“No,” she says softly, as they step inside the house.

There is no sign of Mathieu, or Henri, their second child—just the baby, Sara, sleeping in a basket by the hearth. Isabelle sits Adeline in a chair across from the infant, and sets a pot of water over the fire.

“You’re being so kind,” Adeline whispers.

“‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me,’” says Isabelle.

It is a Bible verse.

She brings a basin to the table, along with a cloth. Kneeling at Adeline’s feet, she coaxes the dirty slippers off, sets them by the hearth, then takes Adeline’s hands and begins to clean the forest floor from her fingers, the soil from beneath her nails.

As she works, Isabelle peppers her with questions, and Adeline tries to answer, she really does, but her name is still a shape she cannot say, and when she speaks of her life in the village, of the shadow in the woods, of the deal she made, the words make it across her lips, but stop before they reach the other girl’s ears. Isabelle’s face goes blank, her gaze flat, and when Adeline finally trails off, she gives her head a quick shake, as if throwing off a daydream.

“Sorry,” says her oldest friend, with an apologetic smile. “What were you saying?”

She will learn in time that she can lie, and the words will flow like wine, easily poured, easily swallowed. But the truth will always stop at the end of her tongue. Her story silenced for all but herself.

A mug is pressed into Adeline’s hands as the infant begins to fuss.

“It is an hour’s ride to the nearest village,” Isabelle says, lifting the swaddled child. “Did you walk all this way? You must have…” She is speaking to Adeline, of course, but her voice is soft, sweet, her attention on Sara, breathing into the soft down of the baby’s hair, and Adeline must admit, her friend was seemingly made to be a mother—too content to even notice the attention.

“What will we do with you?” she coos.

Footsteps sound on the path outside, heavy and booted, and Isabelle straightens a little, patting the infant’s back. “That will be my husband, George.”

Adeline knows George well, had kissed him once when they were six, back when kisses were traded like pieces in a game. But now her heart flutters with panic, and she is already on her feet, the cup clattering to the table.

It is not George she fears.

It is the doorway, and what happens when Isabelle is on the other side.

She catches Isabelle’s arm, her grip sudden and tight, and for the first time, fear flits across the other woman’s face. But then she steadies, and pats Adeline’s hand.

“Don’t worry,” she says. “I’ll talk to him. It will all be well.” And before Adeline can refuse, the infant is pressed into her arms, and Isabelle is out of reach.

“Wait. Please.”

Fear beats inside her chest, but Isabelle is gone. The door stays open, voices rising and falling in the yard beyond, the words themselves reduced to windsong. The infant murmurs in her arms and she sways a little, trying to soothe the child, and herself. The baby quiets, and she’s just returning her to the basket when she hears a short gasp.

“Get away from her.”

It is Isabelle, her voice high and tight with panic. “Who let you in?”

All the Christian kindness, erased in an instant by a mother’s fear.

“You did,” says Adeline, and she has to fight the urge to laugh. There is no humor in the moment, only madness.

Isabelle stares in horror. “You’re lying,” she says, surging forward, halted only by her husband’s hand upon her shoulder. He has seen Adeline, too, marked her as a different kind of wild thing, a wolf inside their house.

“I meant no harm,” she says.

“Then go,” orders George.

And what else can she do? She abandons the baby, leaves behind the mug of broth, the basin on the table, and her oldest friend. She hurries out into the yard and glances back, sees Isabelle press her daughter to her chest before George blocks the doorway, ax in hand as if she is a tree to fell, a shadow set upon their house.

And then he too is gone, and the door is shut and bolted.

Adeline stands on the path, uncertain what to do, where to go. There are grooves in her mind, worn smooth and deep. Her legs have carried her to and from this place too many times. Her body knows the way. Go down this road, and take a left, and there is her own house, which is not her home anymore, even though her feet are already moving toward it.

Her feet—Adeline shakes her head. She left her slippers by Isabelle’s hearth to dry.

A pair of George’s boots lean against the wall beside the door, and she takes them and begins to walk. Not to the house she grew up in, but back to the river where her prayers began.

The day is already warm, the air edged with heat as she drops the boots onto the bank and steps out into the shallow stream.

Her breath catches with the cold as the river laps up around her calves, kisses the backs of her knees. She looks down, seeking out her warped reflection and half expects not to find it there, to see only the sky behind her head. But she is still there, distorted by the stream.

Hair once braided, now wild, sharp eyes wide. Seven freckles like flecks of paint across her skin. A face drawn in fear, and anger.

“Why didn’t you answer?” she hisses to the sunlight on the stream.

But the river only laughs, in its soft, slippery way, the burble of water over stone.

She wrestles with the laces of her wedding dress, peels the soiled thing away, plunges it down into the water. The current drags at the fabric, and her fingers long to let go, to let the river claim this last vestige of her life, but she has too little now to give up more.

Adeline plunges herself in, too, freeing the last flowers from her hair, rinsing the woods from her skin. She comes up feeling cold, and brittle, and new.

The sun is high, the day hot, and she lays the dress out in the grass to dry, sinks onto the slope beside it in her shift. They sit, side by side in silence, one a ghost of the other. And she realizes, looking down, that this is all she has.

A dress. A slip. A pair of stolen shoes.

Restless, she takes up a stick and begins to draw absent patterns in the silt along the bank. But every stroke she makes dissolves, the change too quick to be the river’s doing. She draws a line, watches it begin to wash away before she even finishes the mark. Tries to write her name, but her hand stills, pinned under the same rock that held her tongue. She carves a deeper line, gouges out the sand, but it makes no difference, soon that groove is gone, too, and an angry sob escapes her throat as she casts the stick away.

Tears prick her eyes as she hears the shuffle of small feet, blinks to find a round-faced boy standing over her. Isabelle’s four-year-old son. Addie used to swing him in her arms, spin until they both were dizzy and laughing.

“Hello,” says the boy.

“Hello,” she says, her voice a little shaky.

“Henri!” calls the boy’s mother, and in a moment Isabelle is there, on the rise, a basket of washing on her hip. She sees Adeline sitting in the grass, holds out a hand not for her friend, but for her son. “Come here,” she orders, those blue eyes lingering on Adeline.

“Who are you?” asks Isabelle, and she feels as if she’s at the edge of a steep hill, the ground plunging away beneath her feet. Her balance, tipping forward, as the dreaded descent begins again.