My parents used to say that kids never know what they’re doing when they make their own decisions, but the night I met Shiloh wasn’t an accident.
It was the summer before my senior year of high school, and I was in charge of WonderWorlds Theme Park for the weekend while Bruce visited our sister park in upstate New York. He’d promised me a shining letter of recommendation if I lived up to his expectations, something I needed to get into college and as far from home as possible. I’d followed his instructions to the letter, until I noticed the door while cleaning the creepy girl statue in Fairyland.
It was subtle, set into the rush cottage at the back of the exhibit. I’d been working at the park since the spring and never noticed it. After one last swipe at the dust gathering on the statue’s blonde ringlets, I locked away the supplies in a nearby closet.
The keyring Bruce had entrusted to me held all the familiar silver park keys and a single round-headed brass one that I’d never used before. As I approached the door, the lifeless eyes of the statue seemed to follow me. I turned my back on her flower crown and rosy lips and tried the brass key.
It began to turn, smooth in the lock, until doubt struck. I jerked my hand, and the key snapped between my fingers. The end came away with me; the rest was broken off in the door.
I blinked back tears of astonishment at the nub in my palm, and the door wavered before me. With a soft click, it opened a crack. My heart pounded in my throat. I swallowed and pressed a hand against the door, cool air seeking me through the gap. It swung inward, into darkness.
I slid my phone from a pocket and flipped on the flashlight. The other park staff made stupid jokes about what Bruce kept in storage, a sex or murder dungeon, take your pick. I’d always maintained there were tunnels that worked like shortcuts between the exhibits. I’d even had a bet going with Marianne before she quit.
We never settled the bet, but I hadn’t forgotten her warning: “Be careful around Bruce. I know you’re not a girl, but you’re still his body type.”
I tugged at one of the straps of my sports bra where it dug into my shoulder. I’d deal with Bruce and the repercussions later. I went inside.
Dust flickered like disco motes in my phone’s light. My sweaty back and pits were suddenly cold. “Hello?” I said. The word bounced in the still air.
My sneakers echoed like strange instruments. When was the last time someone came in here? Maybe even Bruce didn’t use this area. I rounded a corner, and my rubber soles shrieked to a halt. I’d nearly walked into someone my age wearing an old park uniform.
“Shit—you scared me.”
Their eyes were huge in the dark, behind silver frames. They blinked and held up a hand. I lowered my light to my knees.
“Sorry,” they said. “I get that a lot.” Their glasses reflected back at me.
“I didn’t know anyone else was working.”
“I’m Shiloh. I know it’s a weird name—”
“Kade,” I interjected, starting to raise my hand awkwardly to shake and then lowering it.
“Nice to meet you, Kade.” Shiloh flashed a quick smile. “I kind of come and go when I want. I fix things when they’re broken.”
My hand swept down to the keys hanging at my waist. “Maybe you could help me?”
“I broke a key in the door. Bruce will kill me if he finds out.” The nub was in my pocket. I cupped it and held it out.
Shiloh bit their lip. “I might be able to do something about that.”
They reached out a hand, but I fumbled and the broken end clattered on the floor. Shiloh ducked after it, and I tried to will away my embarrassed flush.
“What’s the deal with this place anyway?” I asked, flicking my light into the ceiling to illuminate pipes and air vents. “Bruce didn’t want me in here…”
Shiloh made a face I couldn’t read. “I figured out a long time ago he doesn’t come back here.”
“That must be nice, getting paid and never having to actually see the boss…” I trailed off. Maybe Shiloh didn’t get weird vibes from him.
But they just nodded. “I guess there are some perks to being able to fix things that would otherwise cost a fortune.”
“Are you family or something?”
Shiloh shook their head. “So, do you want the tunnel tour?”
“I was right!” I cried.
Shiloh raised an eyebrow at me, and I shrugged. “Never mind.”
“We’re still under Fairyland,” they said. As they led the way, my light bounced from their hiking boots to their safari shorts.
We went up a set of stairs, and Shiloh patted a door. “Dinoland.” I pictured the raptor that lunged at park patrons, now turned off for the evening.
We went down another short flight of steps, through a tunnel that gave me the distinct vertigo-ish sense of being underwater, and then back up. “Roboworld is on the other side of this one,” Shiloh gestured.
“You mean Cyberworld?”
They nodded, a curt bob of their curly hair, which swept the half-circle of pale skin below the back of their neck.
