It didn’t bother her.
Not the welcome to Rochester sign, not driving past the old daycare, not even her untouched room. It didn’t.
No nausea welled in her stomach, her muscles didn’t clench. Her hearing didn’t become so muddled at her bedroom door that she couldn’t hear Bracken as her breath shortened and her heart sped up—
“Here are some boxes.” He dropped them at her doorway. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I just didn’t sleep much on the way here. You know, with the coffee.” She turned around to face him and flash a smile. Hopefully his years of isolation made him bad at picking up on undertones. Her shaking hands were hidden behind her.
“Okay. Do you need help with packing up your room?”
“No,” she laughed. “I’m not helpless. Seth might need some assistance though.”
He smiled at her demeanor and left the hallway.
Her smile dropped and she tugged the boxes into her room before shutting the door.
Tangles caught her fingers as she ran them through her hair, sat on her bed before getting up to start emptying drawers and filling boxes. “I’m okay. I got this.”
“We need more tape? I could swing by the store and get it.” Kendra patted the side of the doorway she entered.
“Kendra,” Warren hesitated. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
Seth barely looked up from sorting the cutlery.
“Why not? I’ll be quick,” she pasted on a bright smile and dared him to break it. Anything to get out of this godforsaken house with its pink bulletin decorated with pictures of a past life, with people who think she’s… who think she’s—
“You’re already going to go out tonight. I could send Seth.”
“Seth can’t drive. I’m 16.”
“Right. Well, quickly.”
Minuscule cracks ran along the bathroom mirror.
“Hey! I wouldn’t run your fingers around that mirror, dear, it could give you a glass splinter.”
Kendra glanced over to the woman throwing her paper towels in the trash. “Thanks.”
The heavy door swung shut and Kendra was left in the bathroom alone again. Warren had been overreacting. Not a single person recognized her. Why would they, anyway?
Her reflection was far removed from the freshman everyone remembered.
It’s not like she did some crazy change to her hair or something, but everything about her seemed...heavier. Sadder. Different.
Enough of this. She grabbed the plastic bag of tape and left the gas station.
Kendra had pleaded with her parents to allow her to show Bracken around the city. It would be so out of left field for her to suddenly decide not to. It’s just...she didn’t know how draining it would be to be here.
Best to keep up pretenses.
Muted diamonds sparkled in the sky. Kendra had long forgotten how hard it had been to see the stars in Rochester—at least compared to the wilderness that was Fablehaven.
“So you grew up here?” Bracken’s feet puttered against the sidewalk.
“More in the suburbs, but yeah, this is Rochester.”
Kendra glanced at the askew stop sign, a ditch filled with litter, and the cracked concrete and shrugged. “If we walk fast enough we can get to the beach before we get mugged—”
“Wait, I thought we were safe. This is where you grew up, right?”
“Yeah, and we are.”
“You just said we could get mugged.”
“Well, you can always get mugged.”
The pier was dotted with a few locals enjoying the night and a couple of steadfast fishers.
“I would’ve taken you to the beachy park right near here, but my friends go there a lot.”
Bracken threw her a lopsided smile. “Are you embarrassed of me?”
“No,” Kendra blushed. “Of course not.”
“Why can’t we see your friends then? I want to meet who you grew up with.”
Kendra’s features were subtly confused. “I—did no one tell you?”
“What do you mean?”
She steadied her hands with a tight grip behind her back. “I, uh, two years ago a sting bulb masquerading as me was killed and well—everyone here thinks I’m dead.”
Nervous tingles shot through her hands that had nothing to do with the cold. The fear was akin to when she faced dragons without Seth. “Well, not everyone, but you know. I’ve not gone to places like schools and malls.”
“Kendra, we need to go back. This isn’t that big of a city.”
“I don’t want to hide in my own hometown, Bracken.” It felt like every undertone in his inflections added a weight to her chest. “It's a quarter of a million people. I know how to avoid people I know.”
