4. ISLA

The thing about selkies is that we get attached easily.

My brother says it’s some kind of self-defence mechanism built into our genes, developed over centuries of being trapped by fishermen and forced to live on shore. You can live in silent anguish and anger, or you can adapt.

We’ve chosen to adapt.

Or at least, most of us have. I don’t think I have. I don’t really like most people. If some fud has stolen my pelt and kept me on land against my will, I don’t think it’s made better just because my nature makes me easily fall for people. It’s still barbaric. It’s still wrong. If someone tried to take my pelt, I’d be more likely to chib them than love them, and I don’t think I’m crazy for that.

Sometimes I wonder if we actually do get attached too easily, or if we’re just buying into our own myth. Selkies of lore are gorgeous mute women with hair the colour of blood and skin white as snow, who come to land and are beautifully sad until they can escape to the water.

That doesn’t really line up with my experiences with selkies. So I dunno why I’m supposed to believe that we’re genetically predisposed to falling in love. Everyone else does, though. But then again, even if it’s all bullshit, one thing is true: selkies are loyal creatures. Whether we grow up that way or we’re programmed from our DNA, I’ll never know. But when we love someone, we commit.

My mum used to say that the only thing more important than protecting your pelt while on land is giving away your pelt while on land. If you give it away freely, you’re giving someone the most important thing you have: Your life. Your ability to ever return to the sea. You have to protect it, until you find the person you trust with it. She used to say that you’ll know immediately. 

Something in them will sing to you.

Maybe I don’t get it because I’ve never met someone who would ever be worth it. Who would make the itching shoes and cramped spaces and persistent cold something I could deal with for the rest of my life. My mum gave up everything for her husband Conor. When they were together it was like watching the sea come up to meet the shore. They fit. They were meant to be together.

She said she loved him from the moment she saw him.

So I suppose that’s kind of been the sticking point in my whole “commitment issues” thing. That’s what my brother calls it, at least. Well. Called it. The idea of instant attraction. It’s bullshit too, when you think about it. And extremely shallow. No offence to Mum. But Conor was attractive, for an older fellow, and I sometimes think her instant love was less about some internal alarm going off and more about his nice jaw.

And besides, I don’t really get attached easily. I got attached to Kit, but that’s about it. He’s the only human I’ve ever connected with, other than my mum and her family. (But even then, I don’t really feel any desire to look up my human step-siblings.) My brother is human now, and if I knew where he was, I’d feel attached to him as well, but that’s different. He’s family.

Humans are just… messy. Complicated. Too layered. Not really something I’ve ever felt drawn to. 

But the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen is shouting at us, and I think I’m in love.

I didn’t expect this to happen at all. I especially didn’t expect this to happen in the middle of a smoky pub that smells like grease and mould. But here we are. It’s happening.

“Thomas Madigan? You fucking piss stain!” the woman across the room shouts. “Get the fuck out of here you pure piece of shite.”

Is this what Mum meant about my person singing to me?

We’ve barely made it into the doorway of the dingy local house, but she saw us immediately — honey blonde hair pulled up away from her face, green eyes narrowed. Her expression is stone cold, giving nothing away. I think she could kill Thomas without ever setting hands on him. I think I would let her.

I expect Thomas to go rigid or have a nervous fit, but his mouth breaks into a wide smile and his shoulders relax. I didn’t know he was capable of relaxing. I didn’t know he was capable of smiling. It looks odd on him, like a dog walking on its hind legs.

His arms open and the woman on the other side of the bar breaks her stony expression to grin and hurry toward us, throwing the cloth she was using over her shoulder. Her skin is tan, her athletic arms fully on display beneath the sleeves of her stretched out, black cotton t-shirt.

How isn’t she freezing? I feel close to dying from the cold after our hike into the village, with the wind whipping at my face and destroying my skin. My curls have come out of their band and seem to have somehow expanded, but they’re not offering any additional warmth, damn them.

