Hannah McCauley doesn’t look at herself in the mirror anymore.
After a rebellious past, she now attends a strict private school in a new town, where her recently divorced mother has put her on social lockdown. No driving. No bad grades. No skipping classes. No unapproved friends. No makeup. No boys. And the subject of her best friend from her old school is definitely forbidden.
Hannah is being punished for something that happened a year earlier, something that she would like to put behind her. But strange occurrences frighten her, and she’s accused of breaking rules and doing other terrible things without any recollection of them. No one believes her, so she starts distrusting everything, even her own reflection.
Is she being haunted by her past? Stalked by someone with a grudge? Or is it all in her head? If she doesn’t figure out what’s happening fast, her existence could end up irreparably shattered.
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> Chapter One <
I don’t like the way the reflection in my bedroom mirror judges me. I try not to look at her too closely, but I know I have to now and then or I won’t be able to brush the tangles out of the mousy brown hair hanging past my shoulders. To avoid direct eye contact, I give her only a sideways glance. The eyes are the windows to the soul, they say, and it’s not that I refuse to look at hers, but I don’t want her looking into mine. She knows me too well, and I know that when she glares right back at me, she’s at her most judgmental.
So when I finish with my hair—it’s the straightest it’s going to get, but I know there are strands out of alignment anyway—I stay frozen for a moment and simply breathe in and out. My palms are planted flatly on the dresser, and I keep my focus away from the glass and on the mahogany surface instead. It’s a family heirloom that belonged to my grandmother and her mother before it. The nicks and scratches show its age, and when we moved to the townhouse, my mother insisted it be placed in my room. Either she wants its history to persuade me I come from a caring family, or she wants the large mirror, with finely carved leaves around the frame, to taunt me.
“Hannah,” my mother calls from outside my door before she knocks twice. “I can’t be late this morning.”
I imagine her standing there, sighing in contempt and checking her sparkling silver wristwatch. It’s all about keeping up proper appearances with her, although I really shouldn’t complain. The townhouse is in much better shape than our old house, which had been in disrepair from years of my father’s neglect before he left us. I’m still surprised at how my mother managed to sell it, and I credit that to her impressive skills as a real estate agent. Our new neighborhood is somewhat secluded—as closed off as several rows of adjoining townhouses can be. And I guess I’m in a better school now.
Glancing at the mirror to avoid any glimpse of my face, I see the trade-off for the supposedly improved education. A uniform: a black pleated skirt with its hem just above my knees, a stark white button-down blouse, and a silly black and gold plaid girly short necktie thing. Fashion choice has also been taken away from me, but I can impose some individuality with shoes and tights or socks. I’m opting for black combat boots and leggings today, only because there’s still a chill in the late-April morning air.
“I’m serious, Hannah.” She knocks again, three times, each one louder than the one before. I can hear her tapping her black patent-leather pumps on the hardwood floor in the hallway. “I’ve got an early closing.”
I groan and reach to the right to grab my phone. Even though it’s a couple of years old and the screen is cracked, it’s the one luxury I’ve been allowed to keep. But my hand comes up empty, and my knuckles rap the dark wood. Shaking the sting away, I stare at the spot where I’ve left my phone every single night since moving here, but it’s not there.
Ready to storm out and confront my mother about confiscating my phone, I turn toward the door, but I see it face down on the left corner of my dresser. Snatching it up, I enter the passcode to check for any messages. Nothing since Grace rescued me from my late-night AP U.S. History homework meltdown. Maybe in my exhaustion, I dropped it in the wrong place. I’m not as well put together as my mother, and I probably never will be, no matter how she thinks she’s trying to fix me.
I sling my school bag over my shoulder, its weight pulling me down a little, and I trudge through the door. My mother stands in the center of the hallway, focused on the oval wall mirror above the small table where a vase of fresh flowers sits. She preens herself, doing one final check that her hair bun is secure. Her dark brown hair has a slight auburn sheen to it, and as some of my hair drifts in front of my eyes, I’m convinced her hair looks younger and healthier than mine. All for appearances.
“You were up late last night,” she says, never looking away from her reflection.
“Senior year,” I mumble. “Tough courses.”
“No excuses. It’ll all be for the best.” She finally turns to me and cups my chin and cheeks in her palms.
I fake a smile because that’s what she wants to see, and I tell her she’s right because that’s what she wants to hear. We’re about the same height, but I can’t look her in the eyes. They’re the same green as mine.
She turns to the mirror to finish putting on a pair of pearl earrings to match the string around her neck that plunges into her meticulously calculated amount of cleavage. In her blue business suit and skirt, she’s the model of professionalism, a woman who threw herself head first into her career and left me to fend for myself for the first three years of high school. Our ultimate upgrade to the townhouse included moving almost halfway across the state and transferring me to a private school for senior year. Does she think that giving me a different life and different friends will create a different me?