“You just said we’re right next to a park your friends frequent.”
Little solar flares of anger heated her chest while she tried her best to tamp them down. Logically, she knew he was right, it was dangerous to be seen but...it all couldn’t just be gone. Her old life couldn’t have just been cut off.
To hide felt like...admitting it was all gone.
Bracken leaned in and lowered his voice. “What if they see a dead girl on the pier and tell everyone?”
“I am not a dead girl!” She pushed off the railing.
A couple heads turned at her outburst. Her fingers tugged at her sleeve. Frost decorated the planks but Kendra was sweating.
Her feet screeched on the icy planks as she hurried in the opposite direction. She was drained. It had been draining all day. Every comment, every question.
“You sure you want to go? We can pack up all the boxes without you.”
“It’s too dangerous. Someone will recognize you.”
“You have a death certificate under the City of Rochester, Kendra, and that isn’t something you can hide from.”
She knew. Her fingers curled around her sleeves and she stared longingly towards the park.
Turning the opposite direction, away from the suffocating accusations, Kendra let her mind run on autopilot. Running through every emotion that surfaced then trying to stuff it back down as she ran through the back alleys of Rochester.
Stuffing every little pinprick of a feeling back into its tiny little compartment where she’d never have to deal with it again. So she could be nice and fun and enjoyable without the icy claws of uncertainty, fear, and anger deepening their grip.
“Yeah, and then he’ll totally ask me out.”
Her heart stopped. Kendra practically could feel the eyeroll that followed her old friend’s statement. And it was—it was Alyssa. The lilting tone and the sweet way she insulted people.
Tears sprung to Kendra’s eyes.
“I’m just saying!” The voice came to the right. Kendra could turn and in a few steps, she’d be with them again, she’d have friends, she’d—
They’d buried her. Her friends had buried her while she’d been scared and alone in Torina’s prison.
Kendra had a gravestone. She no longer belonged in high school, or with friends, or with the normal.
Besides, it’d been years. Kendra could never muster up the cruelty to interrupt her friends’ conversation and derail their lives. She couldn’t.
Even as the tears fell down her face and she bit her fist to stop the whimpers, she couldn’t.
She was dead and oh god there was a body under her gravestone—
“Oh, is that your homecoming dress? It’s so pretty.”
“It matches Kyle’s tie. He’s a senior.”
They’re going to homecoming. Imagine that.
A tremor shot through her body and a sob built at the back of her throat—she cannot be here.
Turning left, she sprinted with all she had.
Sandy alleys melted into cracked sidewalks. Pebbles of pavement flew in her wake as she tore down the darkening streets. Blackbirds mocked her frantic running and shadows peeking at her peripherals taunted her sanity.
Concrete turned to dirt clods and orange paint strokes of sky melted to purple ink.
Only until Kendra sunk to her knees on the cold earth and wiped the tears clouding her vision could she see her destination.
A forsaken cemetery of all places.
Dirt infiltrated her fingernails as she scratched the frozen ground.
Gulping down knife-like air, she rose again, unsteadily.
Every step took her in the direction of home, but also to more recent graves.
21st century death dates replaced the 20th. Replaced...she wondered if whoever Alyssa was talking to was her replacement.
Raised dark stone caught the drag of her feet and sent her toppling forward.
Her chin hit the ground and rebounded with enough force to split her lip. Groaning, she rolled over until she struck an obelisk in her path.
The faint glimpses of her eyes fluttering open told her the gravestone was clean with a few dead flowers. Even higher, the name was spelled.
Kendra Marie Sorenson
May God be with her
A scream tore through her throat. Her grave, she was on her grave.
Her body was under her—not her exact body—but a copy of years ago.
Six feet. Only six feet separated her and—oh god she's going to be sick.
Sitting up, she emptied her stomach and leaned back against the freezing stone. Blood trickled down her jaw and exhaustion pulled her eyes closed.
Why even fight anymore?
Kendra Marie Sorenson was dead.