I didn’t even want to go there.
Squaring my shoulders, I swallowed, and reached for the cane.
And damn if it didn’t reach back.
I staggered away a few steps. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. You’re focused. Centered.
I forced myself to reach for it again. Once more, it stretched toward my hand. This time it gently closed around my palm.
That curling leaf hadn’t already been curved. It was moving. Like an infant grasping a parent’s finger.
I hadn’t experienced that tingly feeling in my head during any of the plant interactions because I hadn’t been hallucinating. This was no vision—no delusion; this was real.
Straightening my shoulders, I stepped into the field, among all the cane. At once, the crop seemed to sigh, the leaves whispering around me.
I followed a row, deeper and deeper, those leaves ghosting over my face. My lids went heavy, as if a friend were brushing my hair.
The cane arched and danced toward me, and I went dizzy from pleasure, from the staggering sense of unity.
If they truly were my soldiers at attention, then I had the largest army in the world—six million stalks strong.
I could picture them moving in certain ways, and immediately they would respond. Bend, shimmy, sway. Left, right, up, back. Because we were utterly connected.
Among this number, I was safe, a chessboard queen surrounded by her pawns. And with this easing of tension, memories started trickling over the mental levee that CLC had helped me construct. I recalled more snippets of stuff my grandmother had told me.
On that last day I’d spent with her, as she’d driven us out on the big highway toward Texas, she’d said, “I’m a Tarasova, Evie, a chronicler of the Tarot. I know things that nobody else on earth knows. And you’re the Empress. Just like the card in my deck. One day, you’ll control all things that root or bloom.”
I’d been barely listening, dreaming about the ice cream she’d promised me.
Empress? Was that why I loved plants so much? Was that why they sighed to be near me? Both Death and the cryptic boy had called me Empress as well.
How insane all of this sounded! What was more likely? Plants moving on command? Or a teenage girl—with a history of mental illness—experiencing a delusion?
I slowed my steps, doubts arising. Hadn’t I had nightmares about the red witch controlling plants, hurting them? Was all this connected in my overwrought brain?
Maybe none of this was real. Maybe I was getting worse because Gran had spread her crazy to me—and I wasn’t fighting hard enough for the life I desperately wanted back.
Evie, do you understand why you must reject your grandmother’s teachings . . . ?
I gazed at the stalks swaying. I could be hallucinating—right at this moment.
I turned toward the house in a daze. On the front porch, I readied to face my mother. Easier said than done.
Mom really could be fierce. A regular Frau Badass. Which was great in some instances, such as when she’d taken over the farm from Gran and grown it into the parish’s largest in less than a decade.
Not so great in others—such as when she’d resolved to get me well.
At the front door, I took thirty seconds to compose myself. I need to learn how to whistle. My roommate at the center had taught me that trick. Parents never suspected their children were unhappy/delusional/high when the kid was whistling. Their minds just couldn’t reconcile it.
As I slipped inside, I puckered my lips, blowing soundless air. Whistling sucked.
I heard my mom on the phone in the kitchen. Was she upset? I froze. She had to be talking to Gran. Every now and then, my grandmother managed to elude the orderlies and ring home.
“I will fight this tooth and nail. Don’t you dare try to contact her!” Mom said, then paused for long moments. “You won’t convince me of this!” Silence. “Just listen to yourself! You hurt my little girl—there is no forgiveness! Cry all you like, this number will be changed tomorrow!”
When she hung up, I joined her in the kitchen. “Gran?”
Mom smoothed her hair. “It was.”
I opened my mouth to ask how she was doing, but Mom said, “Anything you’d like to tell me, Evangeline Greene?”
I hated it when she asked me that. I liked that question as much as I liked self-incrimination.
Where to begin?
Grades, schmades, bitches, think I’ll just flunk this year. For the first time in months, I’ve been having delusions. Or else I can make plants do tricks. Can’t decide which scenario I’m hoping for. I’m tempted to play my V card defensively, just to get this gorgeous, usually wonderful senior to back—the hell—off.
