“I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s going on, Beth.”
Jack stood up a little straighter, folded his arms in front of him.
Beth held out her hand. “Can we take a walk?”
Jack held up a finger, then sprinted up the front porch steps. He poked his head through the front screen door. “Tell mom or your sisters I’m going for a walk with Beth,” he told Ellie. She looked up from her coloring book and nodded.
Jack ran back over to the hedgerow, where Beth still waited. She took his hand, and they walked across her yard, through the trees into the stream’s clearing, and then on into the woods. Beth didn’t say anything until they reached the fork in the path marked by the twined trees.
“This was the beginning of the end,” she said, and took the lefthand path. Another twenty minutes brought them to the Dragon Tree’s clearing. “And this is where it all began.”
Jack braced himself, and glanced up, at the twisted snout and outstretched wings. Afternoon sunlight slanted through the leaves left on the few still-living branches, a gentle breeze causing them to flutter, points of bright gold slipping through the gaps in green. If the leaves were a bit deeper green, they would have looked like Beth’s eyes, Jack thought.
“You’re not falling over,” Beth said, smiling.
“Everything started here?” Jack asked.
Beth’s smile faded. “I Dreamed of Toby falling, but it wasn’t the first time I Dreamed of things like that. It would happen maybe once a month, around the full moon. By the time I was about seven or eight, I realized just what they were, what they meant, and I started taking… steps.”
“I bumped into Helena at the general store. The mirror on the end of the shelf fell, and broke, and she cut her hand. I threw a stick into the street, and Old Man Harris’ dog ran out to fetch it. Mr. Peck’s horses spooked, and he wound up driving his delivery wagon through the greengrocer’s stall in the market. One of my friend’s little sisters ran home crying because I tripped her while we were playing up by the spring’s pool. What would you think of a girl who did those sorts of things? Be honest, Jack.”
“Honestly? That she was trouble, or that trouble followed her around.”
“They called me bad. What Father didn’t have me work off he took out of my hide. I didn’t sit for days after the greengrocer’s cart.”
“It was a price I was willing to pay, Jack.”
“This has something to do with what you Dreamed.”
“Helena would have cut more than just her hand on that mirror. Mr. Peck’s horses would have spooked anyway, but he would have gone the other direction, right over Mrs. Jonas and her baby.”
“Something bad would have happened to your friend’s sister,” Jack said.
“I think scraped knees are far better than drowning.”
Jack leaned back, his head thudding lightly against one of the Dragon Tree’s legs. “Who could you tell? Who would believe you?”
“Toby did. We were pretty good friends. He would help, sometimes, to… make things not as bad as I Dreamed. We tried to be careful, but people noticed. They talked. His parents forbade him from seeing me. They said I was a…”
“Bad influence?” Jack supplied.
Beth’s smile was faint. “That was one of the more polite things they called me, before….” She blinked, staring up at the gnarled branches.
Jack followed her gaze. He knew exactly where she was looking. The branch was a long way up. He took several deep breaths and waited for the vertigo to settle.
“They thought I pushed him; thought I got off easy, just breaking an arm, when he—“ She swallowed, and clutched her right arm against her side. “He woke up, long enough to tell them that I had tried to stop him.”
“You mean he—“ Jack wrenched his eyes away from the branch. “He survived a fall from… way up there?”
Beth nodded, wiping at her eyes. “Unfortunately, yes,” she finally managed to say.