“Did you used to come here as a kid too?” I scrubbed at my arms, pricked with goosebumps in the cool tunnels. It was Roboworld back then. “My mom would set me and my sister loose, and we’d just run around for hours and wear ourselves out. Way cheaper than a babysitter.”
Shiloh looked at me over their shoulder. “What was your favorite part?”
My cheeks heated. “Well, back when Fairyland still had centaurs…”
I thought they’d laugh, but Shiloh just nodded. “They were fun to take apart.”
“How old are you?”
They stopped and looked me over. “About the same age as you. I was trained on them. Some of the old parts are still in these tunnels.”
“Oh,” I nodded. Of course Bruce didn’t get rid of junk.
“This is pretty close to the parking lot.” Shiloh pulled up short, and I nearly bumped them. My skin prickled again.
“When is your next shift?” They asked.
“Oh, I’m back to open tomorrow. Bruce put me in charge for the weekend.”
Shiloh nodded, their eyebrows raised. “Well, in that case, I can get this ready for you by morning.”
“That would be awesome. I owe you one.”
They shrugged. “Come say hey sometime. It gets boring in the back.”
Warm air filtered around the edges of the door. “Thanks. I’ll do that.”
Shiloh turned around, and I stopped them. “You—you aren’t a girl either?”
They smiled. “Not really, no.”
I opened the door to step out into summer heat, and they were gone.
The next morning I took a little extra time getting ready, pulling my hair back in a tight ponytail and contouring my face to bring out the angles. My sister hated when I borrowed her makeup brushes, even the ones she’d left home from college, and I swore I’d buy my own supplies with my next paycheck. When I stepped back from the mirror, I felt more like Kade, squaring my shoulders to complete the effect.
Then my dad knocked on the bathroom door. “Come on, Katharine, time to go.”
I ducked past him with my head lowered. While I lived under my parents’ roof, I was Katharine.
We drove to the park in awkward silence. My parents were hesitant about letting me do learner’s drives outside the neighborhood, which meant a whole summer of this. I looked out the window every time I sensed my dad was about to speak, until the tension got to be too much.
“I just don’t get what… this is about.” He gestured a hand at me, palm open, to suggest this was all of me. “Why do you slump like that and dress like—”
“A boy?” I muttered.
“This is the park uniform, Dad.” I crossed my arms and pressed my forehead into the window.
He sighed. “I just don’t think you’re showing your best side to the world, honey.”
I knew what he meant was: You’re not girly. That I should be dating boys and acting like a normal, well-adjusted daughter.
“Your mother and I worry that you don’t have as many friends as your sister—”
“I’m not like my sister.”
As we turned off the highway, gravel crunched under the tires like bones popping against our strained silence. My mouth went dry when the parking lot came into view. Bruce’s truck was in the first employee space, a day ahead of schedule.
“Gotta go, Dad!” I jumped from the passenger’s seat and ran to the employee entrance. I was on time. I’d left everything the way I was supposed to. There was no reason to worry.
I nearly stumbled into Bruce in the office.
“Whoa! Someone’s ready to go.” He leaned back, cupping his chin and finely trimmed beard. “Everything okay, girlfriend? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I grinned through gritted teeth, wondering if I looked that panicked or if it was the subtle way I’d darkened my eyebrows and washed out my lips. “Just fine! Wasn’t expecting you back so early!”
“The other park manager had a family emergency and we rescheduled. But I see you’ve kept everything in order.” Bruce fairly loomed over me, and I felt how much bigger he was in that moment. He shifted his weight, and sweat bloomed beneath my arms.
“Thanks. Closing went smoothly.” Where had Shiloh left the key? Of course they wouldn’t know the locker that said Katharine was mine.
“By the way, I found this on my desk.” Bruce turned, the key pinched between his fingers.
“Oh! Yeah, I left it there.”
He tilted his head.
“I thought with one less key, closing up would be easier. I wouldn’t mistake it for one of the others.”
We both stared at it, distinctly different from the rest of the park keys.
Bruce held it out to me. “You should leave it on the key ring. Don’t want anyone else getting their hands on it.”
I nodded and inched toward the employee locker room to stow my things and get ready for my shift.
“Hey, Kitty-Kat?” Bruce put a hand on my shoulder where my sports bra strap dug in.
I winced at the touch and his nickname for me. “Yeah?”
“Good job. I can see you really stepped up to the responsibility.”
I nodded and fled before my expression could betray anything.
