Read The Girl Who Never Was Online

Authors: Skylar Dorset

Tags: #Teen Paranormal

The Girl Who Never Was

skylar dorset

Copyright '2014 by Skylar Dorset Cover and internal design '2014 by Sourcebooks, Inc. Cover design by Regina Flath Cover art by Blake Morrow

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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems'except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews'without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Fire, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

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Printed and bound in the United States of America. VP 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For my parents, who are perfectly ordinary, in the most extraordinary way. Which makes me very lucky.

Chapter 1

One day, my father walked into his Back Bay apartment to find a blond woman asleep on his couch. Nine months later, I appeared on his doorstep. One year later, my aunts succeeded in getting him committed to a psychiatric hospital.

This is how the story of my birth goes.

My father says my mother was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. I always ask how she ended up on his couch. Where did she come from? I ask. Why was she there? Did you know her? My father always looks at me vaguely. The most beautiful woman I had ever seen, he tells me, and then he tells me the story of my name. Selkie, he says. She told me to name you Selkie. And I ask, How did she tell you? And he replies, She etched it into a snowflake, sighed it into a gust of wind, rustled it through the trees of autumn, rippled it over a summer pond.

And my aunts sigh and say, That's enough.

And when I ask my aunts about my mother, all they will ever say is that she was 'flighty.'

When I was little, I used to think maybe my mother would come to take me away. Aunt True and Aunt Virtue aren't exactly my aunts. They are my dad's aunts, making them my great-aunts, and therefore old'older than I could pinpoint when I was young. Now that I'm older, I know that they're older than my dad, but I can't quite figure out exactly how much older. Dad was their little brother's only child, I know, but the dates of births in my family are fuzzy. Who wants to remember how old they are? Aunt True asks me. I have never had a birthday party. Or an acknowledgment of my birthday. But I do have a birthday.

It is today.

I am sitting on Boston Common, watching the tourists get lost and the leaves fall, and I am thinking. The Common is the huge park in the middle of Boston. The story I have always been told is that it was originally a cow pasture and that the paved paths meandering through it follow the original cow paths, and I believe that; there is an aimlessness to them. I like that about Boston Common. I like that the place feels like it has no discernible purpose, in this age without cows. It is unnecessary, a frivolity in the middle of the city, prime real estate that isn't even landscaped, really, is just basic grass and some scattered trees. It is a place that just is, and I have always found, sprawled on the ground and looking at the buildings that crowd around it, that it is the perfect place to think.

I am, according to my birth certificate, seventeen today. I don't know whether or not to believe my birth certificate, though, honestly. Some days I feel that I must be much

older than seventeen and that somebody got it all wrong: my addle-minded father or my aunts who don't keep track of dates. And some days I feel much younger than seventeen, like a small child, and I just want my mother.

I feel that way now.

I am thinking of my mother, of how I am told I resemble her. I have never seen her photograph, so all I can do is study myself in the mirror and draw conclusions from there. Tall, I suppose, the way I am tall. Slender the way I am slender. It must be from her that I get my pale skin that resists all of my efforts to get it to tan, since my aunts and father have naturally olive complexions. It must be from her that I get my blue eyes, my blond hair so light that it can be white in certain lights. I wear my hair long, and I wonder if my mother did'if she does still, wherever she is.

'Hey,'says Ben, interrupting my thoughts. Ben works at one of the stands scattered through the Common. On hot summer days, Ben makes fresh-squeezed lemonade that he gives me for free. He brings it to me while I lie on the grass in the heat and read books and tell him what they're about. Now, at the time of year when it can be summer or winter both in the same day, Ben makes lemonade or sells sweatshirts, as the mood strikes him. It must be sweatshirts today, because he's brought me one, and he drops it playfully on top of my head, draped so that it momentarily obscures my vision.

I feel like I have known Ben all my life, but that's not true. I

just can't remember the first time I met him is the problem. I have always come to the Common to be alone, alone among the strangers, and Ben has always been in the background of life on the Common. I don't know when we started speaking to each other, when he started bringing me lemonade, when we learned each other's names. It all just happened, the way good things just happen without having to be forced. Ben is'I think'older than me in a way that always makes me feel very young, but I don't think he does it on purpose, the way the college guys do when we cross paths on the T, Boston's sprawling and ever-crowded subway system. Ben is effortlessly older than me. He is tall'taller than me'and thin'maybe thinner than me too, honestly'and has a lot of thick, dark, curly hair and very pale eyes whose color I can never quite pinpoint, and for a little while now, I have been ignoring the attention of Mike Summerton at school because there is Ben. But I don't think Ben is thinking that way, and what's really kind of annoying is that, in a relationship where I don't ever remember even having to tell Ben my name, why should I have to tell him that we're kind of dating, even if he doesn't know it and has never kissed me? He should just know, the way he knew I'd like lemonade and that I was cold and needed a sweatshirt.

