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She pressed her ear to the door and listened for signs of Victor, but the bathroom door stayed firmly shut, and finally, as the prickle left her skin, she crawled back to the too-big bed in the strange hotel, curled in on herself, and tried to find sleep. At first it wouldn’t come, and in a weak moment she wished Serena were there. Her sister would perch on the edge of the bed, and stroke her hair, claiming the gesture made thoughts quieter. Sydney would close her eyes and let everything hush, first her mind and then the world as her sister’s touch dragged her down into sleep. But Sydney caught herself, twined her fingers in the hotel sheets, and remembered that Serena—the one who would have done those things—was gone. The thought was like cold water, sending Sydney’s heart into rapid fire all over again, so she decided not to think of Serena at all, and instead tried a counting trick one of her sitters had taught her. Not counting up, or counting down, just counting one-two-one-two as she breathed in and breathed out. One-two. Soft and steady, like a heartbeat, until finally the hotel room sank away, and she slept.

And when she did, she dreamed of water.




SYDNEY Clarke died on a cool March day.

It was just before lunch, and it was all Serena’s fault.

The Clarke sisters looked identical, despite the fact that Serena was seven years older, and seven inches taller. The resemblance stemmed partly from genes and partly from Sydney’s adoration of her big sister. She dressed like Serena, acted like Serena, and was, in almost every way, a miniature version of her sister. A shadow, distorted by age instead of sun. They had the same blue eyes and the same blond hair, but Serena made Sydney cut hers short so people wouldn’t stare. The resemblance was that uncanny.

As much as they looked like each other, they bore little resemblance to their parents—not that they were often around to provide comparison. Serena used to tell Sydney that those people weren’t their parents at all, that the girls had washed ashore in a small blue boat from some faraway place, or been found in the first-class compartment on a train, or been smuggled in by spies. If Sydney questioned the story, Serena would simply insist that her sister had been too young to remember. Sydney was still fairly sure they were just fantasies, but never entirely sure; Serena was very good at telling tales. She had always been convincing (that was the word her sister liked to use for lying).

It had been Serena’s idea to walk out on the frozen lake and have a picnic. They used to have them every year, right around New Year’s when the lake in the center of Brighton Commons was nothing but a block of ice, but with Serena off at college they hadn’t had the chance. So it was a long weekend in March, toward the end of Serena’s spring break, and a few days shy of Sydney’s twelfth birthday, when they finally got to pack their lunch and head out onto the ice. Serena wore the picnic blanket as a cape and regaled her little sister with the latest tale of how the two had come to be called Clarkes. It involved pirates, or superheroes, Sydney wasn’t paying attention; she was too busy taking mental pictures of her sister, shots she’d cling to when Serena left again. They reached what Serena deemed to be a good bit of lake, and she tugged the blanket from her shoulders, spread it out on the ice, and began to unload the eclectic assortment of food she’d found in the pantry.

Now, the problem with March (as opposed to January or February) was that even though it was still quite cold, the depth of the ice was waning, uneven. Small patches of warmth during the days caused the frozen lake by their house to begin to melt. You wouldn’t even notice the change, unless it broke beneath you.

Which it did.

The cracks were small and silent beneath a film of snow as the two arranged their picnic, and by the time the sound of splitting ice had grown loud enough for them to hear, it was too late. Serena had just started another story when the ice gave way, plunging both into the dark, half-frozen water.

The cold forced all the air from Sydney’s lungs, and even though Serena had taught her how to swim, her legs got tangled in the blanket as it sank, dragging her down with it. The icy water bit at her skin, her eyes. She clawed toward the surface and Serena’s kicking legs but it was no use. She kept sinking, and kept reaching, and all she could think as she sank farther and farther away from her sister was come back come back come back. And then the world began to freeze around her, and there was so much cold, and that began to vanish, too, leaving only darkness.

Sydney later learned that Serena had come back, that she had pulled her up through the freezing water and onto the unfreezing lake before collapsing beside her.

Someone had seen the bodies on the ice.

By the time the rescue crew got out to them, Serena was barely breathing, her heart stubbornly dragging itself through every beat—and then it stopped—and Sydney was the cool blue-white of marble, just as still. Both girls were dead at the scene, but because they were also technically frozen, they couldn’t officially be declared, and the paramedics dragged the Clarke sisters to the hospital to warm them up.

What followed was a miracle. The sisters came back. Their pulses started, and they took a breath, and then another—that’s all living is, really—and they woke up, and they sat up, and they spoke, and they were, in every discernable way, alive.

There was only one problem.

Sydney wouldn’t warm up. She felt fine, more or less, but her pulse was too slow, and her temperature too low—she overheard two doctors say that with her stats, she should be in a coma—and they deemed her too fragile to leave the hospital.

Serena was another matter entirely. Sydney thought she was acting strange, even moodier than usual, but no one else—not the doctors and nurses, not the therapists, not even their parents, who had cut a trip short when they heard about the accident—seemed to notice the change. Serena complained of headaches, so they gave her painkillers. She complained of the hospital, so they let her go. Just like that. Sydney had heard them talking about her sister’s condition, but when she walked up and said she wanted to leave, they stepped aside and let her pass. Serena had always gotten her way, but never like this. Never without a fight.

“You’re going? Just like that?” Sydney was sitting in her bed. Serena was standing in the doorway in street clothes. She had a box in her hands.

“I’m missing school. And I hate hospitals, Syd,” she said. “You know that.”

Of course Sydney knew. She hated hospitals, too. “But I don’t understand. They’re just letting you go?”

“Seems so.”

“Then tell them to let me go, too.”

Serena stood beside the hospital bed, and ran her hand over Sydney’s hair. “You need to stay a little longer.”

The fight bled out of Sydney, and she found herself nodding, even as tears slid down her cheeks. Serena brushed them away with her thumb, and said, “I’m not gone.” It reminded Sydney of sinking beneath the surface, of wanting her sister so badly to come back.

“Do you remember,” she asked her big sister, “what you were thinking in the lake? When the ice broke?”

Serena’s brow crinkled. “You mean, besides fuck, it’s cold?” Sydney almost smiled. Serena didn’t. Her hand slid from Sydney’s face. “I just remember thinking no. No, not like this.” She set the box she’d been holding on the side table. “Happy birthday, Syd.”