The first time you see Emily Starr is in Blair Water church. Just a glimpse, glossy black braids hanging over the edge of the Murray pew.
You pick up your pencil and start to sketch idly in your hymnal, a curlicue of ivy unfurling to adorn Amazing Grace. Years from now, the proceeds from the sale of a Frederick Kent original could fund the repair of this church building, but you don't know that - how could you?
Next time she turns around, you return her gaze with an equal measure of curiousity.
You're eleven, and you've just fallen in love, although you don't know that yet, either.
For now, this is the clean white canvas of your life.
Nobody taught you how to draw except yourself. You draw everything you can see, and many things you can't - a kitten so young it hasn't even opened its eyes yet, the pale curve of a hunter's moon, a knight from a sketch you saw in a history book.
You only draw your mother once - lines soft and muted, a side profile so as not to show the scars on her face (her request, not yours - she is your mother and she is beautiful, that's why you want to draw her).
It's an accurate portrait, although you do indulge in one small adjustment - in the picture you draw of her, she is smiling.
Emily confides to you what a relief it is to write things out, to put her feelings into words and have done with them. You know exactly what she means, although for you it is pictures, taking shape and form and turning uncertainty into art.
You don't know what to say when Emily is persecuted at school, so instead you sketch scathing caricatures of her tomentors, and pass them to her wordlessly. You hope she understands - she's Emily, after all.
When Smoke and Buttercup disappear suddenly, you know - and you can't help hating your mother for it, just a little. They were only kittens, but they were yours and you loved them and she shouldn't have done what she did. You don't talk about it, though.
You learn to hide your paintings in the barn. What your mother can't find, she can't destroy.
This is the way you grow up - hiding the things you love close to your heart, so they won't ever be wielded against you.
Ilse and Perry and Emily and yourself - of the four of you, only Ilse and yourself have a parent remaining. The four of you are six-eighths orphans, Ilse announces once.
You never knew your father, and your mother never talks of him. Emily rarely talks of her father, either, but the few memories she shares with you are all the more precious for their scarcity. Listening to her speak of her father makes you wish you had known yours - David Kent, and his name is all you know of him. You wish he was still alive, more for your mother's sake than yours- you never had the chance to miss him, but you mourn for the parts of your mother that seemingly died when he did. Surely she wasn't always this way.
You love your mother, you do, but sometimes when you see the look Emily's Aunt Laura gives her - fond and soft, you look away because your mother loves you, she does, but her love is fierce and never gentle. Your mother's love is all-encompassing and for all that you stanchly defend her, you know all too well that this sort of love suffocates.
You never want to love like that - loving in a way that wrecks you, that poison drop in the well of affection that taints all that drink from it.
(Some days it seems your mother would give you anything - anything but your freedom, and what kind of love would do that, you wonder?)
You never forget the accusing look your mother gives you when she finds you and Emily in the church graveyard in the early hours of the morning - which is by no means as incriminating as it sounds. You know no-one will believe you, but you really did hear Emily's voice wake you and call you to her, and you arrived just in time to rescue her from her tormenter.
In a certain sense, your mother is no different to Mad Mr Morrison, both of them haunted and haunting others with the imprint of a love that used to be, still reeling from its absence, never entirely at rest.
Each man kills the thing he loves, Oscar Wilde wrote. You know this, because Ilse recited The Ballad of Reading Gaol to you once, while Emily sat opposite, all of you spellbound, swept up in the tale as it unfolds. "I don't understand why love has to be tragic," Emily bemoaned, once the poem is finished. "You read it beautifully, of course," she is quick to assure Ilse. "It's just - it hurts me, somehow, to think of loving like that. I don't understand it."
She wouldn't - Emily, with her open heart. You pray she never does.
You were going to kiss her, that night in the graveyard. You wonder if she knows that - sometimes, when she looks at you from beneath curled lashes and smiles that small, secret smile, you think she surely must.
Then - there's that one winter night in the Old John House, you know she knows, and you feel a certain thrill as your eyes meet and connect.
When you offer dreams to sell, all your dreams are of her.
Perry's asked Emily to marry him on any number of occassions - even kissed her once, he confided in you, and you clenched your fists - jealous that it comes so easily to him, to share what's on his heart.