“Tanis,” Thomas says, stepping forward into a hug. “It’s good to see you, hen.” Tanis comes up to his shoulder, the top of her bun tickling at his ear, which is impressive, considering I don’t even hit his shoulder.

She pulls back suddenly, her grin gone, and smacks him on the arm. Judging by Thomas’s intense flinch, she didn’t regulate her blow. 

I like Tanis.

“Ya big fucking lovely bastard, why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” she asks, and then glances over at me. Her eyes settle on mine for a long moment, and one corner of her mouth comes up. She switches between mean and amused far too quickly, and I love it.

Maybe I’m shallow. Maybe I get it.

“Wasn’t planned,” Thomas mumbles, but Tanis is now ignoring him.

“Tanis Hughes,” she says, holding out her hand to me. “You a friend of Thomas’s?”

“Isla,” I respond, taking her hand. Her fingers are long and spindly, like branches, and her nails are impeccable; cut short and neat, not stubby and uneven like mine. “And no. I’m a friend of Kit’s.”

“Oh my God, you’re that Isla?” Tanis says, her smile dropping immediately as worry creeps onto her face. “Have you seen him? He asked me to make a cake for you, but then he never told me for when. He isn’t answering his texts, which isn’t that unusual, but when I went by he wasn’t home. I’ve been starting to get worried.”

“Oh, you’re the cake bird,” Thomas says, nodding. I stare at him. What kind of a fucking idiot is he? Tanis looks nothing like a bird.

“Listen, Kit’s why we’re here,” he continues. “Do you have a moment?”

“Aye, this place is dead, will be till the after work crowd,” Tanis says, waving her hand dismissively. “Listen, go sit down, I’ll get some food and then we can head up to mine, yeah?”

My heart jumps at the mention of food. I’m beyond starving. I haven’t eaten since Thomas’s kitchen yesterday morning. Well. I took a few Rolos from Kit’s bedside table, but those don’t count. And neither do the stale ginger biscuits from Cormac’s house. Or the crisps I stole before we left Glasgow.

“I’m not hungry,” Thomas says, but Tanis ignores him and gives us a shove toward a corner booth.

The old wood booth is hard as rocks and the table is vaguely sticky, but the place is comfortable enough. There are only four other people in here — two men sitting at a table near the window, washed out by the bright greying light, and another two sat at the bar watching rugby on the dim television mounted on the wall. I wish there were a fire going in the huge hearth across from us. I’m freezing. Everything on land is so cold without my pelt. 

“So who is she again?” I ask, nodding generally at the area where Tanis disappeared while snuggling further into my parka.

“An old friend,” he responds, pulling his knit cap off his head and shrugging out of his coat. “We all grew up together. She and I used to date, actually.” He makes a face like this is a highly unpleasant memory. I can’t imagine why it would be. Tanis is delightful.

“What happened?”

“Kit,” Thomas says, his jaw clenching. It takes true energy that I do not have to not sigh. I hate how Thomas has a way of making even a teenage relationship sound like some dramatic, depressing, world-ending affair. I wish he would just get over himself and his drama.

“Also, I’m fairly sure she’s a lesbian,” he adds, his tone a bit lighter. “So that didn’t set us up for success, I suppose.”

“Is that a kind of creature?”

“What?” Thomas snorts, his voice pitching up. “No. No it’s not.” He laughs again and shakes his head. “Please ask her that, though.”

There’s a pack of playing cards laid out on the table next to a bowl of nuts, and I pull them toward me, fiddling with the worn down, softened red cardboard. I don’t know how to play; I highly doubt Thomas would teach me. Kit would. Kit would also tell me what a lesbian is.

“Then is she a magician as well?”

“No, she’s a baobhan sith,” he responds, and then leans closer, cutting me off before I can exclaim. “And keep your voice down, yeah? Most people on Mab are normal.”

