Rayanne had always been softer with me. I figured Sue Ellen was so addled because she was stuck in the middle between us, only a year older than me but just older enough to hold her wisdom over me like a weapon. I couldn't blame her. I hated being stuck in the middle, too, whenever we had to share a bed or ride in the back seat of Meemaw's old Buick together. It was a trapped kind of feeling that made a person want to bolt like an ornery horse.
Georgia's face flickered in my memory, upturned nose so like my own, blue eyes, and a smile framed by an unruly mop of curly, sun-kissed hair. Over the last few years, I had relied on my older sisters to tell me how to remember her, to fill in the empty spaces of my mind where she used to exist, but these days they didn't seem interested in talking about her anymore. I worried I might forget her face, which was silly, I know, since we were identical. But when you're a twin, you see all the things other people don't see - the amoeba-shaped strawberry birthmark on her left shoulder, the way her dimples were set just slightly deeper than mine, the way she closed her eyes almost entirely when she was caught in an intense fit of laughter. Mama chose our names because she'd always wanted to travel to Savannah, Georgia. She said it was a storybook city with real character. We were meant to grow together as a pair, one never to be without the other. But our story had played a mean trick on us, and here I remained - a lone city without a state. Now that Mama had left us, too, it felt like l'd lost a country. It might as well have been the whole world.
After Dennis was born, she had worried that she could never love anyone as much as she loved her first child. Then Frank came along, and she realized that the space in her heart only expanded by two. But with this baby, it felt as if her whole chest might explode with all the love she hadn't known she held inside her. It scared her a little to know she was capable of loving a person so much, that all that love had been waiting there her whole life, like a dormant seed just aching to get out and grow up into something bigger than the cypress trees in the bayou and the pines that shot up all around her yard.
She would never be able to put it all back inside her if anything happened to this child, this perfect little creature who had stolen her breath and her heart along with all her good sense.
She would never be the same. She had a daughter now.
For the first time since we'd lost Georgia, I sensed something tugging on the other end of the invisible thread that tethered the two of us together. It wasn't a feeling I could explain to Rayanne and Sue Ellen, but it was there just the same. My sister was not dead. Because as soon as I saw that photograph of the two of us, it was as if I heard a familiar voice calling out, as clear as if she'd been standing right next to me.
Come and find me, Savannah. It's time.
"I think I know what you're getting at." I tried to hurry the point along. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
She handed me the tongs and gestured for me to remove the other jars. "No. What doesn't kill you tries again." Her lips twitched into a grin as she watched me clumsily dip the tongs into the pot. "I'm saying that this family has been through hell, and you don't go through something like that and come out the same. You just don't," she said flatly. "Losing them ... it changed me." Her smile faltered, and I could see how difficult it was for her to keep the tears out of her voice. "Made me harder, more protective of you girls, I guess."
Protective was not exactly the word I would have used to describe some of our grandmother's inexplicable behavior over the years. She'd always meant well, but she loved hard. Too hard, some might say, and from time to time I'd found myself on the receiving end of her ardent brand of loyalty.
Carrie Soto is Back
- Taylor Jenkins Reid
It was okay to win as long as I acted surprised when I did and attributed it to luck. I should never let on how much I wanted to win or, worse, that I believed I deserved to win. And I should never, under any circumstances, admit that I did not believe all of my opponents were just as worthy as I was.
The bulk of the commentators... they wanted a woman whose eyes would tear up with gratitude, as if she owed them her victory, as if she owed them everything she had.
I don't know if it had ever been within me to act like that, but by the age of twenty, it was long gone.
And it cost me.
It has been such a long time since I've played a tournament. And it's been almost three times as long as that since I've played one unseeded.
It sends a tiny thrill through me, like I'm a teenager again, staring up at a mountain I have yet to scale, each match a step toward the top. It has been so long since I have felt the perfect ache of climbing.
You could not pay me enough money to go back to being seventeen. When I was seventeen, my talent was all potential and no proof. The world was a giant set of unknowns, barely any past to pull from.
I am so grateful, right now, for every match and every win and every loss and every lesson that I have behind me. It feels so good, right now, to be thirty-seven years old. To have figured at least some things out.
To know the ground underneath my feet.
Chain of Gold
- Cassandra Clare
"Math - help me."
It was an old nickname for Matthew, given to him by Will after the Welsh king Math ap Mathonwy - the keeper of all wisdom and knower of all things. Will always said Matthew had been born knowing too much.
