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Dad watches both of us, looking paler by the second. “Dad?” I lean across my propped up leg and tug at my sock. “Could you get some ice for my foot? It’s throbbing.”
He scowls. “Can’t it wait a second, Alyssa?”
“Please. It hurts.”
“Yes, she’s hurt.” Alison reaches over and touches my ankle. The gesture is shocking—so normal and nurturing, it chills my blood and bones. Alison is touching me, for the first time in eleven years.
The monumental event rattles Dad so much, he leaves without another word. I can tell by the twitch in his left eyelid that he’ll be bringing Poppin’ Fresh back with him.
Alison and I don’t have long.
The minute he vanishes through the door, I jerk my leg off the chair, wincing against a jolt of pain in my ankle. “The fly. We both heard the same thing, right?”
Alison’s cheeks pale. “How long have you heard the voices?” “What difference does it make?”
“All the difference. I could’ve told you things . . . things to keep you from making the wrong choice.”
“Tell me now.”
She shakes her head.
Maybe she’s not convinced I hear the same voices she does. “The carnations. We should honor their last request.” I pick up a plastic spoon and, carnations in hand, hop on one crutch to the edge of the cement courtyard where the landscaping begins. The earth smells damp and fresh. The sprinklers have been on recently. Alison follows close behind.
I don’t see the walrus gardeners anymore. In the distance, the shed door is open. The men must be inside. Good. There’s no one to interrupt us.
Alison takes the flowers and spoon and drops to her knees. She uses the spoon to burrow into the soft earth. When the plastic snaps, she digs with her fingers until there’s a shallow grave.
She lays the blossoms within and rakes dirt back over the top. The expression on her face is like a sky filled with churning clouds, undecided whether to storm or dissipate.
My legs waver. For so many years, the women in our family have been pegged as crazy, but we’re not. We can hear things other people can’t. That’s the only way we could both hear the fly and carnations say the same thing. The trick is not to talk back to the insects and flowers in front of normal people, because then we appear crazy.
We're not crazy. I should be relieved.
But something else is going on, something unbelievable.
If the voices are real, it still makes no sense that Alison insists on dressing like Alice. Why she clucks her tongue. Why she rages for no reason. Those things make her look crazier than anything else. There are so many questions I want to ask. I shove them aside, because one other question is most binding of all.
“Why our family?” I ask. “Why does this keep happening to us?”
Alison’s face sours. “It’s a curse.”
A curse? Is it possible? I think of the strange website I found when I searched for the moth. Are we cursed with mystical powers like those netherling things I read about? Is that why my grandmother Alicia attempted flight—she tried to test the theory?
“All right,” I say, making an effort to believe the impossible. Who am I to argue? I’ve been chatting it up with dandelions and doodlebugs for the past six years. Real magic must be better than being schizophrenic. “If it’s a curse, there’s a way to break it.”
“Yes.” Alison’s answer is a croak of misery.
The wind picks up, and her braid slaps around her like a whip.
“What is it, then?” I ask. “Why haven’t we already done it?”
Alison’s eyes glaze over. She’s withdrawn somewhere inside herself—a place she hides when she’s scared.
“Alison!” I bend over to grip her shoulders.
She refocuses. “Because we’d have to go down the rabbit hole.”
I don’t even ask if the rabbit hole is real. “Then I’ll find it. Maybe someone in your family can help?”
It’s a stretch. None of the British Liddells even know about us. One of Alice’s sons had a secret affair with some woman before he went off to World War I and died on the battlefield. The woman ended up pregnant and came to America to raise their love child. The boy grew up and had a daughter, my grandma, Alicia. We haven’t been in touch with any of them . . . ever.
“No.” Alison’s voice pinches. “Keep them out of this, Allie. They don't know any more than we do, or we wouldn’t still be in this mess.”
The determination behind her expression shuts down any questions her cryptic statement might raise. “Fine. We know the rabbit hole is in England, right? Is there a map? Some kind of written directions? Where do I look?”
I jump as she pulls down my sock to expose the birthmark above my swollen left ankle. She has an identical one on her inner wrist. The mark is like a maze made of sharply angled lines that you might see in a puzzle book.
“There’s so much more to the story than anyone knows,” she says. “The treasures will show you.”
She presses her birthmark to mine, and a warm sensation rushes between the points of contact. “Read between the lines,” she whispers. The same thing she said earlier about the photographs. “You can’t lose your head, Allie. Promise you’ll let this go.”
My eyes burn. “But I want you home . . .”
She jerks back from my ankle. “No! I didn’t do all of this for nothing—” Her voice cracks, and she looks so tiny and frail at my feet.
I ache to ask what she means, but even more, I just want to hug her. I lower myself to my knees, ignoring the wound behind Jeb’s bandana as I lean in. It’s heaven, feeling her arms around me. Smelling her shampoo as I bury my nose at her temple.
It doesn’t last. She stiffens and pushes me away. A familiar jab of rejection scrapes through my chest. Then I remember: Dad and the nurse will be back at any second.
“The moth,” I say. “It plays a part in this, right? I found a website. The picture of the black and blue moth led me to it.”
Overhead, clouds dim the sunlight to a grayish haze, and Alison’s skin reflects the change. Terror sharpens her gaze. “You’ve done it now.” She lifts trembling hands. “Now that you’ve gone looking for him, he won’t be breaking his word. Not technically. You’re fair game.”