Spellbook of the Lost and Found
The highly anticipated new book from the acclaimed author of The Accident Season is a gorgeous, twisty story about things gone missing, things returned from the past, and a group of teenagers, connected in ways they could never have imagined.
One stormy Irish summer night, Olive and her best friend, Rose, begin to lose things. It starts with simple items like hairclips and jewelry, but soon it's clear that Rose has lost something much bigger, something she won't talk about, and Olive thinks her best friend is slipping away.
Then seductive diary pages written by a girl named Laurel begin to appear all over town. And Olive meets three mysterious strangers: Ivy, Hazel, and her twin brother, Rowan, secretly squatting in an abandoned housing estate. The trio are wild and alluring, but they seem lost too—and like Rose, they're holding tight to painful secrets.
When they discover the spellbook, it changes everything. Damp, tattered and ancient, it's full of hand-inked charms to conjure back things that have been lost. And it just might be their chance to find what they each need to set everything back to rights.
Unless it's leading them toward things that were never meant to be found...
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpt from Spellbook of the Lost and Found
That night, everybody lost something.
Not everybody noticed.
It was a Saturday night on the cusp of summer and the air smelled like hot wood and burning rubber, like alcohol and spit, like sweat and tears. It was warm because of the bonfire in the middle of the field, and because of the stolen beers, the wine coolers bought with older siblings’ IDs, the vodka filched from stepparents’ liquor cabinets. There was the hint of a strange sound, that some thought might have been a trapped dog howling, but most decided was just in their imagination.
Some kept drinking, thinking this was just another night spent in a field at the edge of town, close to that invisible line where suburbs become countryside.
Some noticed without really understanding what they’d lost. Some kissed each other with cake on their tongues, rainbow icing dissolving between mouths to make new colors. Some took their schoolbooks and threw them on the bonfire, not caring that there were still two weeks before end-of-year exams.
Some turned around and went back home. Some forgot things they’d always known. Others stumbled, just for a moment, not knowing that they’d lost more than their step.
Some hung back, nervous, torn between edging closer to the fire and calling their parents to come get them. Some slipped small pills onto their tongues and swallowed them with soft drinks, the bubbles tickling their throats as it all went down. Some choked on cigarette smoke even though they’d been smoking for years. Some gripped others’ zippers in shivering fingers, lowered jeans or hitched up skirts. Others watched from the shadows.
By the time the fire had burned down to glowing ashes and a pile of charred wood, when everyone was dreaming deep in their own beds or lying through wine-stained teeth to their parents or getting sick in their best friends’ bathrooms or continuing the party in someone else’s house, apart from the few who’d passed out where they sat, there was nothing left in the field but the things we had lost.
Sunday, May 7th
Lost: Silver, star-shaped hair clip; jacket (light green, rip in one sleeve); flat silver shoe (right, scuffed at the toes)
Daylight is only just touching the tips of the trees when the bonfire goes out. I am leaning against a bale of hay upon which someone I don’t know is sleeping.
I roll my head over to look for Rose, who I was sure was sitting, legs splayed, on the ground beside me. The grass is mostly muck at this point, beaten down by many pairs of shoes and feet. My own feet—bare, the nails painted a shiny metallic green that doesn’t show up in the morning darkness—are dirty. So is the rest of me.
Rose isn’t here. I call out for her but nobody answers. Not that I expect she’ll be able to; sometime in the night she lost her voice from shouting over the music, from singing along to really bad songs and from all the crying.
Getting ready to go out last night, Rose told me, “Our plan for the evening is to get excessively drunk and then cry.” She swiped her lashes with another layer of mascara, which seemed fairly unwise, given the aforementioned plan.
“Can we make the crying optional?” I said. “My eyeliner’s really good right now.” It had taken me twenty minutes, six cotton swabs, and five tissues to get it even.
I sneaked a look at my best friend’s reflection. She blinked to dry her mascara. It gave her a deceptively innocent air.
“I don’t know why you want to go to this thing in the first place,” I said.
This thing was the town’s bonfire party. It’s held in May every year. Until midnight it’s filled with sugar-hyper children stuffed dangerously full of badly barbecued burgers threatening to throw up on the bouncy castle. Their parents bop self-consciously to decades-old pop music blaring from rented speakers while the teenagers—our classmates—sneak off to nearby fields to drink.
“I told you why I want to go,” Rose said. “I plan to get excessively drunk.”
“And then cry,” I reminded her.
“And then cry.”
“Well, you know what they say,” I said to the back of her head. “Be careful what you wish for.”
We slept in the field, which seemed like a good idea at the time. There is a growing chill despite the slowly rising sun and I don’t know if it means that a storm is coming or just that I’ve been in the same position for far too long. I’m beginning to lose all feeling in my right shoulder, the one propped on the prickly pile of hay.
When I look down, on one bare and dirty arm I see the words: If you don’t get lost, you’ll never be found. They’re blurry because my eyes are blurry; it takes five blinks for me to make them out. They run from shoulder to wrist and seem to be written in my own wobbly handwriting, although I don’t remember writing them. When I lick a finger and rub at an n, it doesn’t smudge.