Instead, I told her, “Um, no?”
“You haven’t spoken to your grandmother?”
“Not at all.” Not since I was a little girl, and Mom had dispatched her to a home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Or at least, the court had, in a plea deal.
I remembered Mom had once tried to reassure me, calling it “the place to send relatives with dementia.” I’d gaped in horror.
Even if Gran had managed to call my cell phone, I would never have answered. My own release from CLC was conditional on two things: medication compliance and zero communication with her.
I’d agreed to both. Readily. By the end of my stay at CLC, my deprogramming had worked; I’d been convinced that Gran was merely disturbed.
Instead of prophetic.
Now I was questioning everything. “I haven’t spoken to her in eight years.”
Mom relaxed a shade. “She’s a very sick woman, Evie.”
Then she needs to be home with us, I almost said. No, two years and out. “I understand.”
“I don’t think you do. She’s very convincing. She’s got an answer for everything. Hell, she could get anyone spooked about this drought, connecting it to her crazy doomsday scenarios.”
“What did she say?” I asked quickly.
Mom narrowed her gaze, blue eyes flashing. “Wrong question. We are not concerned with what she says.” She pointed a finger at me. “She forfeited any consideration from us the day she tried to . . . kidnap you.”
I glanced away, part of me wanting to dredge up memories of that day, part of me fearing to. “I know, Mom.”
“She got you to the Texas state line before the cops pulled her over. God knows where she was taking you. Do you remember any of that?”
“I remember the arrest.” To her credit, Gran had gone with the officers peacefully, her expression satisfied. In a serene voice, she’d murmured, “I’ve told you all you need to know, Evie. You’ll do just fine. Everything will be just fine.”
But I had been hysterical. When they’d cuffed her, I’d kicked the men, screaming.
I glanced up at Mom. “I don’t remember much of the drive, though.” I didn’t remember all I needed to know. If I believed in Gran, then that meant I wouldn’t do just fine.
Nothing would be just fine. Unless I remembered. But no pressure, Evie.
“I’m sure she was filling your head with nonsense.”
Yes, of course. Nonsense. The docs had told me that I’d internalized some of the things she’d said. That sounded about right. Maybe?
“Her mother was sick before her, my great-grandmother too.”
I hated being reminded of that. I snapped, “I filled out the CLC family history, Mom.” I already knew I was the latest generation in a bloodline that had been boiling with madness for ages.
“Evie, listen, we’re on the right track. We can make this work. You’ve just got to trust me.”
A breeze blew, ruffling my cane. “And what about the farm? What happens if we don’t get rain?”
“What happens is that your mother will figure something out. You don’t worry about anything except school.”
School. Studying. The idea of cracking a book left me nauseated. “But, Mom—”
“I will figure something out.” Her shoulders went back, chin up, eyes bright with determination—a force of nature. Frau Badass.
I could almost feel sorry for the drought.
A family friend had once told me that when my dad disappeared during a fishing trip in the Basin, Mom had taken up the search herself. She’d journeyed deep into the million-acre swamp, determined to scour every inch for her husband, a kindhearted, jovial man she’d adored.
To no avail. He’d vanished without a trace. I’d been only two years old.
Though Karen Greene had a genteel facade, with her flawless hair and manners, I could easily imagine her in waders steering a johnboat, staring down alligators.
And to think I’d once shown signs of being just like her. I’d wanted so badly to make her proud. Until my platform-dive fall from grace.
Now I was just the latest crazy girl to live in Haven House.
DAY 1 B.F.
As Mel ushered me into a seat in front of my mirror, I demanded, “This is how I’m supposed to compete with Clotile?”
With borrowed clothes—a shimmery red Versace halter, black micromini, knee-high Italian boots—and flashy makeup?
Lipstick color: Harlot Letter.
Mel was over at my house, prepping me for date night because she felt the need to sluttify my outfit so I could stand a chance against Clotile’s “free-balling lady lumps.”
The girl had shown up at the game last night in a tube top and skintight boy shorts.
