Colette knelt next to her backpack. The zipper sang to her as she opened it, and took out her maths notebook. When she opened it, she realised it was not hers. Frowning, she flipped the pages; then she looked at the name. Amelia O'Keefe. "Oh, no," said Colette out loud. "What's wrong, honey?" asked her mother. She walked into Colette's bedroom, smiling down at her daughter. "Did you fail your maths test?" Colette shook her head. "No, Mom," she said. "Amelia O'Keefe's in my math class. We have the exact same backpacks. She must have accidently dropped her notebook in my bag."
"Look in the back," suggested her mother. "Maybe there's an address." Colette checked the last page. There was an address. "It's not far from here, Mom," said Colette. "I'll go and give Amelia back her notebook, and get mine." "Can't it wait?" asked Colette's mother. "There's a pretty important test tommorrow," Colette told her. "We both need to study for it." Colette grabbed her coat and headed for the door.
It was a bright golden autumn afternoon, a day that smelled of cinnamon and wood smoke. Brown leaves crunched under Colette's sneakers as she walked up to the house. She rang the doorbell. It was a long time before someone answered. Colette looked around impatiently. A few sparrows were pecking at something invisible in the long blades of grass in the garden. Colette put her hand in her coat pocket and found a crumbling piece of cake. She hrew it to the sparrow, who chirped loudly and started eating it when the door opened.
The woman who opened the door had brunette hair falling around her face in curls. She was healthy and clean, but there was something strange about her. Like everyone else, Colette knew her; she was the woman who had sued her best friend, a wrongful birth lawsuit, and her daughter had some kind of problem in her bones. Her eyes had small lines fanning out from their corners; her smile twitched as if the muscles in her cheeks were not used to it; her eyes were ringed with black. "Yes?" she asked, her eyes on Colette's face.
Colette smiled. "Hi, I'm Colette," she said. "I'm a friend of Amelia's." Well, not technically, thought Colette. She probably doesn't even know my name.
"That's great!" said the woman, her fake smile widening into something real. "Do you want to talk to her?" Colette nodded. "I need to talk to her about some math-"
"Why don't you wait for her in her room?"
Colette nodded, and she walked down the hallway to Amelia's room (straight on, and then the first room to the left). Colette stepped into Amelia's room and blinked. The walls were plastered with large paintings, all in several shades of blue. she stepped closer to examine one, and touched it with her fingertips. Paint powdered her skin.
The painting showed an elfin girl, a skein of fine gold hair skimming the pack of her knitted jacket. The girl was standing amongst the tall grasses and frost-covered reeds fringeing a frozen pond. The tip of one boot was balanced delicately on top of the ice. It was incredibly detailed; Colette could even see the sholace that was unravelling from the girl's shoes. One was scribbled onto the corner of the paper, in handwriting so messy it looked like an abstact painting.
Curiously, Colette scanned the rest of the paintings-they all featured the girl in the first painting stepping across the ice, her breath billowing in icy clouds through her scarf.
abruptly, the ice spiderwebbed, and the girl plunged into the cold water, ice breaking away from her hands. She scrabbled her hands uselessly, and then, in the last painting, her skin was light, light blue and her figure drifting through the water, outsteched arms and trailing legs making her look like a mermaid.
the last picture was not a painting but a photograph; the same girl, in a dark polished coffin, her lips stretched into a silent scream. A curly haired woman sobbing over her, a man with a stricken face staring at her face, memorising her features. Amelia, her face pinched, biting her lip, tears streaking her cheeks.
It was Amelia's sister, Colette realised. She remembered reading in the newspaper about Willow O'Keefe's death, she'd felt sad about the poor girl, and then laid the paper aside and reached for her cereal bowl.
Amelia O'Keefe's room had a notebook on her desk. Colette picked it up and flicked through it. It was written alternately in gel pen and pencil and ballpoint, the handwriting messy or pristine. Willow loved the smell of new crayons, read Colette. She was terrified of spiders. She knew how big a grave was. Willow bought Mom lavender perfume on her birthday, because Mom liked it; Willow bought Mom rose perfume on Christmas because Willow liked the smell.
page after page, full of memories and traits and persnality. Colette felt a stab of guilt-she'd violated something incredibly private. Instead of leaving, Colette opened a desk drawer. It was filled with pencils and quarters hapharzardly littered with crumpled sheets of papers. And-a box of razor blades.