For about as long as we’ve been friends, Rose and I have written what we refer to as our mottos on each other’s arms. When we were younger, they were things like You are beautiful or Carpe diem. These days they’re in-jokes or particularly poignant quotes. We both got detention for a week last year because of our matching block capitals reading DO NO HARM BUT TAKE NO SHIT. I must have written this one during the party, although when or why, I have no idea.
My head feels fuzzy. With a wince and a sigh, I drag myself out of the last dregs of drunkenness and shakily stand up.
I take stock: I am missing a shoe (the other is half buried in the muck beside me) and my jacket. My dress is covered in grass stains and smells distinctly of vodka. I have the beginnings of an epic headache forming and I seem to have lost my best friend.
“Rose!” I call. “Rose?”
The boy on the hay bale twitches in his sleep.
“Hey,” I say to him loudly. I poke his shoulder when he doesn’t wake up. “Hey!”
The boy opens one eye and grunts. He has dirty-blond hair, a stubbly chin, and an eyebrow piercing. I vaguely remember dancing with him last night. He squints at me.
“Olivia?” he says hesitantly.
“Olive.” I have absolutely no idea what his name is. “Have you seen my friend?”
“Roisín?” he says in the tone of someone who isn’t sure he’s saying the right thing.
“Olive,” he says, sitting up slowly. “Rose.”
“Yes,” I say impatiently. He’s clearly still very drunk. “Yes, Rose, have you seen her?”
“She was crying?”
I pick up my shoe and shove it on my foot, figuring that one shoe is still better than none. “I know. That was our plan for the evening. Did you see where she went?”
I scan the field for any sight of her. There’s a blue denim jacket crumpled up on the ground not far away. I take it because I’m beginning to feel very cold.
Pale blue light spills over the trees and into the field. My phone is dead so I don’t know what time it is, but it’s probably close to six a.m.
I start to make my way toward the road. The boy on the hay bale calls out to me. “Can I’ve another kiss before you go?”
I look back at him and make a face. Another kiss? “Not a chance.”
“See you around?”
I shake my head and walk away quickly. Most of my memories of last night seem to have disappeared with Rose.
I make my way around the field, scanning the faces of the sleepers (trying to keep my eyes averted from the ones who clearly aren’t sleeping). It doesn’t take long; she isn’t here. I glance behind me and see that the boy on the hay bale appears to have disappeared, probably slumped on the grass. I am the only person standing.
I turn around in a circle, taking in the stone wall and the tangle of bushes surrounding the field, the fence near the empty road on the other side, the small line of trees separating this field from the next one.
There’s someone there, almost hidden between two spindly pines, staring at me.
It’s a boy. He’s wearing a flat cap and an old, holey sweater that might be green or black—it’s hard to tell in the shadows. He has a lot of brown, curly hair under that awful hat and is wearing thick, black-framed glasses. He has a hundred freckles on his skin and a guitar slung over his back. He looks like a cross between a farmer and a teenage Victorian chimney sweep. He is unmistakably beautiful.
Before I have time to break his gaze, he turns and walks away and I lose him between the trees.
I look down at myself, at my dirty dress and borrowed denim jacket, at my one bare foot and my grass-stained legs. I could be Cinderella, if Cinderella was a short, chubby, hungover seventeen-year-old with smudged makeup and tangled hair. And, while I’m very glad that I don’t have a dead father and an evil stepmother, I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to explain my current state to my parents when I get home. I try in vain to smooth the creases out of my dress and reach into the bird’s nest of my hair to pin it back with the silver, star-shaped hair clip I tied it up with yesterday, but either my tangles have eaten it or I lost it sometime in the night.
My bike is where I left it, chained to the fence by the side of the road, but it takes me several tries to unlock it because my hands don’t seem to want to work properly and my brain feels increasingly like it’s trying to turn itself inside out. When I clamber on, my bare foot sticks uncomfortably to the pedal.
I pass a grand total of three cars and one tractor on the road into town. The clouds above me are getting very gray, almost as if the dawn has changed its mind and wants to revert back to night. My dress blows up in the breeze, but there’s no one around to see, so I keep both hands on the handlebars and try to ride steadily. Under the sleeve of my borrowed denim jacket I can see the tail end of the sentence written there: You’ll never be found.
It comes back to me in a flash. Rose in my bedroom last night, staring at her reflection in my vanity mirror while pouring generous measures of cheap vodka into a bottle of Diet Coke.
She said, “If you don’t get lost, you’ll never be found.”
We’d drunk a fair amount of the vodka already and her words were slightly slurred.
“At this rate,” I said to her, “the only thing we’ll lose tonight is the contents of our stomachs.”
My prediction was accurate: Another flash of memory has me bent over a hay bale, throwing up some unholy mixture of slightly Diet Coke–flavored vodka and the barbecued hot dogs that we all ate on sticks, posing for pictures, holding the phallic meat like rude children. My stomach lurches at the thought and I have to pull over to the side of the road to retch again.
