and a leg. Ms. Grimm happened to be there, because she's got this crazy obsessive interest in me, and she took me to a wizard Healer, who gave me a magic potion to heal me."
Her mother turned pale. "Did it heal you?"
"It doesn't work instantly. It's healing me now. But it really hurts – a lot. So if you and Archie have any more yelling to do, can I just lie here while you do it?"
Her mother sat next to her without saying anything. At last, she asked, "What was Ms. Grimm doing in Larkin Mills?"
"You'd have to ask her." Alexandra thought about explaining that there were two Ms. Grimms, but that would prolong an already painful conversation.
Her mother seemed to be struggling with her words. "Remember what I said last year. You don't have to go to Charmbridge if you don't want to."
For a moment, Alexandra found herself seriously considering that. She had seen someone die every year she'd gone to Charmbridge. She'd lost her brother and nearly died herself. Could she walk away from the wizarding world like Livia had?
She would miss her friends terribly, and she would miss magic, but she also missed the girl she had been, the girl who ran carefree through Larkin Mills, aggravating adults, confounding bullies, daring Brian to follow her, doing magic for fun.
She shook her head very slowly. She was too much a part of the wizarding world now. And if there was a chance for her to live more than seven years, she'd only find it there.
"It's my world now, Mom," she said. And added, with unusual sincerity, "I'm sorry."
Charlie said, "Sorry," which made Claudia start.
She touched Alexandra's shoulder. "I'll bring you something to eat. Lie still and heal." She rose to her feet.
"Am I still grounded?"
"You'd better believe it. Don't ever hang up on one of us again, or disappear like that. And don't tell us stories again, Alex. We aren't as stupid as you think we are."
"So does Archie know I'm a witch?"
Claudia paused. "Not exactly. I think he suspects you're like those people with special powers in the movies."
"People in the movies?" Alexandra groaned. "Great, Archie thinks I'm a mutant."
By the next day, she could walk with only a little pain, and after a few days her bones no longer ached. Her parents didn't relent on her punishment, however. She wasn't allowed out of the house again. Archie refused to return her phone, and on days when her parents both had to work, they called her at home, with dire warnings about the consequences should she not be there.
Given her promise to Diana Grimm, and her discovery that she couldn't hide magic use from the Trace Office, Alexandra had little reason to violate her restrictions. She was forced to call Payton long-distance using the house phone. She was not amused that he thought it was funny that she'd lost her cell phone privileges.
By the end of the summer, she was bored enough to think about actually running away. She counted down the days to the arrival of the Charmbridge bus.