In one fluid motion, she starts down the stairs and opens her purse to remove her keys. She holds the front door open for me while I slouch past her and out to the car. It’s a white two-door coupe with a sunroof, and if the tall townhouses weren’t in the way, the reflected sunlight off the car would blind people. I swear she gets it washed at least once a week.
I slump into the passenger seat—the closest she’ll let me get to driving—and buckle myself up. The car’s almost a year old, but it still has that nauseating new smell as if she uses an air freshener with that scent. I plug in my earphones and am about to put them on, when my mother enters the car, spots me, and slightly shakes her head. “You know the rules, Hannah.”
Dropping the earphones into my lap, I stifle an audible groan by taking a deep breath. Mom and her car rules. She has no problem with an occasional informational text sent, like if I have to ask Grace for a ride home from school because she can’t pick me up, but otherwise, devices are off-limits while she’s driving. She especially forbids me to tune her out with music, explaining that we should use the drive time for mother-daughter bonding rather than spend it in two different worlds.
I release the breath and turn toward my window. I’d rest my head against it, but she doesn’t want me dozing off on the way to school either. She backs the car out of the driveway carefully and then drives slowly to the entrance of the townhouse community with only the occasional speed bump to provide any variety.
“What homework was keeping you up last night?” she asks once she turns right onto the main road.
“History.” I squirm at the small talk. “I don’t get why we even have to learn it.”
“History’s where we’ve been, Hannah. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
I roll my eyes. My history teacher has said the same thing several times in class, but when my mother says it, there’s a lilt of condescension in her voice. I can’t shake the feeling that she’s talking about me—about my own history that I might be doomed to repeat. Whether I’ve learned my lesson or not, she’s doing everything to make sure it couldn’t possibly happen again.
She stops at a traffic light, and there’s a large yellow house at the corner of the street. A white picket fence runs the perimeter of the property. Hanging from a post in the front yard is a For Sale sign with my mother’s photo on it. She’s in a red framed area in the corner, her arms folded across her chest and her smiling face tilted ever so slightly to the side. With the agency name and telephone number, the sign’s like an oversized business card combined with the glamor shot of an actress. She’s attractive and successful—I can’t deny that, nor am I bothered by it—but my heart sinks when I’m reminded of the name she goes by. Kathryn Reed, not Kathryn McCauley. She reverted to her maiden name, under the guise of it sounding more professional. I know it was to distance herself from my father, but it also distanced herself from me.
“But you are passing the class, correct?” she asks when the light turns green.
“With Grace’s help, barely.”
“I like Grace. It’s a good thing that the two of you met and became friends.” She pauses while she turns the car right, and I know exactly what she’s thinking. She wants to remind me that Grace has been a positive influence on me, but she surprises me with her actual words. “I know how difficult moving before your senior year has been, but it really is all for the best. For both of us.”
Her statement is more declarative than sympathetic. This isn’t the first time she’s acknowledged it’s been hard, but it’s been months since the last time. I wonder if she really understands what I’ve been going through. I don’t really miss that much from my previous school; I actually have better teachers now, and I care even less about some of the immature popularity games of school, but I miss Nikki more than I let on.
“You know she’s doing fine, right?” asks my mother, as if she’s reading my mind. She sure knows me too well.
“Yeah.” I shrug.
“The two of you were headed down different paths. Anyway, you’d go off to college, where you’d be exposed to new ideas and people, and you’d eventually outgrow her. It happened a year earlier. Look at it that way.”
Gritting my teeth, I hold back a swear-filled outburst. Nikki was my best friend, and she doesn’t deserve to be marginalized by my mother or anyone else. People get to choose their own friends, right? Although my mother never approved of Nikki, she doesn’t understand how badly I needed someone of my own to help me deal with the split. My father was gone, and my mother was coping by working more, but at least I had a friend who could relate. Unlike here and now, where I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow behind the scenes, my mother had handpicked my friends.
I shouldn’t complain about Grace because she’s a genuinely kind person, and she’s done nothing but support me. I don’t know if I would have made it this far through the year without her, even if she seems more tailor-made for my mother’s personality instead of my own. But she doesn’t know my real personality any more than I think I do.
My mother pulls up in front of the school, and we exchange saccharine goodbyes as I climb out of the car. I blend into the sea of black and white clothes and drift toward the entrance under the gilded letters that spell out Eastfield Academy. Without looking back, I know my mother is still parked at the curb and watching me, making sure that I pass through the front door. I haven’t skipped school since I came to Eastfield, and with just over a month left, I’m not going to start; the punishment for it is much more strict than at my old school, and I won’t do anything to ruin either of our reputations.
That was the promise I made her.