If you saw humanity as I can see it, Uncle Jem said. There is very little brightness and warmth in the world for me. There are only four flames, in the whole world, that burn fiercely enough for me to feel something like the person I was. Your mother, your father, Lucie, and you. You love, and tremble, and burn. Do not let those who cannot see the truth tell you who you are. You are the flame that cannot be put out. You are the star that cannot be lost. You are who you have always been, and that is enough and more than enough. Anyone who looks at you and sees darkness is blind.
Chain of Iron
- Cassandra Clare
"I'm not being dishonest with you, Ari. I've told you exactly what I have to offer. If it's not enough, I won't blame you if you leave."
Ariadne stepped into her petticoats. "I'm not leaving."
Anna looked at her with real curiosity. "Why not?"
"Because," Ariadne said, "when you want something very much, you are willing to accept the shadow of that thing. Even if it is just a shadow."
"Thomas, look at me," she said, and he did. Her blue gaze was steady. His cousin Anna: he remembered when she had worn petticoats and dresses, her hair long and braided into plaits. And always in her eyes a look of discomfort, of sadness. He remembered, too, when she had emerged like a butterfly from a cocoon, transforming into what she was now a vision in gleaming cuff links and starched collars. She lived her life so boldly, so unapologetically, that sometimes it made Thomas's stomach hurt a little, just to look at her.
She laid a gloved hand on his cheek. "We are special, unusual, unique people. That means that we must be bold and proud, but also careful. Don't think you have so much to prove that it makes you foolish."
James was one of the best, kindest, and bravest people Thomas had ever known, and for James to doubt himself like this was painful-for if James could doubt himself like this, what did it mean for those like Thomas, who already doubted themselves so much?
He was determined to put a stop to it, he thought, as he strode out onto Curzon Street, deserted under the moon. He would find the real killer if it was the last thing he ever did.
"Thomas Lightwood," said Alastair. "I am nothing like
All Thomas could do was stare. He had been so sure.
But Alastair's gaze was steady, his voice resolute. Dear God, Thomas thought, about to rise to his feet, there was nothing for it now but to go and bury his terrible humiliation at the other side of the room. Perhaps he could hide behind a candelabra.
"I am nothing like you, Thomas," said Alastair,
"because you are one of the better people I have ever known. You have a kind nature and a heart like some knight out of legend. Brave and proud and true and strong. All of it." He smiled bitterly. "And all the time you have known me, I have been a terrible person. So, you see. We are nothing at all alike."
Thomas's gaze snapped up. This wasn't what he was expecting. He searched Alastair's face, but his eyes were hard mirrors, giving nothing away.
"I'm not-" Thomas bit off the words before he could stop himself. He was kind; he knew that. Sometimes he wished he wasn't. "That's not what I meant."
"I know what you meant." The words hung between them, neither daring to move a muscle.
Alastair winced. *I insulted your father and blackened his name. You were under no obligation to care about mine."
"I know, but sometimes I think that it is much harder to lose someone who we are on bad terms with than it is to lose someone with whom all is well."
"Bloody hell, Thomas. You should hate me, not be thinking about what I must be feeling-" Alastair swiped at his eyes; Thomas realized with a stunned shock that they were bright with tears. "And the worst of it is, you're right, of course. You always understood other people so well. I think I partly hated you for it, for being so kind. I thought, He must have so much, to be able to be so generous.' And I thought that I had nothing. It never occurred to me that you had secrets too."
"You were always my secret," said Thomas softly, and Alastair turned a startled gaze on him.
"I knew what caught my eye, quickened my pulse, and it was never a girl."
"And you never told anyone?"
Thomas hesitated. "I could have told my friends that I liked men. They would have understood. But I couldn't have told them how I felt about you."
"So you did feel something for me. I thought-" Alastair looked away, shaking his head. "I didn't see you - you were this boy, following me around at school, and then I met you in Paris and you'd grown up and turned into Michelangelo's David. I thought you were beautiful. But I was still caught up with Charles-" He broke off. "Just another thing I've wasted. Your regard for me. I wasted my time and my affection on Charles. I wasted my chance with you."
Thomas felt light-headed. Had Alastair just said, I thought you were beautiful? Alastair, who was literally the most beautiful person Thomas had ever known?
"Maybe not," he said. "About me, I mean."
Alastair blinked. "Speak sense, Lightwood," he said testily. "What do you mean?"
"I mean this," said Thomas, and leaned in to kiss Alastair on the mouth.
"Damn you, Thomas," he said, and there was resignation in his voice, but something else, too, something dark and sweet and intense.
