Chapter 18.

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Lizzie and Jane and I dress for the day in silence. The two never speak when I'm near. I'm either a frequent topic of their conversations, or they simply don't care for me. Possibly both. Most days, I can't bring myself to worry about it, but without Iris, I feel adrift. I'm consumed by thoughts of Quill, giddy, girlish secrets that I long to share, but my only friend lies cold in the ground. It's selfish of me to mourn her loss anew simply because she would have been a sympathetic ear, but without her gentle influence, I find myself slipping further into the person I was before I met her.

Running feet catch our attention, only seconds before Anna, another girl from our floor, skids to a stop outside our door. Her face is pale, and her green eyes are wide in her haunted face. Her gaze falls on Iris's stripped mattress then quickly jerks back to us. "Have you heard?"

"Does it look like we've been out of this room, yet?" Lizzie rolls her eyes as she pins up her braid. She turns eighteen in a month. I pray she leaves the commune as Iris wished to.

"It's too terrible." Anna shakes her head. She looks as though she'll be sick.

I know her fear, for it reaches out to me as if to embrace me as an old friend. "What's happened, Anna?"

She swallows, the motion showing in the ripple of freckles across her throat. "Iris...she's missing."

A mean laugh bursts from Jane.

"Iris is dead," Lizzie says, bored, dismissive. "She's not missing."

"Her grave..." Anna protests then stops to tuck a curl of ginger hair behind her ear. For reasons I cannot fathom, many of the girls, our age and younger, care very much what Lizzie and Jane think of them.

I would crawl on my belly across a field of red-hot nails before I would stoop to seek their favor.

"It's all right," I tell Anna, moving closer to the door to create a barrier between the girl and their disapproval. "We're going to find out, anyway, so you might as well tell us."

"Her grave was open, and she's not in her coffin."

Though I knew before she spoke, I feel the weight of six feet of earth fall upon my heart. Lizzie shrieks. Jane sways on her feet as though she'll faint.

Whatever happens after that, I am present for it only in body. Other women rush into the room to tend to Jane and Lizzie in their hysterics, and I hear their reactions echoing throughout the women's side of the dwelling house as the news spreads.

I pin up my hair and put on my linen cap. I move stiffly through my morning as panic spreads all around me. I go to the hall for breakfast, and only a few of the Shakers are there, men hunched grimly over their porridge. I sit on my side of the room and eat mechanically, thinking all the while of the laundry and the way Iris had struggled in my grasp as I'd tried to save her. I slide up my sleeve to look at my still-tender burns. Will Iris be red like this when she comes for me?

For the first time since I arrived, the day does not move in the tidy efficiency of routine. Only some of the Shakers will leave the Dwelling House. Others rush to the Meeting House to lose themselves in prayer. There is no class for the children, today. More than one buggy comes to the Elder's house, bearing outsiders who do not stay. The disruptions give me the chance to wander freely; they don't miss me in the laundry, or if they do, they don't look for me.

There is one person I want, and one place I can think to find him.

I push open the door of the small, dank room at the base of the round barn. The smell of sawdust is fresh; Quill has been here, and recently. I wander past the coffins stacked against the wall and trace the knots in their planks. The wood is sturdy. How did Iris claw her way out? Or Ross?

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