“A baobhan sith?” I whisper, my excitement rising. I haven’t heard anyone talk about them since I was a kid, when my mum would read to me from one of her huge story books when Murray and I came for our land days. Those were my favourite. I hated when I got too old for them. “I thought they were extinct? Is she really?”

Thomas squints and throws a hand up.

“For someone who is, herself, a creature, you’re irrationally excited by this.”

“First off,” I say, grabbing a handful of pine nuts and shoving them in my mouth, “it’s interesting. Second off, they’re brilliant, right? Beautiful women born from moss and tears who feed off the blood of unfaithful men and turn into wolves.” I chew the nuts and sigh. “I love dogs. Mum and Conor used to have a Spaniel. Loved him.”

“Don’t ever let my mum catch you saying that,” Tanis says, appearing at our side. “She absolutely hates dogs. Says they ruin our whole aesthetic.”

She’s let her hair out of her bun to flow over her shoulders and down her back, and put on an oversized black leather jacket that hides her arms. In her hands are three large cardboard containers. Patches of grease are already staining through, and the scent of something warm and delicious floats off it.

“Come on then, I’m just upstairs,” she says, shoving the food containers at Thomas and digging out a pair of keys from her pocket. She waves at an older woman with blonde hair who has come to watch the bar, and leads us through a door that I had assumed ran to the kitchens. 

Instead it opens onto a long, narrow hallway of carpeted stairs which reek of damp. They creak nervously as Tanis heads up them, her thick black boots slamming down with each step.

“Can’t believe you live over the pub,” Thomas mutters as we climb. “You’re becoming a caricature of yourself, Tan.”

“Well, you look like you’ve come off a heroin bender, so I suppose we’re both being our best selves,” Tanis responds brightly. We reach the top of the stairs and she unlocks a large wood door and shoulders it open, not even wincing as it screams and skids on its hinges.

The flat inside is small and cramped, but bright. Everything seems contained to one room, but the furnishings don’t at all reflect the manky state of the pub and hallway. 

A large white wrought-iron bed takes up the majority of the flat, shoved into the far corner and nearly cut off by the angled ceiling. It’s piled high in blankets and pillows, and overlapping rugs litter the warped dark wood floor. An overstuffed yellow velvet chair sits by the open window, and a spindly, rickety looking dining table is shoved in next to the cramped galley kitchen.

It’s unexpectedly lush, for a flat over a pub. I just assumed it would be dark and smoky, like downstairs.

“So why’d you move out from your mum and aunt’s house? I thought you were all attached at the hip,” Thomas asks. He’s leaning against a bookcase bursting with brightly coloured paperbacks with titles like The Highlander Takes A Bride and The Milkmaid’s Temptation. There seems to be an entire shelf dedicated to a series called God of the Fjord.

Thomas doesn’t even notice that there’s a heavily muscled man with a toga and a trident next to his ear.

“Turns out that three vengeance creatures with the same feeding cycle living in one terrace house is a bit much,” Tanis says, dropping her keys on the table. “Plus, I’m slowly taking ownership of the pub from Mum and Aunt E, and it’s easier to do it from here. It’s nice being closer to Mac as well.”

Thomas throws the containers onto the table, narrowly avoiding several plants that have been shoved there. There are plants all over the flat — littering all available surfaces, tacked up on the wall and crowded along the large window near the bed, which is currently wide open and letting in a stiff wind that smells like sea salt. The window makes it look like the sea is creeping into the flat; only the very tips of other houses and buildings are visible, and then it’s just a wide expanse of sea and sea stacks.

If the flat were warmer, it would be perfect.

Tanis shrugs off her jacket and leans down in the kitchen to pull out two ciders and a can of Irn Bru. She pops the caps then passes them around, putting the Irn Bru in front of Thomas with a pointed thud.

“I’m not an alcoholic, I can handle a beer,” he bitches as Tanis hands me a brown bottle.

