I watched my reflection change in the mirror above the marble fireplace as the seasons changed outside. The garden bloomed with roses, and I bloomed into womanhood. After Aunt Sarah’s year of full mourning ended, she began to talk of presenting me at court, so that she might begin her search for a suitable match for me.
She would not hear that I might not be considered by the greatest families in London because of my skin, or my lack of family and property. “You are fair enough, and your face is so lovely! With your full lips, your raven hair—and your eyes, so exotic! You are a rare beauty, Mara, and I will ensure that you have the grandest dowry—any man would be lucky to have you.” She fingered the locket of her husband’s hair that hung around her neck.
But the professor discouraged this idea. In fact he discouraged any mention or proposal of my being brought out into society. Aunt Sarah was not a meek woman, but he was persuasive, and he persuaded her for a time. But he could not talk her out of marriage.
I told him I did not mind. I saw ladies and gentlemen paired off together, sitting sweetly in Hyde Park. Why not me? I dared not say it to the professor, of course. He was not married himself. He did not believe it natural to have one partner for an entire lifetime. “Animals do not mate for life, and we are animals, no matter what anyone pretends,” he told me more than once.
But I was presented at court anyway, and engaged six months later. My fiancé was sweet and shy, and he loved me. Our engagement lasted three months. He died on our wedding night, just before dawn.
JAMIE’S EYES WIDENED AS HE saw me and Stella approach. I was too shaky to stand on my own. Stella cut him off before he could ask any questions.
“Mara’s sick,” she said, “and you’re driving.” She tossed Jamie the keys and helped me into the backseat.
I was grateful for the help, but I hated it. I couldn’t even muster up a proper amount of self-loathing about it, though. I was too tired and too scared and too sick to do anything but lean back in the seat and close my eyes as Jamie drove.
It was early in the afternoon when we reached Savannah an hour later. We pulled into a hotel parking lot not far from the highway.
After we got our keys, Stella said to Jamie, “I need to talk to Mara. You go ahead.”
“Can it wait?” I asked. “I have to go to the bathroom.” I didn’t need to, actually, but I wasn’t up to talking about what she would want to talk about. I just wanted to sleep. Really sleep. In a real bed.
“Didn’t you just go?” Jamie asked.
I threw him a look, and he handed me a key to my room.
Stella followed me in, but I escaped into the bathroom immediately and turned on the faucet to hide the fact that I wasn’t peeing. But I soon heard voices outside—Jamie was in our room too, for some reason. Damn it.
After I could no longer justify hiding, I washed my face, took a few deep breaths, and opened the door.
“My key’s not working,” Jamie said. He looked from me to Stella. “Um, am I interrupting something?”
“Yes,” Stella said as I said, “No.”
“We have to talk about this, Mara,” Stella said.
Now I was just angry. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
“Mara’s period is three weeks late,” Stella said to Jamie.
“Awkward,” Jamie mumbled as he backed up toward the door. “I’m, uh, going—elsewhere.”
“We can’t ignore this, especially not if—”
“I’m not pregnant,” I said to her, answering the question she was going to ask eventually.
She raised her eyebrows. “You’ve been feeling dizzy. Emotional.” She ticked off each word with a finger. “Nauseous—”
“Jamie’s nauseous. We’re all fucking nauseous. And we’re all fucking emotional.”
“Not like you,” Stella said. “When I was first—when I first noticed what was happening to me, when I first started hearing voices, I thought I was crazy. I didn’t know what was going on but I knew something wasn’t right. I was confused all the time, my body felt weird, like it belonged to someone else. I stopped eating because it was the only thing that helped. But then I started taking drugs. And the drugs helped. I stopped hearing voices. I started eating again. And even at my worst—and my worst was pretty bad—I wasn’t like you.”
She didn’t say it, but I knew she was thinking about what I’d done to Dr. Kells. To Wayne. To Mr. Ernst.
I had nothing to say to that, so all I said was, “I’m not pregnant, Stella. I’m a virgin! Jesus.”
“As far as you know,” she muttered.
“What was that, Stella?” I asked sharply.
“As far as you know,” she said, louder this time. “You were out of it at Horizons. We all were. They did all kinds of tests in that place. What if—”
No. “No, Stella.”
“But what if—”
“Noah wasn’t there,” Jamie cut in.
“He was at one point,” Stella said. “But what if—”
Stella swallowed hard before she spoke. “What if it’s not Noah’s?”
It felt like her words had sucked all of the oxygen out of the room. One look at Jamie told me he felt exactly the same way.
I couldn’t speak, but I could shake my head.
“You won’t know unless you take a test,” Stella said.
I couldn’t believe this conversation was even happening. How did I get here? I racked my broken brain, desperately searching for a memory, any memory, that could help me answer that question. I forced myself to think about Horizons. They’d done things to me there. But what things?
Stella couldn’t be right. I felt sick. I was going to be sick. I covered my mouth with my hand and rushed to the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet before I threw up.
I crouched on the tile floor, shaking and sweating. I felt the pressure of her hands on my head as she swept my damp hair back.
“It’s still early,” Stella said gently. “You could terminate it.”
I threw up again.
“You need to know, Mara. One way or the other.”
“Oh, God,” I moaned.
When there was nothing left in my stomach, I stood up and washed my face. I brushed my teeth. I said good night to Jamie and Stella. My voice sounded robotic. Alien. It didn’t sound like it even came from me, but that wasn’t really surprising anymore. My body didn’t feel like mine anymore. Sometimes I did things I didn’t want to do, or said things I didn’t want to say. Sometimes I felt like crying for no reason, or snapped at the people I cared about for less. I’d been so worried for so long that I was losing my mind, but now it felt like I was losing my body. I felt like a stranger.