“Are you lost?”

Déjà vu. Déjà su. Déjà vécu.

Already seen. Already known. Already lived.

They have been here before, walked this road, or something like it, and so Adeline now knows where to put her feet, knows what to say, which words will draw out kindness, knows that if she asks in the right way, Isabelle will take her home, and wrap a blanket around her shoulders, and offer her a cup of broth, and it will work until it doesn’t.

“No,” she says. “I’m just passing through.”

It is the wrong thing to say, and Isabelle’s expression hardens.

“It is not fitting for a woman to travel alone. And certainly not in such a state.”

“I know,” she says. “I had more, but I was robbed.”

Isabelle blanches. “By who?”

“A stranger in the woods,” she says, and it is not a lie.

“Are you hurt?”

Yes, she thinks. Grievously. But she forces herself to shake her head and answer, “I will live.”

She has no choice.

The other woman sets the washing down.

“Wait here,” says Isabelle, the kind and generous Isabelle again. “I will come right back.”

She swings her young son up in her arms, and turns back toward her house, and the moment she is out of sight, Adeline gathers her dress, still damp at the hem, and pulls it on.

Isabelle will, of course, forget again.

She’ll get halfway to her house before she slows and wonders why she started back without her clothes. She’ll blame her tired mind, addled from three children, the infant’s distemper, and return to the river. And this time, there will be no woman sitting on the banks, no dress spread in the sun, only a stick, abandoned in the grass, a canvas of silt laid smooth.

* * *

Adeline has drawn her family house a hundred times.

Memorized the angle of the roof, the texture of the door, the shadow of her father’s workshop, and the limbs of the old yew tree that sits like a sentinel at the edge of the yard.

That is where she’s standing now, tucked behind the trunk, watching Maxime graze beside the barn, watching her mother hang linens out to dry, watching her father whittle down a block of wood.

And as Adeline watches, she realizes she cannot stay.

Or rather, she could—could find a way to skip from house to house, like stones skating across the river—but she will not. Because when she thinks of it, she feels neither like the river nor the stone, but like a hand, as it tires of throwing.

There is Estele, closing her door.

There is Isabelle, one moment kind, and the next filled with horror.

Later, much later, Addie will make a game of these cycles, will see how long she can step from perch to perch before she falls. But right now, the pain is too fresh, too sharp, and she cannot fathom going through those motions, cannot weather the weary look on her father’s face, the rebuke in Estele’s eyes. Adeline LaRue cannot be a stranger here, to these people she has always known.

It hurts too much, watching them forget her.

Her mother slips back inside the house, and Adeline abandons the shelter of the tree and starts across the yard; not for the front door, but for her father’s shop.

There is a single shuttered window, an unlit lamp, the only light a stripe of sun spilling through the open door, but that is enough to see by. She knows the contours of this place by heart. The air smells like sap, earthy and sweet, the floor is covered in shavings and dust, and every surface holds the bounty of her father’s work. A wooden horse, modeled from Maxime, of course—but here no bigger than a cat. A set of bowls, decorated only by the rings of the trunk from which they were cut. A collection of palm-sized birds, their wings spread, or folded, or stretched mid-flight.

Adeline learned to sketch the world in charcoal and pressed lead, but her father has always created with a knife; whittled the shapes out of nothing, giving them breadth, and depth, and life.

She reaches out now, and runs her finger down the horse’s nose, the way she has a hundred times before.

What is she doing here?

Adeline does not know.

Saying good-bye, perhaps, to her father—her favorite person in this world.

This is how she would remember him. Not by the sad unknowing in his eyes, or the grim set of his jaw as he led her to church, but by the things he loved. By the way he showed her how to hold a stick of charcoal, coaxing shapes and shades with the weight of her hand. The songs and stories, the sights from the five summers she went with him to market, when Adeline was old enough to travel, but not old enough to cause a stir. By the careful gift of a wooden ring, made for his first and only daughter when she was born—the one she then offered to the dark.

Even now, her hand drifts to her throat to thumb the leather cord, and something deep inside her cringes when she remembers it is gone forever.

Scraps of parchment scatter the table, covered in drawings and dimensions, the markings of past and future work. A pencil sits on the edge of the desk, and Adeline finds herself reaching for it, even as a dread echo sounds inside her chest.

She brings it to the page, and begins to write.

Cher Papa—

But as the pencil scratches across the paper, the letters fade in its wake. By the time Adeline has finished those two, unsteady words, they are gone, and when she slams her hand down on the table, she upsets a tiny pot of varnish, spilling the precious oil onto her father’s notes, the wood beneath. She scrambles to collect the papers, staining her hands and knocking over one of the little wooden birds.

But there is no need for panic.

The varnish is already soaking through, sinking in and down like a rock in a river, until it’s gone. It is such a strange thing, to make sense of this moment, to count what has and hasn’t been lost.

The varnish is gone, but not back into the pot, which lies empty on its side, the contents lost. The parchment lies unmarked, untouched, as is the table beneath. Only her hands are stained, the oil tracing the whorls of her fingers, the lines of her palms. She is still staring at them when she steps back, and hears the terrible snap of wood splitting beneath her heel.

It is the little wooden bird, one of its wings splintered on the packed-earth floor. Adeline winces in sympathy—it was her favorite of the flock, frozen in a moment of upward motion, the first rise of flight.

She crouches to gather it up, but by the time she straightens, the splinters on the ground are gone, and in her hand, the little wooden bird is whole again. She nearly drops it in surprise, doesn’t know why this is the thing that seems impossible. She has been made a stranger, has seen herself slide from the minds of those she’s known and loved like the sun behind a cloud, has watched every mark she tries to make as it’s undone, erased.

But the bird is different.

Perhaps because she can hold it in her hands. Perhaps because, for an instant, it seems a blessing, this undoing of an accident, a righting of a wrong, and not simply an extension of her own erasure. The inability to leave a mark. But Adeline doesn’t think of it that way, not yet, has not spent months turning the curse over in her hands, memorizing its shape, studying the smooth surfaces in search of cracks.

In this moment, she simply clutches the small, unbroken bird, grateful that it’s safe.

She is about to return the figure to its flock when something stops her—perhaps the oddness of the moment, perhaps the fact that she is already missing this life, even if it will never miss her—but she tucks the bird into the pocket of her skirts, and forces herself out of the shed, and away from her home.