“Sorry, pub rules. We don’t serve minors or people who look like they’ve come back from the dead.”

I’ve never had alcohol before — mum didn’t drink, and neither does Kit — so I’m unsure what to expect as I swallow the liquid down, but it’s sweet. Sweet and bitter and slides down like warm honey, and I love it. I love beer. I love pubs. I love Tanis. This day started with smoke and blood and it’s getting so much better.

Beer and food are officially the only human experiences I like.

I let out a long sigh of contentment, and Tanis grins at me. One of her bottom teeth is sharper than the others. Is that a wolf thing? I don’t think that’s a human thing. Or maybe they’re just uneven?

“So,” she says, turning her eyes back on Thomas and sitting down at the table. “Four years, muppet.”

Thomas sits down and fiddles with the tab of his Irn Bru.

“Four years,” he agrees.

“Care to share what you’ve been up to?”

Thomas shrugs and looks away. I cannot possibly imagine these two dating. There is no world in which they are equals. Tanis looks like an Amazonian goddess, and Thomas is more like a highly frazzled porcupine.

“Travelling, mostly,” he answers finally. “A bit of tutoring here and there. Freelance magic, that stuff.”

Tanis passes me one of the containers, and I nearly grab it out of her hands in my eagerness. The two of them have taken the only chairs at the table, so instead I heft myself up onto one of the kitchen counters and turn sideways, propping my right foot up for balance and nestling the food between my thighs. It’s a tight fit, what with the low hanging cabinets and my bulky parka, but I don’t mind. I have food.

Tanis grins at me again (and doesn’t tell me off for sitting on her counters like Kit does) and flips the lid of her own box.

“And you’re here looking for Kit because…” she says. I pop a chip in my mouth and almost cry. She’s put cheese and vinegar on them. Conor used to make vinegar chips. Kit never does. He says they’re bad for you.

“He’s missing,” I say, swallowing my food. “I came to visit and he was gone. No sign, so I went and got Thomas.”

“You stayed on land?” Tanis asks, frowning. I shrug and dig out another chip.

“Needed to be done. You haven’t seen him either?”

“No,” Tanis responds, her worried expression not softening. “I told you, no word. It’s not unusual for him to go off the map for a few days here and there, but I’ve been getting worried. This month’s feeding time is coming up.” She glances at Thomas. “He agreed to be my donor, since old Bill Douglas finally kicked it. We’d talked about meeting up on Halloween to do it, make it a properly spooky affair.”

“He was going to be your donor?” Thomas repeats, eyes wide as he nudges at a chip but doesn’t eat it. “Isn’t that… intimate?”

“You’re the only one who thought it was too intimate,” Tanis says, her brows flat in good-natured annoyance and nibbling on a chip. Thomas’s ears go bright pink. “It’s just a favour between friends. I’m going to make him a nice steak dinner, take some of his blood, then put him to bed and make him some tea in the morning.”

“Is that what you did with old Bill Douglas?” I ask, popping another chip in my mouth and grinning. 

Tanis’s eyes dart to me as she smiles back. I like her smile; it tugs at one corner of her mouth, accentuating the thin, pale scar that runs across the top of her upper lip.

“Nah, toward the end there he mostly just wanted me to listen to war stories,” she says. Her forehead wrinkles. “I started kind of feeling bad about using him as a donor to be honest, but it’s hard to find one who’s willing.” She shoots a sharp glance at Thomas, but he doesn’t even register it.

“Listen, have you seen Owen? We thought he might have an idea where Kit is,” he asks, leaning forward. I dig a piece of steaming battered fish out of my box and pop it in my mouth, and then instantly regret it, as it’s way too hot to eat.

“Owen?” Tanis asks, distracted. She’s watching me wave my hands in front of my face to try to cool off the food. I look like an absolute idiot. I think I’m drooling out of the corner of my mouth but my tongue is on fire.