If you don’t get lost, you’ll never be found.
I cling to the low stone wall by the side of the road like a lifeboat, and sigh. Without warning, it begins to rain. Fat drops fall on the mess of my hair, darken my jacket, hit the dry roadside like cartoon tears. Splat. I have to blink them out of my eyelashes. I sigh again and drag my bike from the ditch.
I ride home through pounding rain and with a pounding headache. Maybe it’s that I drank too much and remember too little about last night. Maybe it’s that Rose left without me. Maybe it’s what the blond-haired boy said about another kiss. Maybe it’s the beautiful boy I saw at the edge of the field, looking like he’d lost something. But I feel like I might have lost something myself, and I have no idea what it is.
Sunday, May 7th
Found: Old red leather-bound notebook, thin and worn, secured by a black rubber band; ripped-up pages out of three lost diaries
We went to the party because our diaries went missing.
Holly’s disappeared first. Then Ash’s. I only thought to look for mine when five pages torn from Holly’s showed up in Trina McEown’s hands on Monday morning. And if there’s one place you don’t want to find your diary, it’s in Trina McEown’s hands.
You’d think at our age we’d be too old for gossip and giggling. But Trina stood up on a desk in the middle of the classroom as we were packing away after math and read excerpts to the class. She only stopped when Ash got on the desk with her, red curls flying, and punched her so hard, her nose bled.
We tried to explain, me and Holly, that a bloody nose is nothing compared to your every secret hemorrhaging like a torn artery, spoken in somebody else’s voice, but Mr. Murphy despises both metaphors and emotions, so Ash was suspended and Trina was excused from homework for the day.
That’s when it started.
We sat in Holly’s bedroom and I stroked her hair while she cried and Ash inspected her bruised knuckles. She wears them now like a badge of pride.
“I don’t see why you care so much, Holly,” Ash said. “I wouldn’t, if it were me.”
I stroked and stroked Holly’s hair, long and blond, blond and long and soft under my fingers like my whispered hush. I wanted to say, “It’s okay,” but it wasn’t, not really. There are things you tell a diary that nobody else should know. Not your best friends. Not your favorite sister. Not a classroom full of staring eyes and leering, open mouths.
“They pretend they never think those kinds of things themselves,” Ash said scornfully. “Like they never have sex dreams. Like they don’t have bodies that bloat and bleed. Like they never question the world around them or their own sanity.”
Holly cried so hard, her quilt was soaked with it, salt water in every seam.
“I’ll bet half the girls in that classroom masturbate. And all of the boys.” Ash snorted. “They’re just a bunch of repressed hypocrites.”
Holly sobbed into her hands and rivers ran between her palms. Tears dripped from the bed onto the floor. Pat, pat, pat into the carpet.
“Everybody’s parents fight. Everybody lies. No one knows what they’re doing in this bloody life.” Ash clenched her fists.
I whispered, “Hush, hush.” The carpet was sodden with Holly’s tears. The force of her crying raised the bed and set it bobbing. The bedroom became a little lake. Folders full of school notes, pencils and hair clips, books and tissues and childhood bears floated in it. I held her hair so as not to fall in. Blond and long, long and blond and beaded with salty tears.
“I’d punch her again if I could,” Ash said. “I will. Next time I see her nasty face. I’ll break her fucking nose next time.”
“Hush,” I said to Holly. “You’ll do no such thing,” I said to Ash. “If you get expelled, it’s just the two of us against the rest of them.” Together we are a three-headed dog, facing an army of hundreds of staring eyes and leering, open mouths. Without Ash, we’ve lost our fangs. “It’s hard enough in school already.”
Ash had the courtesy to look abashed. She leaned back on her elbows on Holly’s bed and said, “Then you’ll have to hold me back at the party on Saturday, because with a few beers in me who knows what I’ll do.”
“I don’t want to go to the party, Laurel,” Holly said to me in a whisper. “I don’t want to go anywhere they’ll be.”
“They’re everywhere, I’m afraid,” I said softly, braiding her hair, threading the tears into the braids like pearls. “In a place like this, there’s nowhere to hide.”
“So we won’t hide,” Ash said loudly, and she stood up on the bed, her school shoes scuffing the quilt. She stamped and said, “We won’t fucking hide. Who cares? We’ll go to the party like everybody else, Cinderella; we’ll be the belles of the fucking ball.”
The town bonfire party is hardly a ball. It’s more of an embarrassment. But there is always precious little supervision and often unattended coolers filled with beer. The adults either turn a blind eye or they don’t even notice.
Holly’s tears slowed to a trickle.
“Think about it,” I said. Holly had until Saturday to decide. “We’ll be right there with you.”
I didn’t say that the reason I wanted to go was very similar to Ash’s. I didn’t want to punch Trina; don’t get me wrong. But I did want to know how she got Holly’s diary. I wanted to know what she’d done with the pages she hadn’t torn out. And if she didn’t give them back, well, maybe I could do with a bruised knuckle or two.