It turns out once you break a rule, it’s easy to keep breaking it. As I swept Wild Wild World that evening, I noticed something whining in the shoulder joint of Pistol Pete’s mustang.
Bruce was in the office on the other side of the park, logging ticket sales. I could tell him to put in a work request to Shiloh, or I could see if I could find them myself. I looked for a discrete door leading to the tunnels or an “Employees Only” sign, and there it was, an artfully concealed door halfway up the butte over the foot-high glass barrier.
I’d never entered an exhibit before, but I knew that the security cameras in the park were all dead and just there for show. So after dumping my dust bin and setting the broom against a corner, I stepped onto the molded desert ledge and tried to avoid the dried tumbleweed specimen glued to the floor.
The fake saguaro caught on the leg of my uniform khakis, and I had to carefully disentangle each spine before I continued my climb into the exhibit. Finally, I got to the door and scraped my hands over the sandy exterior, where I found a keyhole. It opened on familiar darkness, cool and close. Stepping inside, I lit my phone and called their name, almost superstitiously. “Shiloh?”
The call echoed, and I felt stupid for assuming I’d find them just hanging out in the dark. My light illuminated dust and trailing cobwebs. I sneezed loudly, nearly dropping the phone.
“Kade?” Their voice was soft as they came up out of the shadows before me.
“Wow, how do you find your way around back here in the dark?”
Shiloh shrugged. “I’m back here all the time. I guess I’m used to it. Did you need something?”
“Oh, yeah, I think there’s something broken in the Wild Wild exhibit. The horse is making noises.”
Shiloh cocked their head and then nodded. “I see.”
“And I wanted to thank you,” I added, lifting my keyring. “You saved my butt.”
Shiloh shrugged. “No problem. Bruce is scary when he’s angry.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“I’ve just heard things. I stay out of his way.”
“Oh, got it. Well, I’ll be careful.”
We stood awkwardly in the dark, and I wrapped my hands around my elbows. “Hey, do you want to maybe hang out sometime? I can give you my number.”
“I would really like that—” Shiloh tilted their head again. “Bruce is out there.” Their voice lowered defensively. “You better leave before he finds you. Here,” they pointed toward the wall curving away from us, “follow this and the door will put you out by the restrooms.”
I jogged down the tunnel and found the door Shiloh had mentioned, opening it cautiously. The end of the hall by the bathrooms was clear. I walked back toward the exhibit room, feigning a casualness I didn’t feel in the pounding of my pulse. Bruce waited by my abandoned broom.
“I was just using the bathroom,” I stammered. “I actually don’t feel so great. My dad is on his way to pick me up.” I retreated before Bruce could ask any questions.
There was a surprise waiting for me when Dad and I got home.
“Katharine! I saw you were using your sister’s old makeup, so I cleared out the cabinets and got you some new stuff.” My mom crossed the kitchen and held a bag up to me with a hopeful smile.
I unzipped it and flicked through the contents. Aside from a full set of brushes, everything was colorful: sparkly eye shadows, ruby blushes, pink and pearly lip glosses. Nothing like the natural shades I used from the foundation and contouring kit Jane had left behind.
“What did you do with Jane’s stuff?”
“It was old. I threw it out.” Confusion in her eyes.
“I can’t use any of this. This is all wrong.”
“I can show you how, honey.” Now there was hurt in her voice. “We got you a skirt, too. For your uniform.”
“This can’t be happening.”
My father came in belatedly with groceries. “Are you going to thank your mother?”
“Haven’t you been paying attention?” My voice came out shrilly and I swallowed, lowering it with effort. “I don’t want to be pretty. I’m not a girl. I’m not your daughter.” I fled the room.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” My father yelled.
They couldn’t get me to come down for dinner, even by threatening to confiscate my cell phone. What did I care? I had no one to call. I curled on my bed and thought of Shiloh, imagined us escaping through the tunnels of the park to a world where people listened and we could be ourselves.
My parents made me wear the skirt the next day. I would have refused to go to the park altogether, but it was the only thing going kind of right in my life, and I’d never see Shiloh if I got fired.
It was a busy day, leaving me no time to look for them, and when I was finally by myself taking out the trash from Area 52, Bruce appeared.
“Kitty, I need to show you something.” He put a hand on the small of my back.
I tried to shrink away without being too obvious about it. Bruce was determined to steer me into the blacklit exhibit space.
This is it, I thought. This is what Marianne warned me about.
He finally removed his hand and pointed out lights that needed replacing. “You’re not afraid of heights, are you?”
