The First 500 Words

Chapter One:

The Curse

redhead woman with leaves and branches

Clio wanted to disappear.

If she closed her eyes and concentrated really hard, she could probably even do it for real; just not be there as far as everyone on the school bus was concerned. Except Mary. Clio could never do that to Mary. That trick only worked on people she didn’t like.

Clio glanced over her shoulder. Laura and Lauren, the school’s ninth grade bullies, sat right behind Clio and Mary. Clio couldn’t remember if Laura was the blond or the brunette, and with her luck there’d be a pop quiz after the older girls beat her up.

“Clio, I promise those girls don’t care that we snuck onto the wrong bus. Let it go already.”

“I don’t like bullies.” Clio looked at Mary, framed in the dusty school bus window. Even though they were both thirteen, the two girls couldn’t have been more different. Clio felt like an awkward beanstalk and pale as milk next to the tan, athletic, four-foot-tall girl. And while Mary tied her straight, black hair away from her face, Clio preferred to hide behind her fiery red curls.

Plus, Mary loved earrings and pins and pretty much anything shiny. Clio, like her deceased mother, could never wear jewelry because most metal gave her a burning rash.

Like her maybe deceased mother, Clio corrected herself, and her heart sped up.

Clio’s perfect childhood had been shattered five years ago when her mother had suffered some kind of sudden emotional breakdown and sent Clio to live with the Goldwyns, Mary’s family. Clio had begged her mother to let her stay. Mrs. McNulty, their live-in nanny, could take care of her Clio had tearfully pleaded. But her mother had already arranged everything with the courts and packed Clio’s things. The Goldwyns told Clio her mother died a month later. All Clio remembered of the first six months of her new life was crying herself to sleep next to Mary.

As the bus bounced along, Clio smoothed out the scrap of newspaper she’d been clutching and stared at it for the hundredth time. It was Mrs. McNulty’s obituary from last week’s paper. Below a smiling photo of the wrinkled old woman, the obituary shared the story of how she’d come to America in the 1950s. The newspaper left out how she’d liked to be called “Nutty” and how she’d raised both Clio and her mom before her. And how Clio had screamed into her pillow when she’d found out Nutty, too, was gone. Then at the end of the obituary, it said: Condolences for Hazel McNulty can be sent care of Anna O’Neill. Clio’s mother. At their old address.

That’s why Mary had come up with the idea of telling Mrs. Goldwyn they were spending the night at a friend’s house, then sneaking onto the wrong bus. Clio was going back to visit her childhood home. There was no way her mother could still be alive and not tell anybody.