I told myself Brand would’ve missed those plays anyway. Hey, we’d still managed to eke out a win.
But even Grace Anne had trotted up to me on the sidelines and said, “You’re going to have to sleep with Brandon to keep him.”
As if that weren’t enough to worry about, I’d had another vision. In the middle of a routine, I’d experienced that shivery feeling in my head. At the very top of the bleachers, I’d spotted a strange girl, sitting in profile, her face too blurry to discern features.
She held a longbow and quiver in her lap and she’d seemed to glow even under the stadium lights. Her hair had been like backlit silver—not gray, but shimmery.
When she’d nocked an arrow to her bow and set her sights on some target in the distance, my skin had crawled. I’d almost missed a step. Forcing a smile, I’d ignored her, bounding along the sideline, cheering, “Go Stars!” Going crazy!
Visions coming so quickly meant I was escalating. As two out of five Atlanta shrinks had predicted.
Might as well enjoy my few remaining days at Sterling. The way things were going, they were numbered.
Now I told Mel, “Shouldn’t I wear whatever makes me feel most comfortable? Instead of this . . .” I motioned to my top—a bright swath of clinging material that tied at the neck and across the open back.
Mel scoffed. “Eves, on the scale from wholesome to whoresome, you’re practically Amish.”
“You have two choices, grasshopper. Out-slut Clotile—or go Springer on her ass. I’m down for the assist in both scenarios.”
The idea of competing with Clotile left a bad taste in my mouth. And yet I’d gone along with Mel as she chose my wardrobe and designated accessories: black chandelier earrings and a wide scarlet ribbon to work as a headband—because she’d decreed big hair for me.
As she began diffusing it, turning waves into wanton curls, I asked, “Mel, is this really necessary?” Though I’d never admit it, the lipstick was kind of fun.
“Stow it, Greene. You’re lucky I’m not brandishing Aqua Net. ’Cause I could’ve gone there.”
“When are you going to get ready?”
“Please. It takes me five minutes. You can’t improve on perfection.” Then she began chattering, outlining her plot to seduce Spencer.
Though we were curfew-free—I’d told Mom I was spending the night at Mel’s after our double date, and Mel had told Mrs. Warren that she’d be home “whenever my happy ass walks through the door”—I was nervous about tonight.
As I tried to pin down the source of my unease, I only vaguely responded to Mel’s plan. Yeah, sounds good, maybe.
“Seriously, Evie. What is wrong with you?” She laid down the diffuser. “You’ve been acting weird all week. Is there something up with me and you?”
“No! You’re my best friend.”
“Duh. But something’s up. You’re acting all Girl, Interrupted.” She studied my expression in the mirror, having no idea how close that was to the truth. “You don’t text with me. You missed ANTM, which is required viewing. You blow me off after practice.”
She hoisted herself up on my delicate dresser. It groaned in protest. “And what happened this summer? You couldn’t spare one call? All I got was lame letters from you. Who the hell writes letters? Why didn’t you just send smoke signals, or pigeons with little furled messages?”
I burned to tell her everything. But even as I imagined how I’d explain it, I remembered that another word for delusional was . . . psychotic. “Look, my mom is freaked over the drought. Brand is pressuring me. School is going to be impossible this year. I’ve already gotten two Fs! I’m a shit show!”
Let’s take a week’s tally, shall we? Hallucinations: two confirmed, perhaps more. Nightmares: countless. Homework assignments completed: zero.
New superhuman/possibly imaginary powers: I’d sprouted thorn claws, controlled plants, and spontaneously regenerated my skin from injury.
Mel waved away my concerns. “Ignore your mom, put out for Brandon, tank your grades. If you fail, I’ll flunk with you. Su fail-a, mi fail-a. Case dismissed.”
I wished it were so easy. “What if I don’t want to give it up to Brand yet? Huh? I don’t respond well to pressure!” Exhibit A: my wild-eyed look in the mirror. I took a calming breath. “I just feel like everything’s slipping away. I’m constantly scared of losing him, losing all my friends.”