“I do,” I said. “Ownership sounds incredibly appealing.”
“Exactly!” Miaka typed and spoke at the same time. “Responsibility, individuality. It’s all missing now, so maybe I can make up for it later.”
I was about to say that we had plenty of responsibilities, but Elizabeth spoke up first.
“I had a new idea, too,” she trilled.
“Tell us.” Miaka set down her phone and climbed onto her as if they were puppies.
“I’ve decided I really like singing. I think I’d like to use it in a different way.”
“You’d be a fantastic lead singer in a band.”
Elizabeth sat up straight, nearly knocking Miaka to the floor. “That’s exactly what I thought!”
I watched them, marveling at the fact that three such different people, born to different places and times and customs, could balance one another out so well.
“What about you, Kahlen?”
Miaka propped herself up. “Any new big dreams?”
We’d played this game hundreds of times as a way to keep our spirits up. I’d had dozens of ideas over the years. I’d considered being a doctor as a way to make amends for all the lives I’d taken. A dancer, so I could practice controlling my body in every way. A writer, so I could find a way to use my voice whether I spoke or not. An astronaut, in case I needed to put extra space between the Ocean and me.
But deep down I knew there was only one thing I really wanted. I eyed the large history book that rested by my favorite chair—the book I’d meant to take back into my room last night—making sure the bridal magazine inside was still hidden from sight.
I smiled and shrugged. “Same old, same old.”
I swallowed as I set foot onto campus. Unlike some of my sisters, human ears set me on edge. But even now, I could hear Elizabeth’s voice in my head. “You don’t need to stay inside all the time. I’m not living that way,” she had vowed, maybe two weeks into her new life with us. And she stayed true to her word, not only getting out herself, but making sure that the rest of us also had as much of a life as possible. Venturing out was half to appease her, half to indulge myself.
Our current home was right near a university, which was perfect for me. It meant slews of people wandering around on open lawns and mingling at picnic tables. I didn’t feel the need to go to concerts or clubs or parties like Elizabeth and Miaka. I was content merely to be among the humans. If I sat under a tree, I could pretend to be one of them for hours.
I watched people pass, pleased we were in such a friendly area that some people waved at me for no reason at all. If I could have said hello to them—just one tiny, harmless word—the illusion would have been perfect.
“. . . if she doesn’t want to. I mean, why doesn’t she just say something?” one girl asked the crowd of friends surrounding her. I imagined her a queen bee, the others hapless drones.
“You’re totally right. She should have told you she didn’t want to go instead of telling everyone else.”
The queen flipped her hair. “Well, I’m done with her. I’m not playing those games.”
I squinted after her, positive she was playing a completely different game, one she would certainly win.
“I’m telling you, man, we could design it.” A short-haired boy waved his hands enthusiastically at his friend.
“I don’t know.” This boy, slightly overweight and scratching a patch of skin on his neck, was walking fast. He might have been trying to outwalk his friend, but his counterpart was so light on his feet, so motivated, that he probably could have kept up with a rocket.
“Just a tiny investment, man. We could be the next big thing!”
I suppressed a smile.
When the crowds dispersed in the afternoon, I made my way to the library. Since moving to Miami, I’d gone there once or twice a week. I didn’t like to do my scrapbook research at the house. I’d made that mistake before, and Elizabeth had teased me mercilessly for being morbid.
“Why don’t you just go hunt for their corpses?” she’d said. “Or ask the Ocean to tell you their final thoughts. You want to know that, too?”
I understood her disgust. She saw my scrapbooks as an unhealthy obsession with the people we’d murdered. What I wished she understood was the way those people haunted me, the way the screams stayed with me long after the ships sank.
My goal today was Warner Thomas, the second-to-last person on the passenger list of the Arcatia. Warner turned out to be a relatively easy find. There were tons of people with the same name, but once I found all the social networking profiles with posts that stopped abruptly six months ago, I knew he was the right one. Warner was a string bean of a man who looked too shy to talk to people in person. He was listed as single everywhere, and I felt bad for thinking that made perfect sense.
The last entry on his blog was heartbreaking.