“Yeah, is he still around? I talked to him about six months ago but it looked like he moved out. Did he leave Mab?”

I swallow the fish and wash it down with a long sip of beer, but I drink it too fast and I almost double over as coughing takes over my body. I cannot believe the food has turned on me like this.

When I look up, Tanis is watching me, her head tilted, her mouth half open in a small smile. My cheeks flare hot. Christ, I’ve made myself look like an absolute idiot.

“Oi,” Thomas says, rapping the table with his knuckles. “Tanis.”

“I’m sorry, what are you talking about?” Tanis asks, finally looking back over at him. Thomas closes his eyes as he huffs in annoyance.

“Owen Darrow. Our friend, Owen. Tall, pale and sickly? Have you seen him? I don’t have his number.”

“Right,” Tanis says, frowning. “Yeah, I can’t help you there.”

“Why? Do you not have his number either?”

“No,” Tanis says slowly, the frown never leaving her face. “It’s because I’ve got absolutely no idea who you’re talking about. I’ve never met this person in my life.”

The room is silent and I pause before taking another bite of fish to stare at Thomas. His brows are pulled together so tightly he might explode, and he takes a deep breath. He does that a lot. It seems like he’s so constantly about to fall apart that he has to physically pull himself back together.

“Ah,” he says finally, his voice strained. “Well. This is not ideal.”

Tanis and I blink in unison, and Thomas pulls off his glasses with a quick jerk, then sits there staring at us, like the blurriness of his vision can hide him from our questions.

“What are you talking about?” Tanis asks, her green eyes softening. She looks concerned for him for the first time, her tough, mocking exterior falling away. She leans forward and taps his hand. “Thomas?”

“It would appear that things are weirder than we thought,” Thomas says, his voice a bit too high. “You really don’t remember Owen?”

Tanis shakes her head.

“I really, really don’t. Who is he?”

Thomas puts his glasses back on and stares out the window. 

“I don’t know how to explain someone that I’ve known my whole life. He’s just… he’s Owen. He’s always been there,” Thomas says, his voice faltering. He sounds lost. “He’s our friend. He grew up with us all. He lived with Kit and Cormac and me. I thought he still lived with Kit. But I haven’t seen him, and if you don’t remember him….” 

“I really, really don’t.”

“Well I do!” Thomas snaps, suddenly loud. “And if you don’t, then something is extremely wrong!”

“Oi, no need to shout,” I call to him. Tanis looks unfazed by his outburst, but it’s still uncalled for. “And we’ve already established something is wrong, since Kit is clearly missing as well.”

“I don’t really care about Kit,” Thomas snarls. “I care that my best friend has apparently been erased from Tanis’s memory!”

“Your best friend that you haven’t seen in four years and don’t have a phone number for, you mean?”

“Okay, alright,” Tanis says, shaking her head. “We’ll look into this Owen folk, okay? But right now, let’s focus a bit on Kit, since Isla and I can remember him, and him missing is a bit easier to wrap our heads around, aye?”

“Also, I don’t really give a shit about Owen,” I mumble. Tanis flashes me a look, but Thomas doesn’t seem to hear me. He groans and brings his hands to rub at his forehead, like he has a headache. 

“Look, I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know what’s going on in any way, shape or form,” he snaps. He looks a bit like he did when I first showed up at his flat, like he’s on the verge of a panic attack and either about to vomit or pass out.

“Thomas,” Tanis says, her voice gentle. “Thomas, eat your food.” She rises from the table and moves to the counter and flicks on the electric kettle, and then leans back against the wall, her arms crossed. The pose makes her t-shirt pull tight across her upper arms. God, I wonder if she does weight lifting, or it’s just part of being a vengeance creature thing? My human form absolutely did not come with developed muscles of any kind.

“What?” Thomas asks, not looking up from his misery fest at the table. 

“Eat your food. Then why don’t you head back to yours and get some kip, yeah?”