Bruce held the ladder while I climbed. With every step, I cursed my parents in my head. My morning act of rebellion was putting on bicycle shorts under the skirt, but I still felt overexposed. To busy my mind, I counted every light as I reached blindly into the sockets to unscrew the dead ones, and then withdrew my fingers from Bruce’s as quickly as possible when he handed me new lights. We worked in awkward, sweaty silence, moving the ladder twice.
“Rickety old thing,” he complained, leaning his weight enthusiastically against it.
Finally, the last light was inserted, the ceiling a perfect grid of twinkling bulbs, and my paralyzed brain told me to get my phone, tell him it was urgent, go home, and immediately apply for new jobs.
I hopped off the ladder, and Bruce shifted in my direction.
“I’ve been thinking about you, trying to figure you out.” He skritched his hand through his beard. “There’s something different about you, isn’t there?”
“What do you mean?” My voice was hardly a whisper.
“You’re not like the other girls that work here.” He folded the ladder and rested it on the outstretched arm of the waving gray alien, turned off for the night.
I nodded blankly, unable to form words.
“I’ve had some other employees like you in the past.”
I kept my face smooth, unflinching.
“They needed some help figuring out their place in everything. You could say they needed support.” His fingers twitched, and he shoved his hands in his pockets. “Now, you’re doing a really good job… In fact, I’ve got a letter of recommendation written up for you, back on my desk. We can go get it in a minute. But I wanted to let you know that you can tell me anything.”
I realized I’d been holding my breath and gulped air. “Th-thank you. I’m okay.”
Bruce’s expression shifted, his eyes narrowing. “You kids never trust me. You don’t need to lie to me.”
“I’m trying to help you!”
I shrank away from him, expecting to be hit or grabbed. Bruce is scary when he’s angry.
Grayman buzzed loudly as the animatronics whirred to life, his spindly arm resuming its wave, unbalancing the ladder.
Bruce dove for it as it slid toward the fiberglass UFO. “Goddammit!”
I dashed out to the hallway, looking for the darkest corner, where I knew I would find a door. I jammed the key in the lock and wrenched it open, the welcome cool of the tunnels chilling my sweat, the dark hiding the trembling of my hands.
“Kitty!” Bruce roared.
I threw the door closed behind me, though it would only buy me seconds.
“Kade? Are you alright?”
I didn’t even start at Shiloh’s sudden, soundless arrival.
“You were right about Bruce,” I swallowed. “He’s pissed.” The dark shimmered, and for a second the air around me was icy cold. “Where are you?”
A frozen hand on my shoulder. I turned as though to take their fingers in mine. “You’re always here, aren’t you?”
They didn’t say anything, and I knew the hand in mine was just a shadow. Shiloh was no more alive than I was a girl.
“It’s okay,” I said. “You turned Grayman back on, didn’t you?”
“He’s going to find you,” Shiloh said. “He knows you figured out the tunnels.”
“Can you get me out of here?”
“Yes. Follow me.”
The cold of them shifted, and now the space was merely clammy. I felt them passing me and began trotting after them, speeding up to a full-on run when Bruce’s voice echoed behind us.
After a few minutes, my breath hitched in my side. “Did we lose him?”
Shiloh’s cold spot blew out like an ice candle, and goosebumps flared up my arms. After a moment, they came back.
“He’s gone out to try to cut you off ahead.”
My throat tightened. “What can I do?”
“I’m taking you to an exit. I’ll buy you some time.”
Their presence stilled suddenly, and I stepped through their chill. For a heartbeat, neither of us acted.
“Here,” Shiloh said.
“Show me.” I extended a hand.
Silence, and then their cold palm pressed into mine. They guided my hand to the wall, along the metal, until I found the handle.
“Here,” they said. “You should leave now.”
“Shiloh—” I pressed back into the coolness where their hand, or the illusion of it, had been. “I don’t want to leave you. Are you really stuck here?”
“Bruce already hurt me. I don’t want him to hurt you too.” They materialized enough that I could see the freckles on their face, the intense concern in their eyes. “Go!”
They blinked out, and the door flew open with a hot blast that left me squinting into the evening light before getting my bearings and running for the parking lot.
I told my parents I’d quit. This time they sent me to my room, but it didn’t matter because I had a pair of haircutting scissors and a plan. First I pulled back my hair and chopped it off at the base of my neck.
Then I dug out a black hoodie from my closet. I still had park keys. When my parents were asleep, I lifted the car keys and drove haltingly back to WonderWorlds one last time.