A moment later he was pulling Thomas toward him.
Their bodies collided, awkward and thrilling. Thomas closed his eyes, unable to bear so much feeling, as Alastair's lips touched his - gently, at first, but with growing confidence, he explored Thomas's mouth, and it was like flying, like nothing Thomas had ever imagined. The heat and pressure of Alastair's mouth, the softness of his lips and skin, the sheer intensity of breathing and moving together with Alastair Carstairs.
He had never imagined anything like this. Nothing like the soft growling noise Alastair made as his hands roamed Thomas's chest, his shoulders, as if they were places he'd been longing to touch for some time. Nothing like the feel of Alastair's pulse against his lips as Thomas kissed the arch of his throat. And in the moment, Thomas could only think that if he had to be arrested for murder for this to happen, it had been worth it.
- Madeline Miller
When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.
Once when I was young I asked what mortals looked like. My father said, “You may say they are shaped like us, but only as the worm is shaped like the whale.”
My mother had been simpler: like savage bags of rotten flesh.
“Yet,” he said, “may I return? Will you be here? For I have never known such a wondrous thing in all my life as you.”
I had stood beside my father’s light. I had held Aeëtes in my arms, and my bed was heaped with thick-wooled blankets woven by immortal hands. But it was not until that moment that I think I had ever been warm.
The worst of my cowardice had been sweated out. In its place was a giddy spark. I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open.
I stepped into those woods and my life began.
Let me say what sorcery is not: it is not divine power, which comes with a thought and a blink. It must be made and worked, planned and searched out, dug up, dried, chopped and ground, cooked, spoken over, and sung. Even after all that, it can fail, as gods do not. If my herbs are not fresh enough, if my attention falters, if my will is weak, the draughts go stale and rancid in my hands.
'Will you bear my child?' he asked me.
I laughed at him. 'No, never and never.'
He was not hurt. He liked such sharpness, for there was nothing in him that had any blood you might spill. He asked only for curiosity’s sake, because it was his nature to seek out answers, to press others for their weaknesses. He wanted to see how moonish I was over him. But all the sop in me was gone. I did not lie dreaming of him during the days, I did not speak his name into my pillow. He was no husband, scarcely even a friend. He was a poison snake, and I was another, and on such terms we pleased ourselves.
Icarus, Daedalus, Ariadne. All gone to those dark fields, where hands worked nothing but air, where feet no more touched the earth. If I had been there, I thought. But what would it have changed? It was true what Hermes said. Every moment mortals died, by shipwreck and sword, by wild beasts and wild men, by illness, neglect, and age. It was their fate, as Prometheus had told me, the story that they all shared. No matter how vivid they were in life, no matter how brilliant, no matter the wonders they made, they came to dust and smoke. Meanwhile every petty and useless god would go on sucking down the bright air until the stars went dark.
The nymphs wafted around me. Their smothered laughter drifted down the halls. At least, I told myself, it was not their brothers, who would have bragged and fought and hunted down my wolves. But of course that was never a real danger. Sons were not punished.
I did not send my animals away anymore when men came. I let them loll where they liked, around the garden, under my tables. It pleased me to see the men walk among them, trembling at their teeth and unnatural tameness. I did not pretend to be a mortal. I showed my lambent, yellow eyes at every turn. None of it made a difference. I was alone and a woman, that was all that mattered.
Later, years later, I would hear a song made of our meeting. The boy who sang it was unskilled, missing notes more often than he hit, yet the sweet music of the verses shone through his mangling. I was not surprised by the portrait of myself: the proud witch undone before the hero’s sword, kneeling and begging for mercy. Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.
I felt hollowed, gouged like a beach beneath a keel.
Odysseus, son of Laertes, the great traveler, prince of wiles and tricks and a thousand ways. He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.
He stepped onto his ship, and when he turned back to look for me, I was gone.
I looked at her, as vivid in my doorway as the moon in the autumn sky. Her eyes held mine, gray and steady. It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.
“What makes a witch, then? If it is not divinity?”
“I do not know for certain,” I said. “I once thought it was passed through blood, but Telegonus has no spells in him. I have come to believe it is mostly will.”
She nodded. I did not have to explain. We knew what will was.
'You have always been the worst of my children,' he said. 'Be sure you do not dishonor me.'
'I have a better idea. I will do as I please, and when you count your children, leave me out.'
Clap When You Land
- Elizabeth Acevedo
reminder in my ear:
you are dark
& always been beautiful:
like the night, like a star after it bursts,
like obsidian & onyx & jet precious.