Writing the letter is uncharacteristic but necessary. You've put it off for far too long already.
Your mother sees the envelope in your hand - sees Emily's name written on it, and her eyes flash with a queer triumph that you won't understand until years later. "She'll never have you, you know," your mother says. "She's far too much of a Murray for that, for all she's a Starr."
You post the envelope quickly before you lose your nerve (as you've done countless times before, your courage failing you at the crucial moment).
You wait for a reply that never comes, and eventually you give up waiting.
Your mother writes, every week. When she does mention Emily, it is in the context of the constant parade of suitors that seemingly suround New Moon.
You've been very conscious to never let your mother know the depths of what you feel for Emily, however it seems she knows nonetheless, for she takes a certain vindictive joy in recounting every aspect of Emily Byrdd Starr's latest romantic conquest, in as much detail as Blair Water gossip can provide.
People change, you know this. You never thought Emily would. You comfort yourself with the fact that at least none of her romances seem to last for long.
When word reaches you, by Ilse, of how dangerously ill Emily has been, you are half-ready to go to New Moon, Murray pride be damned.
The next week, a letter arrives from your mother. Emily is engaged to Dean Priest.
You like Dean, he's been kind to you through the years, but right now you want nothing more than to plant your fist squarely between his eyes.
That night, you try to paint but tonight it seems her face is reflected back to you in every picture, eyes mocking, and her memory is all you're left with - every memory tainted by that gaping silence, the chasm that's fallen between you. You go for a walk instead, and never once do you look up at Vega of the Lyre.
There's something about Emily Starr, and whatever it is, it has wound its way into your heart and your drawings, a tangling sprawl you can't uproot and wouldn't know where to begin.
When you glimpse her in England, you can't believe it, but you know it's her instinctively, in the same way you'd recognise your own reflection. She touches your sleeve lightly, and then suddenly she is half a metre away, just out of your reach. By the time you've chased her ghost through the station and felt ten times a fool, you return to the ticket window only to realise you've missed your train, which means you've missed your boat.
You wake up to the news that the Flavian has sunk, and all aboard were lost.
Words have never come as easily to you as they do to Emily but nonetheless you dutifully sit down at a desk and, using a sheet of borrowed hotel paper, detail the incident, realising anew as you read over it how ludicrous your account sounds - like a ghost story Ilse would recite, or a sailor's yarn that Perry once recounted from a distant shore.
You send it anyway. Explain this, is the underlying message between every carefully worded sentence, tell me, Emily, how can a shade of you save my life and yet you insist you feel nothing for me?
She doesn't write back. You tell yourself you weren't expecting her to.
It's a shock when you open a magazine and find one of her poems. You're proud for her, of course - but you wonder what is wrong with you, that the glimpse of a slender birch tree can inspire within her five charming stanzas, and yet you, one of her oldest friends, was not even permitted the courtesy of a politely worded refusal. You know she'd believed in you, once, and you wonder what you did wrong, how you disappointed her so.
You clip out the poem and keep it tucked close to your heart. It's silly and sentimental, but old habits - like old dreams - are hard to break.
You wonder what she thinks of your latest paintings, if she's seen them. You wonder if she thinks of you at all.
You whistle and she comes to you - until she doesn't.
You can see a light on in her window, and right now she is further from you than the most far-flung star in all the constellations; more cold and more distant, and always beyond your grasp.
So you take Ilse dancing and you kiss her after, and its comfortable, you can make this work, and you're happy. And you think to yourself, well, if you can't have Emily - you can have Ilse, and heaven knows she needs someone, someone to care for and fuss over and be there, someone she can depend on.
You like being the sort of person someone depends on.
You know Dr Burnley is pleased with the match, and you like Dr Burnley - you always have, from his visits to the Tansy Patch as a child that year he saved your life, and you know he was instrumental in arranging for Ilse and Emily to visit you so much, growing up. You still treasure those memories - they lie untouched somewhere beyond Emily's current repudiation of you now. You still love her for who she was, even if who she is now won't speak to you.
Ilse is lovely and you are good for each other and if you can't have Emily - well. You can't have Emily.
With the objective eye of an artist you know that Ilse is by far the more beautiful of the pair, classically speaking. She's Titan's dream, all burnished hair and flashing eyes, constantly in motion. You're drawn to her, and you do love her.