'What are you up to?'he asks me, dropping to the leaf- strewn grass next to me. Ben moves with an absentminded elegance. When he drops to the ground, it almost feels like he floats his way down. It sounds weird, but it's the only

way I can think to describe it: a soft, fluttering quality to the way Ben moves. It is, trust me, very appealing. Ben never clumsily plops to the ground beside me. Ben always sort of sinks there. And you get the feeling, watching Ben move, that everything he does is very deliberate, no motion wasted. It makes it terribly flattering when he uses those deliberate, studied motions to come talk to you'terribly flattering and the slightest bit annoying. I am not known for my grace. Not that I'm the clumsiest person ever, but let's just say I know I'm never going to be a ballerina. My aunts say that I move with 'Stewart stubbornness,'trying to refuse to yield to hard objects or even gravity at times'that that is one thing, at least, that I did not inherit from my mother. I guess I have to take their word for it. In my head, whenever I imagine her, my 'flighty'mother moves so fluidly she could be floating.

'It's wet,'Ben says of the grass, and he crinkles his nose in displeasure, shaking his hands like a fastidious cat and all of his motions are so beautifully choreographed that he is painful to look at.

'Yeah,'I reply, as if Ben is not painful for me to look at and is just a regular friend, hanging out on the Common with me.

Ben shrugs and takes the sweatshirt out of my hands.

'Hey,'I protest as he puts it on the ground and sits on it. 'I was going to wear that.'

'You know I hate to be wet,'he says. And he does. I do know this. He wraps the cups of lemonade he sells in thickets

of napkins to keep condensation away from his hands. He complains vociferously whenever it rains. He has sixteen different ways of fending off dampness. I always ask him why he lives in Boston and sells things outside if he hates the rain so much; it rains here a lot. And Ben always shrugs. Ben shrugs in response to lots of things. Like whenever I ask him why he doesn't go to school. He is'I think'too old for high school, although he never confirms this. But why not college then? One of the two hundred colleges in the Boston area?

And Ben shrugs.

'Today is my birthday,'I blurt out. I don't know why I say it just then. I never tell anyone my birthday. I expect Aunt True and Aunt Virtue to come running out of the townhouse to scold me about how polite people never reveal such personal information.

But nobody comes dashing across Beacon Street. The piano player outside the entrance to the T plays something tinkling and tuneless. Ben says, 'Happy birthday.'He does not ask me how old I am. I am glad for that. It seems weird to say that I'm seventeen when I feel so much younger than that. Then he says, 'It's the autumnal equinox. You were born on the autumnal equinox.'

'Not really. Well, I don't know. The autumnal equinox is different every year.'

Ben shrugs.

I want to tell him that I would like to find my mother.

I don't.

xx Kelsey is my best friend. She has never been inside my house though. I don't allow anybody inside my house. The air in that house shouldn't be disturbed by outside people. Aunt True and Aunt Virtue wouldn't even know how to address a new person. They have been talking to the same people for centuries it feels like. 'A proper Bostonian never talks to strangers,'they tell me, and their definition of stranger means 'every person on the planet except the four people we know.'Life on Beacon Hill, for a certain type of Bostonian, has not changed in hundreds of years. Sometimes I think it will never change.

But today'today I think maybe change is right around the corner. I feel like even the air I'm breathing feels lighter.

Kelsey is waiting for me on the sidewalk, and I jump over the last two front steps to meet her. This is not really like me, and she lifts her eyebrows.

'I have a good feeling,'I tell her.

She smiles. 'Good. Me too.'Kelsey always has a good feeling when we are about to go on what she considers to be an adventure. Kelsey likes adventures. She would have started looking for her mother ages ago had she been in my position. She adjusts the bag slung over her shoulder and tips her chin in the direction of the Common. 'Let's go,'she says.

My house sits right on Beacon Street, on the very outer edge of the higgledy-piggledy, charm-personified area of

Boston known as Beacon Hill, a place whose very streets were literally designed to try to keep the less desirable element out, set out in a rabbit warren that only those with the right breeding were supposed to know how to navigate. It seems strange to me, quaint, an entire neighborhood built so defensively, as if preparing for an invasion from the rest of the city. Beacon Hill is full of ancient brick townhouses that all hug each other, tipping drunkenly against each other on the unsteady land of a hill that was halved in height at one point so that its dirt could form the rest of the city. My house is no different, with unnecessarily large doors and dramatic, curved walls. Like the very poshest of the Beacon Hill houses, some of the windowpanes are the distinctive lavender that dates back centuries, to a defective shipment of glass once unknowingly used in Boston Brahmin Beacon Hill homes. The panes, months after installation, revealed a tendency to turn lavender in the sun and became the best sort of accidental status symbol. For a little while, there were imitation lavender panes all over Boston, none ever quite managing to duplicate the particular Beacon Hill shade. The fad for imitation eventually fell out of fashion. Now only a few of the originals remain, and tourists walk up and down the busy and chaotic thoroughfare of Beacon Street, almost getting hit by cars as they dart into traffic to get a better angle on our front windows. I feel sometimes like I live in a museum from the number of people constantly loitering around my front stoop.

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