“Always leave a trail of bread crumbs,” she said. “So you know how to find your way back. Franny taught me that my first summer here. I think she was afraid I’d get lost.”
“Because I wandered off too much.”
That didn’t surprise me. Vivian’s personality was too big to fit inside the tidy confines of camp life. All those tennis lessons and crafting sessions. I’d started to notice how she greeted each one with a bored sigh.
She dropped another petal, and I turned around to look at the long line of them stretching away from us, marking our progress. It was a comforting sight. Like tiny, tangerine-colored footprints we had left behind that would eventually guide us home.
“Two Truths and a Lie,” Vivian said as she plucked off another petal and let it flutter to the ground. “I’ll go first. One: A guy once flashed me in the subway. Two: I have a flask of whiskey hidden under my mattress. Three: I don’t know how to swim.”
“The second one,” I said. “I’d have noticed if you were secretly drinking.”
I thought of my mother and how she smelled when she greeted me after school. The spearmint gum she chewed did little to hide her wine breath. Even if it had, I was already an expert at noticing the slight dimness in her eyes whenever she drank too much.
“Aren’t you the observant one,” Vivian said. “That’s why I thought you’d like to see this.”
We had come to a large oak tree, its sturdy branches spread wide to create a canopy over the surrounding ground. An X had been carved into the bark, as big and bold as the way Vivian marked the lid of her trunk back in Dogwood. At the base of the tree sat a pile of leaves that camouflaged something beneath it.
Vivian pushed the leaves out of the way, exposing an old and rotting wooden box. Time had stripped the veneer from the lid, which allowed water and sunlight to do their damage, staining the wood in some spots, bleaching it in others. As a result, the box had become a patchwork of colors.
“It’s cool, right?” Vivian said. “It’s, like, ancient.”
I ran a finger over the lid, feeling a series of groves in the wood. At first I thought it was just another product of age and the elements. But when I looked closer, I noticed two faint letters etched into the wood. They were so worn by exposure that it was hard to make them out. Only when I leaned in close, the odor of mold and wood rot filling my nostrils, could I read them.
“Where did you find it?”
“Washed up on the shore last summer.”
“While you were wandering off?”
Vivian smirked, pleased with herself. “Of course. God knows how long it was there. I brought it here for safekeeping. Go ahead and open it.”
I lifted the lid, the wood so soft and waterlogged I feared it might disintegrate in my hands. The inside of the box was lined with a fabric that might have once been green velvet. I couldn’t quite tell because the fabric was in tatters—nothing but dark, leathery strips.
Inside the box lay several pairs of scissors. Antique ones with ornate circles for finger holes and thin blades tapered like stork legs. I suspected the scissors were made of silver, although they’d been tarnished the same color as motor oil. The screws that held them together were swirled with rust. When I picked up a pair and tried to pry them open, they wouldn’t budge. Age and disrepair had rendered them useless.
“Who do you think they belonged to?”
“A hospital or something. There’s a name on the bottom.” Vivian took the box and shut the lid, holding it closed. When she flipped it over, the scissors inside rattled together. It sounded like broken glass. “See?”
Engraved on the bottom of the box, in tiny letters dulled by time, were four words: Property of Peaceful Valley.
“I wonder how it got here.”
Vivian shrugged. “Tossed into the lake, probably. Decades ago.”
“Have you asked Franny about it?”
“No way. I want to keep it a secret. No one else knows about it but me. And now you.”
“Why are you showing me this?”
I looked down at the box, a lock of hair falling over my face. Vivian leaned forward and tucked it behind my ear.
“I’m your big sister for the summer, remember?” she said. “This is what big sisters do. We share things. Things no one else knows.”
I take the lead in the woods, trying to walk in a straight line, my eyes constantly flicking to the wavering compass for guidance. When I’m not looking at the app, I’m studying our surroundings, seeking out places in the brush where someone could be hiding. Although we’re far from camp, the feeling of being watched stays with me. Every thicket gets a second, suspicious glance. I mistrust each shadow that stretches across the forest floor. Whenever a bird screeches in the trees, I fight the urge to duck.
Get a grip, Em, I tell myself. The four of you are all alone out here.
I can’t decide if that makes me feel better or worse.
If the girls notice my jumpiness, they don’t say anything. Krystal and Sasha walk behind me. Every so often, Sasha calls out the names of trees she recognizes.
“Sugar maple. American beech. White pine. Birch.”
Behind them is Miranda, who peels off petals from the flowers I’d picked and drops them to the ground at regular intervals.