Emily writes to Ilse, lively letters brimming with news of Blair Water happenings - although Emily being Emily, of course that's not just idle town gossip, but also her musings. Ilse always lets you read them. Emily's letters sound just like Emily, and that hurts too, that she is still so much herself, except for her change of attitude towards you. You wonder, for the thousandth time, what you could have done differently.
"How come you never read me your letters from Emily?" Ilse asks, one night.
You don't answer immediately, and when you do, all you say is, "Emily doesn't write to me," and Ilse's lips purse together at the curious note in your tone of voice. You wonder idly if she'll spin this into a fight - that said, Ilse and you have never clashed the way Ilse and Emily would, fire and ice, or the way Ilse and Perry would, flint and spark. After spending an entire childhood tiptoeing around your mother's precarious moods, used to placating, Ilse's forthrightness is a refreshing change.
Ilse complains you are impossible to fight with. "You and Emily both," she says, "go cold and distant, and just freeze up. If the two of you ever fought - why, I don't believe you would, you'd just stare daggers at each other until you went cross-eyed." She's joking, you know, so you smile and try to pretend like she hasn't just described your life exactly.
In the lead-up to your wedding to Ilse, you take a savage delight in just how diffident you can be in your interactions with Emily.
You make the comment about Vega of the Lyre on purpose, to hurt her, but it only ends up hurting you when she betrays absolutely no reaction whatsoever.
It stings anew to realise that all the pretty romances you thought you were spinning together existed solely in your imagination. Perhaps the only rainbow you will ever find is in the palette of your paints, brought into existence solely by a paintbrush and your own steady hand.
Vega of the Lyre shines on.
And then - the truth comes out, and seemingly in the blink of an eye Emily is yours again, and you are hers. You talk for hours, filling in the gaps of so much time spent apart. It pains you to realise the extent of the misunderstanding, how far-reaching the consequences, how deeply they have affected you both.
"No more secrets," Emily says. "From now on, we tell each everything."
You tell Emily everything, except this: you've never forgiven your mother, not entirely. You can forgive her your own unhappiness, but not the pain her actions caused Emily - not those wasted years you could have shared together.
"I know it's only been five weeks since I last saw you, but I've missed you, Emily Starr," Ilse declares as she sweeps into the room in a cloud of perfume and chiffon.
"Emily Kent," you interject - and even though you've been married a few months, now, it still seems as amazing as the first time you said it.
Ilse rolls her eyes. "Emily Starr," she insists and Emily's eyes sparkle with barely contained laughter. It's an argument you've had before - as Ilse argued, 'a star is a star is a Starr.'
Perry follows Ilse into the room. "Are you two arguing already?" he asks good-naturedly, leaning in to kiss Emily's cheek. He claps you on the shoulder good-naturedly, and perhaps it should be strange that your two best friends are the woman who left you at the altar and the man she left you for; but the four of you all know that everything worked out the way it should.
Emily is looking off into the distance, and you know she is stringing words together in her mind to capture this scene, these people so dear to you both. Later, when you're alone, she will read it to you, vivid and real and as perfect as this moment.
When it comes time to exchange Christmas gifts, you leave yours until last, and hand it to Emily in a box. She opens the box and stares at the book it contains in surprise.
"Just open it," you say, voice coming out more gruffly than you'd intended.
"Teddy," Emily says, wonderingly, and you don't have to look to see what she's pointing to.
It's The Moral of the Rose, and you've sketched vignettes throughout the pages - deft illustrations that capture the family exactly.
Emily turns each page with reverent hands. Ilse leans over Emily's shoulder to peer curiously. "You are a pair," she says fondly.
"Here, let me see," says Perry, shouldering Ilse gently to the side. She pushes back, slightly less gently, but obligingly shuffles so he can see. "Why, Ted, you've brought them to life brilliantly."
"They were already alive," you insist. "It's entirely Emily's doing the Applegarths exist at all."
"But, Teddy," Emily protests, finally looking up from the pages. "However did you know what they looked like?"
"We're both kindred spirits in the service of the muse," you intone gravely, and she laughs and you smile - and it's easy, as easy as it should have been all along - and you don't need a self-portrait when all the best parts of yourself are reflected back to you in Emily's shining eyes.