That night I tore my room apart. I called Ash around eleven. “My diary’s missing, too,” I said.
She was silent for a moment. “I haven’t been able to find mine since the weekend,” she said.
In our three separate houses, we confronted our parents, we yelled at our siblings, but nobody confessed. I still can’t quite imagine Trina McEown or any of her cronies somehow sneaking into our houses and taking our things, but I don’t see how there could be another explanation. We only know that our diaries have disappeared and pages of Holly’s turned up in hostile hands, that Trina and her friends, or somebody else, have read the missing pages, have torn out entire weeks of our lives to keep like butterflies pinned to a wall somewhere.
I want to know where.
Then we found the spellbook. It was like it’d been waiting for us. Like it knew we’d need it.
I say we found it, but really it was Holly. We were on our way to the lake after school on Friday. Ash, still suspended, joined us outside town and we walked past her house, to where the forest gets thick and dark. It was warm—hot, even—but something in the air felt like rain. On either side of the road there were scraggly trees, tumbledown walls with gaps in the stone like missing teeth, green fields turning yellow under this unlikely heat.
We swung our sweaters like skipping ropes, holding the ends of the sleeves and jumping over the body, singing mindless children’s songs. Ash rolled her T-shirt up to make a bikini top and Holly and I quickly followed suit, unbuttoning the bottom of our school shirts and tying the ends in a knot under our breasts. Our bellies white as the undersides of fish, blinding in the sunshine they hadn’t seen since last summer. We imagined what the teachers would say if they saw us now, bare-bellied and skipping with our ugly school sweaters, kneesocks peeled off and stuffed in our schoolbags.
Holly was more cheerful that afternoon. With Ash at our side, we were a three-headed dog once again. We walked so close together, our hair started to tangle. Brown, blond, and red.
Holly wanted to climb trees. She’s always seemed a little younger than me and Ash, even though we’re all the same age. Maybe the skipping made her think of childhood. Or maybe she was trying to become a kid again, to exorcise words spoken aloud about period cramps and fighting parents, about positioning the spray of the showerhead just so between her legs.
We stopped at the giant oak tree in the fork in the road. We clambered from branch to branch, scratching our arms and legs and leaving sap stains on our bellies. Ash is arguably the bravest of us, but Holly climbed the highest. That’s where she found the spellbook: caught between two branches like it’d been left there by a bird.
She called out, “Laurel! Ash!” and dropped it down to us: a small, slim notebook, red and leather-bound, secured by a rubber band. Holly came down and we sat beneath the branches to read it. The first page said only SPELLBOOK OF THE LOST AND FOUND, like a title.
You can’t not read on with a title like that.
We didn’t recognize the handwriting, but Holly said she thought it looked familiar. On every other page were prayers to Saint Anthony, suggestions of offerings to the goddess Mnemosyne, a map to the river Lethe: findings and forgettings. Stuck to the blank pages in between were things that made the spellbook creak at the seams. Prayer cards and candy wrappers with strange symbols on them. Foreign coins. Pressed leaves and strips of bark covered in straight cuts like ogham stones. Or scars.
The spell was on the very first page: a calling for the lost to be found.
We wanted our diaries found. So Holly suggested we try it.
At first it was like a recipe: gathering moss and branches, raiding our cupboards for olive oil, slipping saints medals out of our nanas’ wallets, rooting through the Christmas boxes in the attic, looking for silver string. It was silly and secret and made us feel like kids making mud pies. None of us took it seriously, not even Holly.
By Saturday we had all the ingredients except for the waters of Lethe.
Ash was frustrated. “What does that even mean?”
“We learned about it in Classics,” Holly told her. “Remember? The Lethe is one of the five rivers in the Greek underworld.”
“So we’re unlikely to find any of its waters in Balmallen, County Mayo,” I said.
But then we found some of Mags’s poteen, a can accidentally left at the back door of Maguire’s pub (although Ash, reading this now over my shoulder, would like me to note that Mags rarely does things by accident; Ash sees conspiracies between the trees).
“We can use this instead,” Holly breathed, showing us the spell again. “See? It says poteen can be used as a substitute. It’s got to be hand-distilled—which Mags’s stuff is—and, if anyone infuses her poteen with ancient magic, it’s Mags.”
So we took some of Mags’s poteen to the town bonfire party. We sneaked away from the crowds and slipped into the woods. We cut our fingers and drank the burning alcohol and wrote out our losses on the branches of trees.
And that’s when the weirdness started.
Moss became fur became dead animals on the floor of the forest. The trees became the spaces between the trees. We three held hands and made noises that weren’t words, but that Holly said later were a calling. A calling for the lost to be found.
We came to in the morning, beside the giant oak at the fork in the road, each of us with scraped knees and bloody noses, tied together with silver string.
And, all around us, our missing diary pages covered the ground like a blanket of snow. In the field in the distance, the bonfire was still burning.
Calling for the Lost to Be Found
You Will Need:
A charm or talisman. (A medal or Mass card of Saint Anthony or Saint Jude, a dowsing rod, a crystal pendulum or an arrow-shaped hagstone will work best.)