By now the dormant park was familiar to me. Being there at night didn’t spook me, because Shiloh was there. But instead of going straight to the tunnels, I meandered through the exhibits, letting something guide me.
Cyberworld, Undersea Sector, Wild Wild, Dinoland—I stopped in Fairyland, the glitter catching the emergency lights. There was the statue of the girl, inanimate and faintly glowing out of the gloom. I’d never liked it; now I thought I knew why.
The girl’s feet were planted on a platform atop a round brick pedestal designed to look like a well. Bruce hadn’t been hiding bodies in the tunnels after all.
“Shiloh?” I called softly.
The fairy lights glimmered and then fell still. The door set into the rush cottage, where they’d first appeared to me, yawned open. I crossed brittle fake grass and went inside.
“Hey.” I sat on the cool floor of the tunnel.
They didn’t appear immediately, but finally, the tunnel around me sighed.
“You found me,” Shiloh said.
The air at the edges of where I sat prickled with their chill.
“You’ve been here a long time.”
I didn’t want to push them. I wanted to hear them say the words. “Is this what you want?”
“I’m scared.” They became visible before me, sitting across from me on the floor with their hands around their knees. “But I think I’m ready.”
There were no animatronics in this space any longer. Nothing Shiloh could control. I went to the toolshed in the hall and came back with a shovel and a mallet hammer.
Shiloh waited by the base of the statue.
“Shiloh… maybe—?” I spread my feet and adopted a stance like a coal miner, shovel gripped in my hands and half raised. I imagined my body as a robotic simulacrum, my joints oiled, each motion setting the next moving. “Maybe you can help me do it?”
Something lit up in their face, warring with doubt. “I don’t know if I can.”
“Do you want to try?”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m ready when you are.” My grip on the shovel was firm. I took a deep breath and exhaled.
Shiloh faded from sight, and their chill engulfed me, their mass aligning with mine. My arms and feet lost heat, bumps prickling my skin. For a moment I watched myself outside myself, and my hips swiveled back as I wound up for the swing—as Shiloh moved my body like I was one of their gear and spring puppets.
Then they swung the head of the shovel at the statue, and I recoiled into myself as metal met marble, and the impact shot up my arms. I gasped, chill wafting off me. A crack started across the statue’s neck and chest
“Okay,” I said, winding up again.
They took my arms as theirs and swung once more, the follow-through knocking the statue’s head from her neck.
They grinned with my mouth, and I laughed, jolting them out of my body to hover just over me.
“I didn’t know it would feel so good,” they said. “Again!”
They bashed chunks off the headless form, pulverizing the hands and arms and then the torso, until I switched to the hammer, and they pounded every blonde ringlet to powder.
Finally, they paused, and I took deep breaths, my ears and arms ringing. Only the base of the stone remained.
“We’re doing this,” Shiloh said. “I’m actually doing this. I can’t believe—” they blipped away. “Wait. Bruce is here.”
“Bruce…” The elation cooled on my skin.
“No.” Shiloh tensed, and the temperature in the room dropped so low my breath hung in it. “He’ll ruin everything.”
“Wait, Shiloh—can I help? Can I… spook him?”
They considered, large eyes catching mine. “Let’s give it a try.”
This time when Shiloh dove into my body, I was flung out. I floated above and through the park structures, to a height where I could see everything. And I felt Bruce, marching through Shiloh’s tunnels.
I spun and arced down toward him, passing through the air and then the walls with only the mild pop of pressures changing. I pulled up short before him, uncertain whether he could see me. He misstepped and stumbled to a halt, rubbing his arms.
“Goddammit, I don’t have time for this!”
So he knew he wasn’t alone. It made me bold, and I hovered just beside him, letting the cold air trickle toward him in eddies.
Bruce swatted the air, and I recoiled. His hand dispersed bits of me that regrouped slowly.
I concentrated on those particles, recalling the shape of me, of Kade, and flared at him with the rage I had bottled all summer.
Bruce choked in a breath. “It’s you.”
I circled him, wondering if he felt trapped in this moment, in the same way I had around him.
“Hi, Bruce.” My voice came out a dull monotone from a throat that couldn’t draw breath. “Nice night at the park, isn’t it?”
He swallowed and lifted his arms placatingly. “Kitty—”
“Don’t ever call me that again.”
“I don’t know how you’re doing this, but it isn’t funny. I called the cops.”
