“What happened back there?” Lycia asked, catching her breath.
“Just another regular school day,” Aster replied with mock cheerfulness.
“Why do you go to school if it’s that terrible?”
“Because they come looking for us if we stay away for too long. Morgan’s dogs are bad enough on their leash. When she sets them loose, they’re even worse.”
They circled around to the side of the school. A decrepit, rusty railway line emerged from the base of the building. Aster set off along the tracks, with Lycia and Meg in tow.
The tracks cut through the center of Greenwood, splitting the town in two. There were low-rise houses on one side of the split, with larger, two-story houses on the other. From above, the whole town would have looked lopsided. The buildings leaned away from the train track, as if Greenwood was slowly ripping itself in half.
“Where do the tracks go?” asked Lycia.
“Nowhere,” Aster said. “They stop at the warehouses at each end. The school is right in the center. The tracks come out from either side of it. It’s like the school fell out of the sky and crashed down on top of them.”
Lycia glanced back at the school, trying to imagine it falling from the sky.
“This train track is the spine of the Greenwood beast,” said Aster. “And it’s broken in so many places that the beast is surely dead. Right, Meg?”
“Dead, dead, dead,” Meg sang.
“Same goes for those warehouses. Not sure what they were ever used for, or if they were ever really used. This whole town has been dead for as long as I can remember. Dead as long as you can remember, Meg?”
“And how far back can any of us remember?”
“Not very far,” Meg said with a sigh.
The three of them wandered along the tracks. Meg balanced on the rail, her arms outstretched and her head back to catch the rain in her mouth. Aster twirled down the center of the tracks, dancing and splashing in the pools of water that formed between the timber sleepers. He sang made-up songs in a warbling howl. Lycia walked along behind them, watching them and wondering how she came to be in such a strange town with such strange company.
There was a tunnel up ahead, where the road rose up over the tracks—the only hill in all of Greenwood. As the rain grew heavier, the three of them took shelter in the tunnel. Lycia looked around at the rough concrete walls. The words ‘We still believe in love’ were splashed across the wall in black paint, and beneath that, Meg and Aster had scrawled their names.
“It’s our way of saying that we still have hope, that our spirit is still strong,” Meg explained, looking self-conscious.
“We thought we ought to leave our mark here, so that Greenwood still remembers us after we’re gone,” Aster added. “And they’ll know they never broke us.”
“Where are you planning to go?” Lycia asked.
Aster sighed. “Nowhere, yet. But we can dream, can’t we?”
He ran out into the rain, squawking and screeching for no apparent reason other than to entertain himself. Meg laughed and ran out after him. She latched onto his arm and the two of them twirled and ran around in circles together. Then they straightened out, standing on either rail, holding hands for balance as they walked along, each step in perfect synchronization.
Lycia watched them from the tunnel, wondering to herself if the words on the wall also referred to a love between Meg and Aster. She pushed the thought from her mind, not wanting to let her curiosity involve her any further.
“Hey Liss,” Aster said, jumping off the rail and into a deep puddle. “Where’s your house?”
It took Lycia a second to realize he was addressing her. She looked out at them from the tunnel. “Uh, actually… I’m not too sure.”
Aster laughed. “Don’t worry, we’ll help you find it. Next time you go out, leave a trail of bread crumbs or something.”
After a lot of walking in circles and twice as much backtracking, they spotted the red sofa through the window of Lycia’s house. Lycia led her sodden companions into the living room.
“We haven’t unpacked everything yet,” Lycia explained as she dug through one of the boxes for some towels. Meg and Aster eagerly dried themselves off. They were all shivering from the rain.
Aster waltzed over and jumped onto the sofa. Lycia was about to object to him sitting there in his wet clothes, but it was already too late. She reached into her school bag for the apple she had been given earlier.
Aster nodded at the wristband on Lycia’s arm. “That’s cool. Where’d you get it?”
Lycia shrugged. “I don’t remember.” She sat down on the worn floorboards opposite Aster. Meg stood over him, rubbing a towel gently through his hair.