A glass bottle filled with the waters of Lethe, the underground river in Hades that makes the drinker forget. (Poteen is an acceptable substitute. Must be hand-distilled in a pot still and infused with ancient magic.)
A length of silver string.
A handful of rowan berries.
A hazel branch.
A vine of ivy.
As many rose thorns as you have losses.
Moss gathered from under an oak tree.
To Cast the Calling:
Gather fresh moss from under an oak tree.
Soak it in olive oil and crushed rowan berries.
Anoint it with human blood.
Snap a hazel branch in two and form an equal cross.
Bind the bloodmoss to the center X with an ivy vine.
Tie one end of a length of silver string tight around it.
Fix the cross to the branch of a tree.
Write your losses in red ink on the branches around it.
Pin each word in place with a rose thorn.
Wind the string around each thorn.
At the opposite end of the string, attach your talisman.
Let neither the cross nor the talisman touch the ground.
Wait for a sign.
If the lights go out, you will know the lost are listening.
If you hear dogs barking, you will know the lost have heard your call.
If you hear the howling, you will know the lost have answered.
Be careful what you bargain with;
Every lost thing requires a sacrifice—
A new loss for every called thing found.
What will you let go of?
What can you not afford to lose?
Consider carefully before you cast the calling:
It may not be for you to choose.
Be careful what you wish for;
Not all lost things should be found.
Sunday, May 7th
Lost: Parents’ trust (not for the first time)
My parents are early risers. Every morning the smell of fresh coffee sneaks into my dreams before my dad’s voice booms through the house. He throws open the doors to our bedrooms and stands on the landing, loudly reciting whatever his favorite poem is that week.
When I walk in the kitchen door, grass-stained and hungover, he is three stanzas into “The Stolen Child” by W. B. Yeats. My mom is sitting at the table, reading the paper. She raises her eyebrows as I come in. The clock above the kitchen door tells me it’s ten past seven. And yet I’d dared to hope that this one morning they’d sleep in.
“In pools among the rushes / That scare could bathe a star. / We seek for slumbering trout / And whispering in their ears / Give them unquiet dreams,” intones my dad’s voice.
“I always thought this one was kind of depressing,” I say.
My mom sips her coffee. “Aren’t they all?”
I pull my borrowed jacket tight around me to hide the state of my dress. I hope I smell of the strawberry bubble gum I found in one of its pockets, but in reality I probably just stink of vodka.
“So, on a scale of one to that time Rose threw up in your car after a party, how in trouble am I?”
My mom folds over the paper to the next page. “We’re rapidly approaching Rose-vomit territory,” she tells me.
My dad appears in the doorway from the hall. His voice gets progressively more ominous as he approaches.“For he comes, the human child, / To the waters and the wild / With a faery, hand in hand, / For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand. So. I see that you’re home in one piece, albeit a relatively ragged piece,” he says. “And by ragged I mean tired, dirty, drunk, and grounded.”
I abandon any pretense and slump into a chair. “Not drunk,” I mumble. “Hungover.”
“Oh, well, in that case forget I said anything; please go about your day.”
I drop my head between my folded arms on the kitchen table. I turned my hearing aid off sometime during the party because the speakers kept making it scream tinnily in my deaf ear. With my good ear against the table and silence in the other, every sound is strangely magnified: my dad’s heavy footsteps across to the stove; my siblings clattering down the stairs; my mom’s coffee cup clinking quietly against her plate as she raises it to her lips; my own breath rasping between my teeth.
There’s a thud on the table in front of me. “This’ll help,” comes my dad’s loud voice. I raise my head and see a giant mug of black coffee. “Freshly grounded, get it?” says Dad. He chuckles to himself.
My sister, Emily, bursts through the door as I take the first tentative sip. She stares at me.
“Whoa,” she says. “You look like shit.”
“Emily!” Mom says sharply.
“Sorry, Mom. Olive, you look like defecation.”
Dad hides a laugh behind his beard. Mom’s mouth twitches. “Slightly better,” she says. Then she trains her eyes on me, and there’s something to the slant of the lines around them that makes me wonder if I’m in even more trouble than I thought.
My brother, Max, materializes bleary-eyed in the doorway as I plug my phone into the tangle of chargers on the counter beside the fridge. He has pillow creases on his cheek and is dragging Bunny, his tattered teddy, by one ear.
“Can I have a cookie?” Max asks Mom. He’s five. He always wants a cookie. Cornflakes (a dog) sticks out his tongue beside him. He also always wants a cookie. Is there much difference between a dog and a five-year-old boy?
“You can’t have cookies for breakfast,” says Emily, who slowly backs away from the cupboard she was about to open, obviously also looking for cookies herself. Emily is thirteen, skinny as a snake and twice as mean. She probably shares half her DNA with some form of reptile.
Coco Pops (a dog) watches her with adoration. Weetabix (also a dog) snuffles around under the table for crumbs. The cat, Bacon, scratches at the back door.