But I know I am beautiful
like all & none of those things:
far in the sky & deep in the earth
I am beautiful like a dark-skinned girl that is right here.
I’ve always preferred playing black
on the chessboard.
conquering my offending
Playing chess taught me a queen is both:
deadly & graceful, poised & ruthless.
Quiet & cunning. A queen
offers her hand to be kissed,
& can form it into a fist
while smiling the whole damn time.
But what happens when those principles
only apply in a game? & in the real world,
I am not treated as a lady or a queen,
as a defender or opponent
but as a girl so many want to strike off the board.
But I feel weighed down,
her words turned to stones.
Tía thinks I have been inviting El Cero’s attention.
Somehow his stalking has turned into
something I must have done.
Code Name Edelweiss
- Stephanie Landsem
Not for the first time he wondered about God. If he was as good as they said he was, why didn't he stop this evil? Why didn't he rain down fire and brimstone on people like Winterhalder and Schwinn - smite them like he did the Egyptians in the Bible stories he'd read as a kid? It's not like they didn't deserve it. Maybe God had given up on the men he'd created. Maybe he figured they were too far gone to save.
I was suddenly reminded of the Cheshire Cat in Alice's story. I did not want to promise this man anything. Yet I could not let go of the hope of a job - any job. I dipped my head in assent but with reservation.
What he said then was utterly unexpected.
"What I am looking for - what I desperately need, Mrs. Weiss - is a spy"
Come Tumbling Down
- Seanan McGuire
Sometimes Christopher thought anxy chance he’d had of falling for a girl with ordinary things like “skin” and “muscle tissue” and “a pulse” had ended with the soft, moist sound of Jack driving a pair of scissors through her sister’s horrible heart. He could have loved her in that moment, had loved her when she’d pulled the scissors free and used them to cut a hole in the wall of the world. She’d called her door out of nothingness, out of sororicide and hope, and she’d carried her sister’s body through it, into the bleeding light of a crimson moon.
He’d seen the Moors spreading out around her like a mother’s arms, welcoming their wayward daughter home. Sometimes he still saw them when he closed his eyes at night. And then the door had slammed, and the Wolcott sisters had been gone, and he’d been left behind. He’d hated her for having the chance to go home, and he’d loved her for taking it without looking back or hesitating, and his fate, such as it was, had been sealed. If Jack could go home, so could he. All he had to do was figure out how.
Christopher had survived quite a few things in his seventeen years, from public school to cancer to a stint in a world peopled entirely by sentient, animate skeletons. He rolled to the side before the echoes of the crack had faded, pressing himself against the wall and hopefully out of the path of any further impossible lightning strikes. Not that “impossible” meant much around here. One of his closest friends was a temporarily bipedal mermaid; another was the crown prince of a goblin kingdom, and yet another was technically a candy construct brought back to life by a sort of demigoddess with a really large oven. Judging things based on their possibility wasn’t a good way to stay alive.
Conversations with Friends
- Sally Rooney
I felt excited, ready for the challenge of visiting a stranger’s home, already preparing compliments and certain facial expressions to make myself seem charming.
She said she found religious occasions, like funerals or weddings, ‘comforting in a kind of sedative way’. They’re communal, she said. There’s something nice about that for the neurotic individualist.
When we were outside smoking and male performers tried to talk to us, Bobbi would always pointedly exhale and say nothing, so I had to act as our representative. This meant a lot of smiling and remembering details about their work. I enjoyed playing this kind of character, the smiling girl who remembered things. Bobbi told me she thought I didn’t have a ‘real personality’, but she said she meant it as a compliment. Mostly I agreed with her assessment. At any time I felt I could do or say anything at all, and only afterwards think: oh, so that’s the kind of person I am.
You suffer, she said.
Ah, Bobbi said. Profound.
I could perform each poem for a period of about six months after I’d written it, after which point I couldn’t stand to look at it, never mind read it aloud in public. I didn’t know what caused this process, but I was glad the poems were only ever performed and never published. They floated away ethereally to the sound of applause. Real writers, and also painters, had to keep on looking at the ugly things they had done for good. I hated that everything I did was so ugly, but also that I lacked the courage to confront how ugly it was. I had explained that theory to Philip but he’d just said: don’t be down on yourself, you’re a real writer.