“You must have gotten it a long time ago then,” he said.
Lycia took a bite of the apple and shrugged again. “Guess so.”
“We don’t get new people coming through here very much. I mean, at all,” he continued. “Where are you from?”
Lycia chewed slowly while she thought how best to answer. “Oh, you know. Lots of places… Mom and I move around a lot.” Lycia looked up and noticed that Meg appeared agitated, as if she was a little scared. Lycia’s brow furrowed and she asked, “What’s it to you, anyway?”
“Just trying to get to know you,” Aster replied, putting his hands up. “Just want to figure out if you’re one of the good guys.”
“So, what do people do for fun around here?” Lycia asked, trying to direct the topic of conversation away from her. She never felt comfortable talking about herself.
“Where’s your mother now?” Aster asked, ignoring Lycia’s question.
“It sure does rain a lot around here.”
“Where is she, Lycia?” Aster repeated.
Lycia studied him. “She’s at work,” she said bluntly.
“Where does she work?”
“Look,” Lycia said. “I don’t know what you’re getting at with these questions. There’s nothing remarkable to tell you. I’m here, I’m me. That’s all there is to it!”
Aster smiled. “Exactly.”
Aster leaned forward. He clasped his hands in his lap and stared intently into Lycia’s eyes. “Lycia, do you really remember how you came to Greenwood?”
Lycia opened her mouth to reply, and then slowly closed it again without uttering a sound. She stared straight ahead, her gaze passing right through Aster, through Meg, through everything.
Aster shook his head slightly and straightened up. “Never mind. Well, Meg, I think we’d better get you home. It sounds like the rain is getting heavier. We’ll meet you in the tunnel before school tomorrow, Lycia.”
Lycia remained on the floor, watching them leave. She was too stunned and confused to say anything.
“I think you scared her,” Meg said to Aster as they walked back along the train tracks.
“I know. I shouldn’t have questioned her like that so soon.” He looked over at Meg. “Are you cold?”
“I’m fine,” she said.
“You want my coat?”
“No, I’m fine.”
Aster took his coat off anyway. “Here.”
Meg laughed exasperatedly and wrapped the coat around her. “You know, your whole chivalrous act is wasted on me.”
He smiled. “That’s because you know it’s just an act.”
“Well, what should we do about her?” Meg asked.
He shrugged. “There isn’t really much we can do. We just have to be there when it all starts to overwhelm her.”
“I think that’s already happening,” she murmured.
Aster left the train tracks and made his way onto the road. He waved goodbye to Meg. She gestured at the coat to ask if he wanted it back, but he shook his head and kept walking. Meg watched him go, soaking up the warmth that his body had left behind.
Lycia spent quite some time trying to dry the red sofa with a hairdryer. It worked well at first, until the hairdryer overheated and sputtered to a permanent halt. Her mother would probably be angry with her when she got home—if she noticed the sofa at all, that is. Maybe her mother would even be mad enough to yell. In a strange way, Lycia hoped so. In fact, she planned to stay up until her mother came home, and she would tell her that some weird boy had ruined the sofa. Then her mother would yell at her, maybe even look at her, and Lycia would be satisfied with that. She’d be satisfied that she had become a big enough nuisance to distract her mother from her stupid career for at least a minute.
Lycia sat on the damp sofa, stroking the leather of her wristband as she thought.
Do you really remember how you came to Greenwood?
Why did Aster ask that? Did it matter how much attention she paid to moving here? Moving is moving. Every time it was the same. Every town was the same. Every day was the same.
Do you really remember?
But this town wasn’t the same. There was something profoundly and deeply wrong with Greenwood. Why were all the students so similar? Why were Aster and Meg so different? What had Morgan and Simon done to make Aster and Meg fear them so much? So many questions whirled around inside her head as she waited long into the night for her mother to appear. And the more she thought about it all, the more it seemed that nothing made any sense. But it was Aster’s final question that plagued her the most. As the sky began to lighten, with no sign of her mother ever coming home, Lycia found her answer.
Do you really remember?
No. She didn’t remember at all.