Chapter 1 1
Parris, the island where it seems girls go to die.
And like always, Luca is the only one to remember Polly on her birthday.
Luca drives with the windows down, air twisting her curls around her face. Maybe that isn’t true. Maybe people do go to Polly’s grave, put down flowers that will sit and rot among the headstones. Perhaps they stop to clean off the photograph Polly’s mom chose, the one with her hair slicked back in a ballet bun and red-painted lips hiding her braces.
Luca wouldn’t know, because she never goes there. That’s not where Polly is, to her. It’s just a box in the ground and a stone in a place far too somber for a girl like the one Polly was.
It’s still early enough that the island is quiet as she drives across it. Not that it’s ever busy, really, but the roads are almost completely empty, every light green as she heads toward the bridge.
It rises up into the blue sky, the only way out of this place. Luca doesn’t drive across, though, but pulls to the side and turns the engine off. She gets out of the car, the stems of the orange carnations she brought with her pressed between her palms. Then Luca steps down, beside the bridge, onto the uneven rocky ground where nobody’s really supposed to go.
But we did, she thinks.
Her and Polly, climbing down these rocks, so they could reach the water below. That’s why she comes here. Or that’s mostly why.
Below her the ocean swirls, a calmness to the waves that’s unusual for this spot, and Luca throws out the carnations one by one, the bright blooms drifting down and down and down until they meet the water. “There you go, P,” she says. “Happy birthday.”
Three years she’s done this. She brings the flowers, she sits for a while; she starts to tell Polly something that’s happening and then stops, because what could she ever say that would mean anything now? School is shitty. Our favorite breakfast place closed. I realized I was in love with Jada right after you died and I told her about the curse and then she stopped speaking to me. What does any of that matter to Polly now? What does any of it matter when Luca is alive and she’s dead?
She was scared, the first time, to come back. To return to this place where the curse had surfaced. But then she had realized that really, this might be the safest place for her to go. After all, the curse never strikes the same place twice.
So she came, the first year, and the next, and now. And Luca will come back in a year and do it all again, like the ritual can change anything. But it means something to her, to do it. It means something that there’s somebody to remember Polly who really knew her. After all, Polly’s parents left the island soon after she died. Jada hasn’t talked to Luca in almost three years, acts like she and Luca and Polly were never even friends. And everybody else, well, they didn’t know her, and they don’t talk about her. She’s sure they have their reasons. Thinking about her is unnerving; they don’t like to look death in the face so close. Something like that.
Luca closes her eyes and remembers that last year, that last birthday. Fourteen years old. Polly is fourteen and Luca is seventeen now, will be eighteen in two short months. There was always that distance between them, Luca being born in the long days of summer and Polly coming so much later, arriving in the world during the spring bloom.
She waits there for as long as she can bear. Maybe it’s an hour, maybe it’s a minute. But when she’s done, Luca opens her eyes and looks down at the water again. She kisses her fingers and then holds them out to the air, her only goodbye to the girl she’s let down the most.
“I love you,” she says, words she never said when Polly was alive. “I’ll see you next year.”
And she leaves. She’s always leaving Polly behind, further and further with each day.