Tanis is looking at him with such a soft expression that I can finally get it. I can see how they could be together: Tanis cares about people. She reminds me a bit of my mum, actually. 

That makes me feel a bit weird for staring at her arms. Not like my mum. She’s nothing like my mum.

I really need to just stop this whole train of thought right now, probably.

“I think we should stay at Kit’s,” I say from my perch near the stove. “Just to be safe.”

“Why? I think it’s unlikely he’s going to come wandering home,” Thomas mumbles, slowly putting a chip in his mouth as Tanis watches him like a bird dog.

“He might,” I counter. I don’t have the empathy for Thomas that Tanis does. “And anyway, I don’t think you should stay at the other house. It made you feel sick.”

“Your house made you sick?” Tanis asks.

“Residual magic,” Thomas says, his head still in his hands. He lets out a low groan and runs his fingers through his hair. I can’t tell if he’s in pain or just being dramatic.

The kettle clicks off and Tanis busies herself with digging a bag out of the canister next to my left foot. She taps my boot and rattles the tin at me, and I shake my head. I don’t like tea. (Mum thought that was offensive, but I can’t help it. It’s gross.)

She pours the water over the teabag, and I watch the dark liquid spread out, swirling through the hot water as the leaves steep.

“Here,” Tanis says, setting the tea in front of Thomas before sitting back down. “Drink. So, what do you mean by residual magic?”

Thomas looks at the mug in surprise, like he didn’t notice Tanis making it, but he obediently reaches for it and takes a deep sip. How the hell does he handle drinking hot liquid? He didn’t even wait for it to cool.

“I don’t know,” Thomas says. “Residual magic from… something. Something about the house is off. If Owen is missing, and something is erasing him from memory, that might explain it…” Thomas says, spinning the mug on the table and then pressing his palms to the ceramic. 

“Erasing him from memory?” I ask, squinting. “Who can do that? A magician?”

Thomas shakes his head.

“No magician I know. Maybe there are some who could but… I don’t know. This didn’t feel like tapped magic. This felt like… like someone shifted the reality of the house, and I was looking through and seeing traces of the original reality underneath.”

Tanis is staring at him as intently as I am, and I wait for her to say something that will explain what the hell Thomas is saying. But she stays silent, and finally I can’t pretend that I follow any longer.

“Honestly that means nothing to me, but I’m glad you seem to understand,” I say. Tanis laughs, a surprised snort escaping her before she falls silent and looks vaguely embarrassed.

“There’s only a handful of things that could shift reality like that,” Tanis muses. Son of a bitch, she is following this conversation. “And none of them are good.”

“Of course they’re not,” Thomas mutters. “Why would they be good?”

“I might ask Mum, see what she thinks,” Tanis says, standing and stretching her arm across her torso. “Would she remember this Owen fellow?” she asks, now stretching the other arm. She has to know what she’s doing. She has to realise what her arms look like.

Thomas lets out a dry laugh. 

“She would. As much as she hates Kit and me, she hates Owen the most,” he says, shaking his head. “At least Kit and I have magical heritage. Owen is just normal. When she was helping with our schooling, your mum used to call him bland and dry.”

Tanis stares at him.

“That…” she trails off and brings her hand up to rub at the back of her neck. She seems spooked. “Yeah that sounds like something Mum would say. Maybe she’ll remember, especially if she taught him, like you claim. But it’s odd that this memory nonsense may have worked on me.”

Thomas grunts and puts his head on the table.

Tanis and I make eye contact over his head, and she raises an eyebrow then gestures down at him, clearly asking what’s going on. I shrug. She knows him better than I do; I just kind of figured these theatrics were normal.

Tanis places a hand on Thomas’s head and pats it gently. His brown curls bounce back against her hand. 

“You’re not doing well, are you Mads? You look all peely wally.”

He sits up enough to give her a weak grin.

“I’ve been worse,” he says with a shrug. Tanis clucks and turns away from him.