I could see a care label bunched inside the seam of the slip she was wearing, which destroyed the effect of reality for me, although the slip and its care label were undoubtedly themselves real. I concluded that some kinds of reality have an unrealistic effect, which made me think of the theorist Jean Baudrillard, though I had never read his books and these were probably not the issues his writing addressed.
The other actors had off-key accents and everything onstage looked like a prop waiting to be handled. In a way this just emphasised how spectacularly beautiful Nick was, and made his misery seem more authentic.
My ego had always been an issue. I knew that intellectual attainment was morally neutral at best, but when bad things happened to me I made myself feel better by thinking about how smart I was. When I couldn’t make friends as a child, I fantasised that I was smarter than all my teachers, smarter than any other student who had been in the school before, a genius hidden among normal people. It made me feel like a spy.
I didn’t feel like writing anything. In fact I felt that if I tried to write, what I produced would be ugly and pretentious. I wasn’t the kind of person I pretended to be. I thought of myself trying to be witty in front of Nick’s friends in the utility room and felt sick. I didn’t belong in rich people’s houses. I was only ever invited to places like that because of Bobbi, who belonged everywhere and had a quality about her that made me invisible by comparison.
Eventually Nick looked over and I looked back. I felt a key turning hard inside my body, turning so forcefully that I could do nothing to stop it. His lips parted like he was about to say something, but he just inhaled and then seemed to swallow. Neither of us gestured or waved, we just looked at one another, as if we were already having a private conversation that couldn’t be overheard.
I ran my finger along his collarbone and said: I can’t remember if I thought about this at the beginning. How it was doomed to end unhappily.
He nodded, looking at me. I did, he said. I just thought it would be worth it.
My mother hated the way I talked about my father, like he was just another normal person rather than my distinguished personal benefactor, or a minor celebrity. This irritation was directed toward me, but it was also a symptom of her disappointment that my father had failed to earn the respect she wanted me to give him.
Was I kind to others? It was hard to nail down an answer. I worried that if I did turn out to have a personality, it would be one of the unkind ones. Did I only worry about this question because as a woman I felt required to put the needs of others before my own? Was ‘kindness’ just another term for submission in the face of conflict? These were the kind of things I wrote about in my diary as a teenager: as a feminist I have the right not to love anyone.
My favourite part of the gospels was in Matthew, when Jesus said: love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. I shared in this desire for moral superiority over my enemies. Jesus always wanted to be the better person, and so did I. I underlined this passage in red pencil several times, to illustrate that I understood the Christian way of life.
He was awful, I said. He told me he loved Yeats, can you believe that? I practically had to stop him reciting ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ in the bar.
Wow, I feel terrible for you.
And the sex was bad.
No one who likes Yeats is capable of human intimacy.
I thought of myself as an independent person, so independent that the opinions of others were irrelevant to me. Now I was afraid that Nick was right: I isolated myself from criticism so I could behave badly without losing my sense of righteousness.
I sat there tapping my pen against the front cover of Middlemarch, which I had to read for a class on the English novel. The cover depicted a sad-eyed lady from Victorian times doing something with flowers. I doubted Victorian women actually touched flowers as often as art from the period suggested they did.
I thought about all the things I had never told Nick about myself, and I started to feel better then, as if my privacy extended all around me like a barrier protecting my body. I was a very autonomous and independent person with an inner life that nobody else had ever touched or perceived.
I could have told you and I didn’t. But at some level I still see you as the person who broke my heart and left me unfit for normal relationships.
You underestimate your own power so you don’t have to blame yourself for treating other people badly.
In bed we folded around each other like origami. It’s possible to feel so grateful that you can’t get to sleep at night.
It was a relationship, and also not a relationship. Each of our gestures felt spontaneous, and if from the outside we resembled a couple, that was an interesting coincidence for us. We developed a joke about it, which was meaningless to everyone including ourselves: what is a friend? we would say humorously. What is a conversation?
The Crane Husband
- Kelly Barnhill
I rolled my eyes. "What on earth do you see in him?" I asked.
My mother didn't look away. Her eyes remained fixed on the crane. She let her hand drift away from her face and settle on her heart.
"Everything," she said with a sigh.
She looked at me. Her eyes were strange to me then. Hollow. And I was so young, much younger than I let myself believe. I didn't have the context. And I couldn't possibly understand. Looking back on it now, I recognize those eyes. I've seen those same eyes on different women in the years since - my girlfriends, my roommates, my coworkers. I saw them on a neighbor once, before I called the cops on her husband. I myself have had those eyes. But only once. She blinked. The hollowness remained. I shivered. I didn't know what I was seeing.