With my battery five percent recharged, I call Rose. There’s no answer. I suppose there must be an equation to calculate the probability of Rose’s hangover being mine to the power of N, given that she seemed so much drunker than me last night, but I doubt these things can be measured. Either way I’m sure she’s sleeping it off somewhere. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to ride home alone. Still, I’d feel a lot better if she’d replied. I don’t leave a voice mail because Rose never listens to them. I message her to call me instead.
I’m about to get up and take my coffee into my room when Mom looks at me.
“Did you meet a boy?” she asks me suddenly, folding the paper over to another page with feigned nonchalance. Emily, sensing that I’m about to be told off, perks up and listens in.
“In my life?” I say. An image of the curly-haired, freckled boy I saw this morning between the trees flashes into my mind. Old flat cap and guitar slung over his back. He must have been someone’s cousin, or a friend from out of town. I didn’t recognize him, and he was far too beautiful to be from around here.
“Last night,” she clarifies.
“Unsurprisingly, the town festivities were a mixed-sex event,” I say to the ceiling. “As you will recall. There were quite a few boys there.”
“I’m a boy,” Max pipes up from the other side of the table.
“You’re an alien,” Emily retorts.
“If I’m an alien, you have to be an alien, too,” says Max. “That’s how brothers and sisters work.”
“So you didn’t meet a boy?” My mom’s repetition of the query brings her would-be casual tone into question.
“Why?” Emily asks.
“Mind your own business,” I hiss at her. “May I please be excused?” I take my mug of coffee and stand up on slightly wobbly legs.
“You’re confined to the house and garden for the week, apart from school,” my dad reminds me. I nod and turn to go.
“He’s trouble,” my mom says. She says it very softly, almost in a whisper, but I hear her clearly even over the noise of my family and the dogs. Nobody else seems to hear her at all. “He’s lost a lot and so will you.” Her eyes are far away. Her eyes are not her eyes. She looks at me and it’s like someone else is looking through her. “Stay away from him,” she says, “or you’ll lose everything.”
Then she turns to make breakfast as if nothing has happened, as if she was never talking to me. The newspaper flutters to the floor.
Sunday, May 7th
Lost: Jacket (denim, missing third button); some pieces of broken teacup
Mags comes into the pub at twelve. We open at half past. I’ve set the whole place out already: the stools off the tables; the counters wiped down; the glasses polished; the trap unlocked for Cian and the boys to roll next week’s kegs into the basement.
The windows are open just a crack, and I can still smell the bonfire smoke from last night’s party. It’s faded now, just this vague taste of ash on the air. Makes you wonder what it was they were burning.
I left when the flames were almost as high as the random boy who placed a tiny square of paper on my tongue and tried to follow it with his own.
“I don’t kiss boys,” I told him, and I walked home alone.
It was a long night of dreams and visions, but this morning is clearer, tinny and thirsty.
Ivy and Rowan still weren’t home when I left for work.
“Well,” Mags says, and she flicks on the lights. They hardly brighten the dim room. “You’re here early.”
An ancient brown Labrador wanders in after her and settles heavily in her usual spot in front of the fireplace. She’s the latest of Mags’s long line of dogs who run away or get knocked over or have to be put down every few years. When one goes, she gets another. They’re always big and they’re always brown and she always gives them the same name: Lucky. Mags likes irony.
I shrug and blow on the paper in front of me. The latest Lucky yawns. Mags comes over to look at what I’ve drawn. She says she hates that I get charcoal all over the tables, complains that it gets in the air and sticks in her lungs, but she smokes two packs of cigarettes a day, so I don’t listen.
Mags lugs a big tin can onto the bench beside me. The stuff inside sloshes. “Why do you never draw people?” she asks, flipping through my sketchbook. A silver shoe, scuffed at the toes. A metal hip flask. The clock on the pub mantelpiece. A big, rusty key. “People are more interesting than things.”
“Yes, says me.” She flicks a line through the charcoal dust on the table. “You could draw me, regal beauty that I am.” I try not to snort. Mags is about five hundred years old and built like a wirehaired beer keg. She may be regal, but she’s no beauty. “You could draw Cian or Alicja,” she continues, ignoring my look.
I smudge the charcoal into shadows. Cian’s the cook and Alicja serves drinks with me. They’re pretty much the only people I know in this town. Runaways aren’t social types.
“You could draw your brother or Ivy.” I can feel my cheeks reddening, but the room’s dim enough to hide my blush.
“You could draw your parents,” Mags goes on, and it’s all I can do to keep my eyes on the paper.
“Have you had any word from them?” I ask, gathering up the charcoal pencils I stole from the art shop down the road a few weeks ago and stuffing them into my canvas bag.
“Not yet, pet,” Mags says.
I’m not surprised, but a lump forms in my throat.
She doesn’t bother suggesting I draw Granny or Granda. She knows the grief is still too raw.
“Here,” Mags says roughly as I get up from my little stool. “Go hide that in the basement, would you?” She dumps the huge tin can in my arms and turns me by the shoulders toward the stairs.