Sorry this is short, but I’m updating from my phone. Look at this sunset!
Just below that line, the sun melted into nothing on the back of the Ocean.
So much beauty in the world! Can’t help but think good things are on the way!
I nearly laughed. The expression in every picture I’d found made me think he’d never exclaimed anything in his life. But I couldn’t help wondering whether something had happened just before that fateful trip. Did he have a reason to think the direction of his life was changing? Or was it one of those lies we told from the safety of our rooms when no one could see how false it was?
I printed out the best-looking photo of him, a joke he’d posted, and some information about his siblings. Sorry, Warner. I swear, it wasn’t me you died for.
With that complete, I was able to turn my mind to something a little more fun. I had learned over the years to balance out each devastating piece of my scrapbook with something joyful. Last night, it was looking at dresses before pasting in the last of Kerry’s pictures. Today, it was cakes. I found the culinary section and hoisted a stack of books to an empty space on the third floor. I pored over recipes, fondant work, construction. I built imaginary cakes, one at a time, indulging in the most consistent of my daydreams. The first, a classic vanilla and buttercream with pale-blue frosting and little white poppies. Three tiers. Very lovely. The next was five tiers, square, with black ribbon and costume jewelry broaches aligned vertically on the front. A bit more appropriate for an evening wedding.
“You having a party?”
I looked up to see a scruffy, blond-haired boy pushing a cart full of books. He had a flimsy name tag I couldn’t read and was wearing the standard college-boy uniform of khaki pants and a button-up shirt with his sleeves cuffed around his elbows. No one tried anymore.
I held back my sigh. It was unavoidable, this part of the sentence. We were meant to draw people in, and men were particularly susceptible.
I looked down again without answering, hoping he’d take the hint. I hadn’t chosen to sit at the back of the top floor because I felt like socializing.
“You look stressed. You could probably use a party.”
I couldn’t hold back my smirk. He had no idea. Unfortunately, he took that little smile as an invitation to continue.
He ran his hand through his hair, the modern-day equivalent of “Good day, miss,” and pointed at the books. “My mom says the secret to making good baked stuff is to use a warm bowl. Not that I’d know. I can hardly make cereal without burning it.”
His grin suggested that this was a little too true, and I was slightly charmed as he bashfully tucked a hand in his pocket.
It was a pity, really. I knew he meant no harm, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. But I was about to resort to the rudest move I had and simply walk away when he pulled that same hand back out and extended it to me.
i, by the way,” he said, waiting for me to respond. I gawked at him, not used to people pressing past my silence. “I know it’s weird.” He’d misread my confusion. “Family name. Kind of. It was a last name on my mom’s side of the family.”
He kept his palm outstretched, waiting. Typically my response would be to flee. But there was something about this boy that seemed . . . different. Maybe it was how his lips lifted into a smile without him seeming to even think about it, or the way his voice rolled warmly out of him like clouds. I felt certain snubbing him would end up hurting my feelings more than his, that I’d regret it.
Cautiously, as if I might break us both, I took his hand, hoping he wouldn’t notice how cool my skin was.
“And you are?” he prompted.
I sighed, sure this would end the conversation despite my kindest intentions. I signed my name, and his eyes widened.
“Oh, wow. So have you just been reading my lips this whole time?”
I shook my head.
“You can hear?”
“But you can’t speak. . . . Umm, okay.” He started patting at his pockets as I tried to fight the dread creeping down my spine. Unlike Miaka and Elizabeth, I didn’t find getting this close to humans exciting. It only meant I was in a realm where I might break the rules.
There weren’t many rules, but they were absolute. Stay silent in the presence of others, until it was time to sing. When the time came to sing, do it without hesitation. When we weren’t singing, do nothing to expose our secret.
“Here we go,” he announced, pulling out a pen. “I don’t have any paper, so you’ll have to write on my hand.”
I stared at his skin, debating. Which name should I use? The one on the driver’s license Miaka bought me online? The one I’d used to rent our current beach house? The one I’d used in the last town we’d stayed in? I had a hundred names to choose from.