“Will you help him home?” she asks me. “Make sure he sleeps.” 

I nod. I don’t particularly want to leave — not yet anyway. Not when we’ve just unearthed more questions and absolutely no answers. I don’t want to go back to Kit’s empty house with just Thomas for company. But we need to get some rest, and Thomas looks like he’s about to collapse. I guess we haven’t really slept since yesterday. 

I hate the idea of wasting time on something like sleep, though. How can I sleep when Kit is missing? How am I supposed to deal with all this bullshit human stuff like cold and hunger and exhaustion where there’s something so much more important going on?

“I’ll come round tomorrow and see how you’re doing, and we’ll regroup then,” Tanis says, swooping down to press a kiss to the top of Thomas’s head. He shoves her away lightly, and she slaps his hand loud enough that I can hear the thwack.

As we make our way out the door of her flat, Tanis reaches out and grabs my arm. It’s a gentle grip, her thumb and forefinger meeting around the skin just above my elbow. “It was nice to meet you,” she whispers. “Sorry it wasn’t under better circumstances.”

“It was nice to meet you too,” I say, meeting her green eyes. They’ve little flecks of yellow in them. Or maybe gold. She gives me a smile that is probably too polite considering I’m standing here literally staring into her eyes, and then she glances at Thomas, waiting at the bottom of the stairs.

“Take care of him, yeah? Make sure he doesn’t suffocate under the weight of his own angst.”

I don’t know if anyone can promise that, but I give her my most reassuring smile.

It’s a silent walk back from the village to Kit’s house, and it takes every ounce of control I have to not ask Thomas what the fuck is going on. 

Mum would tell me to be patient. Murray would tell me to be compassionate. Those have never been my strengths, but I give it a try. So instead of asking Thomas about Owen, or Tanis, or any of the other millions of questions in my head, I focus on the walk.

It’s gorgeous here. You can see the ocean from everywhere on the island practically, spreading out to the horizon. I like that. Being on land is hard and uncomfortable, and I like being able to look up and see home. I like knowing it’s waiting for me if I need it.

The wind blows my hair into my face and I turn into it, trying to get my curls out of my eyes. I caught a look at my hair back at Tanis’s, and I know Mum would be horrified if she saw the state it’s in right now. It’s dried out and tangled and the curls have exploded. 

She always spent so much time teaching me how to take care of my hair. She wanted me prepared, in case I ever stayed, but I never saw the point; I was only here for a day, I had no plans of staying, so why bother? 

I wish I’d paid closer attention. I loved to watch her talk and feel her words wash over me, but I never took in much of the content. I’ve forgotten everything she taught me.

Turning away from the sea, I catch sight of Thomas. He’s twitching, looking over his shoulder every few steps.

“Thomas?” I ask. He jumps, his hazel eyes wide. “Thomas, are you okay?”

“Sorry,” he says, looking away from me and down at the ground. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his canvas jacket. “Sorry, I’m just… on edge.”

“Thomas,” I say again, looking behind us. There’s nothing but road and sea and gulls and the rooftops of Towe in the distance. “Thomas, are you seeing things?”

He closes his eyes and tightens his jaw and nods slowly. 

“What are you seeing?”

He glances behind us at the road for a long moment, and I stop to watch him. The wind is tearing into his curly hair, sending it in all directions, trapping it underneath his glasses. He looks very young, and very scared, and when he finally turns back to meet my eyes, he looks resigned.

“There are shadows following us home,” he whispers.

The sky is bright white above us, and the entire landscape is washed in grey. There are no shadows anywhere.

“The shadows follow me everywhere I go,” he adds, closing his eyes and letting out a deep breath. And then he keeps walking.

I watch him go for a moment, taking in his slumped shoulders and weary strides, his feet scuffling against the dirt, like every step is painful for him.

Maybe Thomas Madigan isn’t as dramatic as I thought.

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