Mags makes poteen: old Irish moonshine. She distills it in her garage and sometimes sells it in her pub—to those in the know—when she’s sure the local police are turning a blind eye. The rumors say it makes you blind, but behind closed lids you’ll see the future. The rumors say it’ll rot your teeth, but that’s probably just all the sugar. I haul the can down the stairs into the basement and hide it behind a bunch of old kegs and crates.
Back upstairs, the others have arrived. They come in the side door by the kitchen and right away I can hear Mags order Rowan out again to chase up a missing order. Good thing, too. I’m not sure I could look at my brother just yet. I don’t know for sure that he was with Ivy last night, but until he tells me any different that’s what I’m going to assume.
Ivy’s our only friend right now, except for Mags, and she’s our boss, so she doesn’t count. Ivy’s the only person who knows our whole sorry story. She’s the only one who called us after our granny died and our granda stopped recognizing us. She’s the only one who worried when she heard we’d been sent back to live with our messed-up parents again. When we ran away from home, she’s the only person we told. So she packed her bags and ran away to join us. Her own mother hardly batted an eyelid. Ivy says her mom thinks of it as a rite of passage, like it’s perfectly normal for her seventeen-year-old daughter to run away from home to hole up with two teenage alcoholics in an abandoned development. But then there’s nothing really mainstream about Ivy and her mom.
I’ve only just thought of Ivy when I see her. She must’ve come in with Rowan. She’s sitting by the window. Her eyes are ringed with shadows and she hasn’t gelled her hair. It’s all soft blue tufts around her face, blond roots just about showing through. But even when Ivy’s tired and her hair’s a mess, she’s the brightest point in the room. She’s all floaty dresses and big boots and eyes that match her bright blue hair and can probably see right through you. She glows so strongly that everything around her looks prettier just ’cause she’s there.
Rowan and I have known Ivy since we were kids. She lives with her mom in Sligo, and Rowan and I lived with our grandparents in Dublin for most of our lives. But every once in a while our mother—the drunk, the train wreck, the one who abandoned her children—would get in another fight with Dad—and then she’d want her kids back and her oldest friend for support. So she’d come and fetch me and Rowan and drag us halfway across the country, and Granny and Granda wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.
She’d turn up on Ivy’s mom’s doorstep with us in tow and tears on her cheeks. Ivy’s mom would try to help, but pretty soon Mom would be off again, chasing after our father for the millionth time, and we’d be back in Dublin with Granny and Granda and we wouldn’t see Ivy—or our mother—again for, like, another year.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when it was I fell in love with Ivy, but I remember vividly the day two years ago when I realized that Rowan felt the same. Probably it was because he had his tongue inside her mouth.
“What are you doing here?” I say to Ivy. She doesn’t work at Maguire’s, like me and Rowan.
“We’re out of tea,” she says in her soft voice. It’s hard to hear over Alicja carrying a crate full of glasses, over Mags dumping a pile of logs in the fireplace. “And I came for the paper, too.”
Mags grabs a Sunday paper from one of the tables and throws it to Ivy. It flutters like a giant black-and-white-winged bird. Ivy catches the paper neatly and opens it to the crossword page.
Mags is related to Ivy in a way that none of us, including Ivy, can really figure out. She’s some kind of great-aunt or third cousin twice removed, on Ivy’s mother’s side (Ivy never knew her father). Mags has lived in this town forever.
Granny and Granda used to live here, too, just down the road from Maguire’s. After they moved to Dublin, they’d bring us back here sometimes to visit.
When Rowan and I ran away, this is where we ended up. It felt right. We couldn’t go back to Dublin; this was the only other place that ever felt like home. We asked Mags if we could crash with her for a bit, but she just grunted and said, “I don’t take in strays,” like we were a couple of lost dogs. But then Ivy turned up, and she was the one who led us to Oak Road, to the house we’re now squatting in. I still don’t know how she knew about it, but I’m glad she did.
I dig under the coffee machine for the fancy loose leaf tea that Ivy likes. Ivy always wakes up first. Every morning I come downstairs to find her sitting at the rickety old foldout table with the morning paper and a cup of tea.
Except this morning, because she was still at the party. With Rowan.
I lost them somewhere between the end of the barbecue and the third beer that I nicked from the cooler behind the deflated bouncy castle. A bunch of girls with straightened hair and short dresses had cake, so I went up and asked for a piece and they gave me a slice off the second layer—there were seven and each was topped with a different color icing. One of the girls was cute—shoulder-length hair that went blonder at the edges, and shiny pink gloss on her lips. But by the time I’d licked the last of the green icing from my fingers she was wrapped around some guy like a noose. My problem is I fall in love too easily.
The pub’s pretty empty for a Sunday; most of the town must still be nursing its hangover. When my first break comes around, I make myself a cup of coffee and join Ivy at her table. She’s sitting right beside the fire now and her cheeks are flushed. The crossword in front of her is almost filled in—just two clues left to find. I know without looking that they’re the same clues written on the Post-it note beside Ivy’s teacup.
