This was the only gift Miel could give her, the obedience of destroying the roses her mother had feared. She wanted to give her more, a fearlessness of water. But inside Miel was the small, echoing voice of the girl Sam had found, a girl whispering that she should not trust water she could not see to the bottom of.
She didn’t remember her father as well as her mother. She knew he was a curandero, the kind skilled at treating wounds, with a talent for setting bones that gave him work as a huesero. And she remembered his hands, how gently he cut her roses away, and then covered the wound with a bandage. Sometimes she tried settling into the memory, but she knew him so little he was not really hers.
The petals vanished under the surface, and the water rippled like the hem of a dress. The moon refracted into a dozen sickles.
Even with as little as Miel remembered, she remembered the whispers about how children with roses growing from their skin would poison their own brothers, or steal the rings and rosaries from their family’s graves. It didn’t matter if the roses grew from their wrists, like Miel’s, or from their ankles or backs. Every son or daughter in their family whose body made roses, they said, turned bitter and ungrateful.
Once their family made cakes with rosewater and cardamom. But that was before roses were things edged with the fear of new mothers. Young women worrying over their sons and daughters, looking for the first signs of green coming through their skin.
The river settled back into its slow current, and the soft rushing of the water carried the sound of muffled sobbing. It broke into small, stifled cries.
Miel startled, searching the sky and listening for the wind. When the wind came, she listened for her mother’s voice, hoped she wouldn’t hear her crying. The only thing she wanted more than she wanted Sam was for her mother to know that Miel forgave her. That she understood why she did what she did. That she knew her mother loved her.
But the sound wasn’t coming from the sky. Or even from under the water. It pulled Miel’s eyes down the length of the bank.
The dark outlined the figure of a girl, arms crossed, wind fluffing her hair.
The Bonner girl, though Miel still couldn’t tell which one.
Miel got to her feet, pain spinning in her forearm.
“Are you okay?” she called, trying to keep her voice calm like Aracely’s, soft and clear as the trickle of water over stones.
But the girl still jumped. Her gaze snapped toward Miel, and the moon turned her face as pale as its own surface.
Ivy Bonner. The ribbons of light off the river showed her features. Her cheeks shone wet. Hints of copper warmed the edges of her hair, even in the dark. Her nose sat between Chloe’s, long and straight and proud like their father’s, and Peyton’s, short and upturned like their mother’s.
Ivy nodded, dabbing her fingers over her cheeks. Miel was not important enough for Ivy to pretend she hadn’t been crying.
That nod made Miel feel like she was intruding, like she’d been summoned and now was dismissed. She clutched the silver-plated scissors and turned her back to the river.
But Ivy took a few steps toward her. Not in a hurried way. But quickly enough that Miel stopped in her path.
“What are you doing out here?” Ivy asked, and in the same moment glanced down at Miel’s bare wrist, and the scissors. “Oh,” she said.
Ivy lifted her eyes to Miel’s again. This close, the salt and water drying on her cheeks looked like the thinnest frost.
“Does it hurt?” Ivy asked.
“What?” Miel asked, cringing at the uncertainty in her own voice.
“Cutting them,” Ivy said.
To say no would seem like a kind of defiance Miel could never wear as well as Ivy or her sisters. To say yes was too much of an admission.
She hadn’t been this close to Ivy since the Bonner sisters left school. And now, so close to her that she could smell the watery camellia scent of her soap, all Miel could think of was Clark Anderson, another of the boys lost to the Bonner sisters. Clark had thought a girl like Ivy, with her hair the color and shine of new pennies, could cure him of wanting to kiss John Sweden under the new water tower. He slept with Ivy in her bedroom in broad daylight, with Sam and the other workers on the farm below her window. And less than twelve hours later he was kissing John again, this time on the water tower ladder at midnight, where people could just recognize their shapes against the stars.
He disappeared from the town the next week. But unlike Chloe or the boy whose baby she had, no one knew where he’d gone.
The way Ivy kept blinking, stung by the salt of her own tears, made pity spread through Miel, until she had to give it words.
“He doesn’t matter, you know,” Miel said.
Ivy drew back. “What?”
Miel knew to be quiet, but she wanted to even out what she’d said, like smoothing the layer of cream on a tres leches cake.
“He’s just a guy,” Miel said. “Who cares?”