I shimmered out a laugh. “You can’t scare me anymore, Bruce.”
“You’re not real.” He flung a hand through me and took off running.
It hurt, to be slashed like that by someone who I didn’t want to touch. I recoiled. But I couldn’t let him go after Shiloh. I drew from the well of antipathy I felt toward my parents, toward society, toward Bruce, and pulled myself together. I found him again down the hall from Fairyland, only a moment from reaching Shiloh, who’d broken open the base of the statue.
“Shiloh!” I wailed. My body came alert. Bruce picked up speed.
I zoomed into the courtyard, flaring once again before Bruce, this time twice my natural size.
“Leave them alone!” I screamed.
Bruce clapped his hands over his ears and screwed his eyes shut before ducking and hurtling in my direction.
I steeled myself and, thinking of all the ghost stories I knew, conjured a howling wind to press him back, away from Shiloh.
He moaned, and I shrieked, and a third sound broke through.
“Kade!” Shiloh rasped. “You’re going to tear yourself apart!” They dropped the hammer and rushed to me with outstretched arms. I couldn’t let Bruce go free, but nevertheless Shiloh walked my body through the vortex, directly to me. They exited my body and nudged me back into it, the motion so smooth it was as though I had never left.
I fell to my knees as the cyclone dropped, as I came back to my battered, exhausted self. Gulping air, feeling my blood push through my veins again as my heart began pulsing anew.
“You’re okay,” Shiloh said.
I blinked tears away, adjusting to the weakness of my limited vision, the sensation of my skin.
Then Bruce tackled me, and all my skin screamed.
“Got you!” he crowed.
I couldn’t move beneath him, could hardly breathe as he pressed me down and put his hands on my throat.
Then Shiloh rose from the spot we had unearthed, the place where their bones lay.
“Enough!” They gathered light to themself. Bruce shielded his eyes, and I clawed at his face.
He recoiled with a cry, and I scrambled from beneath him, falling at the base of Shiloh’s grave. Their remains were in a fetal curl, the bones those of someone my size.
The shovel rasped against the ground behind me, and I turned to see Bruce raising it.
Shiloh gathered themself. “No!” they screamed, and the roof shuddered until a beam came free. I protected Shiloh’s bones with my body as it struck Bruce.
The entire roof groaned, and I lost sight of Bruce, prone somewhere. Shiloh laid over me like a cool blanket.
“I’m fading, Kade,” they said, their voice faint. “I think I can go now.”
I reached for them, though I knew I wouldn’t find hands to hold or a body to embrace. “I wish we’d met before. I wish I could have held your hand.”
Shiloh nodded, their edges wavering. “I know. But I’m glad we met anyway.” They leaned into me and their ice lips settled against mine. A warm flush streaked through Shiloh, and then their cold began to leak away.
“Thank you,” they said.
“Goodbye, Shiloh.” I blinked away more tears, and then they were gone, and the roof collapsed around me.
u ok kade?
It had been two months since I was pulled from the rubble of Fairyland. I tucked my phone into a pocket and sat back from clearing leaves off Shiloh’s grave marker. It was peaceful in the cemetery where their remains were interred. A large oak tree loomed over the site, something I thought they would appreciate.
My dad had looked at me funny when I asked to go to the cemetery on the last of our supervised drives before I got my license, but he and Mom were a lot more patient after getting the late-night call from the police. WonderWorlds was closed indefinitely, and Bruce had been arrested when they found human remains. It was all enough to shake my parents into really listening to me.
be right there, I texted back.
I got to my feet and dusted off before pulling a small plastic centaur from my pocket and setting it on the marker. The simplicity of the mold made the centaur genderless. I waited for a breeze or creaking of tree limbs, but all was still.
My dad waited in the passenger seat of the car. He rolled a window down as I came over the hill.
I nodded. “Do you mind driving back? I need some time to think.”
“Sure, hon…” He cleared his throat. “I’ve got news for you. The doctor called and said they can get you in for a consultation next week.”
My hands fumbled at the seat belt. “That’s sooner than we thought.”
He didn’t say anything.
“Will you and Mom come?”
Dad paused with a hand on the gearshift. “Of course. We… we want to know how to do this right.”
I squeezed his hand, turning away as tears filled the corners of my eyes. “I don’t think there’s a guidebook on that, Dad.”
The hills of the cemetery began to fold away, and I pressed my forehead to the window. The early fall sun turned the oak leaves gold, and just for a second, my lips went cold as ice.