Every day Mags leaves the paper rolled around a packet of chocolate digestives—Ivy’s favorite—on our porch. On top of the paper she sticks a Post-it with a clue number or two written on it.
“Twelve across.” Ivy shows me. “And two down.”
The answers to those clues are always a sign of something that’ll happen that day, or some truth about the three of us. They’ll say something like breakdown the morning before our generator runs out of diesel. Or abundance on a particularly good tip day. It’s pretty weird, but we’ve all come to accept it.
“So,” I say to Ivy quickly, before I can chicken out. “How come you and Rowan got home so—”
But Ivy looks down at the clues on the crossword and jumps up suddenly from her stool, as if she’s just been kicked. Her teacup smashes on the tiles in front of the fireplace.
I jump up, too, slopping coffee all over myself, and I ask, “What? What does it say?” A few of the people around us look up and stare.
Ivy says something under her breath. It sounds kinda like, “It didn’t work.”
“What didn’t work?” I ask, still flustered and covered in coffee.
“You just said—”
“What? Oh, no, nothing,” Ivy says quickly. She sits back down and swivels slightly in her seat. It creaks under her. Back and forth, back, forth. “I’m sorry about the cup,” she adds vaguely, eyes still on the paper.
Mags appears at our table with a dustpan and a mop. She hands them to me and raises two thick eyebrows in Ivy’s direction.
“Is there a reason you’re destroying my crockery today?” she asks.
Ivy reaches across the table and takes a sip of my coffee. She makes a face. “Twelve across, two down?” she asks.
“Hmph,” says Mags.
I turn the crossword toward me and scan the page, hoping the answers’ll make sense even if Ivy doesn’t. I’m worried about what they might say.
Twelve across: Pain of a hidden French breakfast (5). Two down: A beetle saint (4).
“Did you lose something last night?” Ivy asks me suddenly.
“Yeah, my denim jacket.” Then I narrow my eyes and say, “And you mean besides you and Rowan?”
Ivy doesn’t meet my gaze. “You didn’t lose us,” she says. “You went home early, remember?”
“And you didn’t come home at all.”
“We were just by the bonfire,” Ivy says, but there’s some color creeping over her cheeks. She clears her throat. “And I’ve just realized I lost one of my necklaces. It fell off at the party. And Rowan came back without his cap.”
“Thank Christ,” I mutter. That hat was an eyesore. “So you did come home with Rowan.”
Ivy sighs. “And Mags said a bunch of beers kept going missing, too,” she says like she didn’t hear me.
“So, what, there’s some kind of town thief?” I don’t mention with Mags right there that I know exactly where those beers went.
“I don’t know,” Ivy says.
My gaze goes back to the two blank spaces in the crossword. Twelve across, two down.
Pain of a hidden French breakfast.
There are plasters wrapped around two of Ivy’s fingers. She holds her pen in a bandaged hand.
“What happened?” I ask, nodding at her hand as I try to work out the clue.
What’s a French breakfast? Crêpe? Bread?
“Cut them on a broken glass last night,” Ivy says.
Then I get it. “Perdu,” I say, and I point at the newspaper. Pain of a hidden French breakfast. Pain is bread, and pain perdu is French toast, an old way to use up stale crusts. It translates, literally, as lost bread.
On the floor the tea leaves gleam.
Ivy nods at me meaningfully. She’s already figured it out. I’ve always been good at crosswords, but Ivy’s like lightning. She can crack a clue in thirty seconds flat. “Perdu. Lost.”
“So some things at the party got lost,” I say, and I shrug again even though Mags says it’ll make me a hunchback when I’m old. “It’s no big deal. I can’t get the other clue, though,” I add. “Two down. A beetle saint. Four letters. I don’t get it.”
Mags says “Hmph” again, and Ivy says, “Jude.”
It takes me a second. “Hey Jude.” A beetle means the band, the Beatles, and the saint is—
Ivy’s voice is very small. “The patron saint of lost causes. Saint Jude.”
“So what—we’re a lost cause?” I say.
“I’ve been saying that for years,” Mags grunts, but her eyes twinkle.
“I’m starting to take that crossword of yours personally,” I tell her.
“Oh,” says Ivy, and she looks worried. “I’m sure it’s not about you.”
But I don’t believe her. Every morning since Rowan and I got here I’ve been waiting for her to find me out. For the crossword clues to spell my name and tell her what I’ve done. The problem is I’ve too many secrets and sometimes it’s hard to keep up with your own lies.
I can guess what she thinks today’s clues mean. Rowan and I have lost our granny already. We’ve lost our granda, too, in a different way. He doesn’t know us. He can hardly speak. When we call him, it’s always the hospice nurse that answers.
But Ivy also knows we’re expecting our mom to come find us, apologize, try to make things right. Ivy knows we haven’t heard from her in over a month. I’ve tried calling, but her number’s been disconnected.
Ivy probably thinks the crossword means we’ve now lost our parents, too.
The thing is, even though she and Rowan don’t know it, I’m pretty sure she’s right.