Jenny skipped backwards, reciting nursery rhymes sing-song. Little Bo Beep and baa baa black sheep and Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. She knew all the words.
"Clever girl," her mother said, a warm hand on her shoulder. A good day, sunny and bright and her mother there with them. Present.
Maybe if she got all the words right again tomorrow, her mother would have another good day.
"I'll see you later," her mother promised, not quite there.
Jenny held firm to her story, through countless interviews with police and social workers and therapists, and despite pointed prodding from Abbie, who didn't see any reason to throw away a good thing for an unbelievable--and unpalatable--truth. (Unpalatable. Jenny rolled words like that around on her tongue at night, plucking them from the books she read under the covers after lights out.)
Words mattered, she insisted to Abbie. The truth mattered.
"Not as much as getting enough to eat," Abbie retorted.
Her foster parents--the good foster parents, as Abbie called them--didn't keep her long after that. They used words like "unstable" and "hallucination" and (in whispered tones) "dangerous." Words that got Jenny sent away to her first institution.
She ignored their whispers and clung to her words, bright and clear and hard, shining with truth. They got her sent to another institution. And then another.
Eventually she learned to keep quiet. To wrap the words in cotton, soft like the quilts her mother had wrapped her in, enough to blunt their edges. She couldn't quite bring herself to lie, but it didn't seem to matter. Just as long as she wasn't speaking the truth.
They sent to back to foster care, from house to house to house, bouncing each time she forgot herself and let the the truth shine through. Occasionally they sent her back to the hospital. Sometimes she deliberately spoke the words that she knew would make them send her back.
At least she got enough to eat there.
The first time Corbin came to see her, he brought with him a book and the acknowledgement that she spoke the truth. He saw the radiance of the word, and the danger. He knew words. She recognized that as soon as she saw the title of the book. It was the kind of book that she'd never been allowed. The kind that she'd had to read in snatches in libraries and bookstores, stealing time because the adults around her feared that it would feed her fantasies. It gave her new words to describe what she and Abbie had seen. What they'd experienced. And it reaffirmed what she already knew.
"You're my sister," Abbie said from across the interrogation table. "Of course I care. But you can't keep doing this." Her new police uniform was practically shiny. Her tone was frustrated. "Jenny, do you know how much you stole?"
"They have insurance," Jenny said, just as frustrated. "And I needed it for--"
"If you're going to say the end of the world, don't. Just don't." Abbie shook her head. "This is why you keep ending up like this, you know. Because you keep saying things like that."
Jenny's chin jutted out stubbornly.
"Fine," Abbie said, equally stubborn. She stood up. "You made your bed, you can lie in it. There's nothing I could do anyway. Not for this."
Cutting words. Slicing relationships, severing bonds. Words that lingered in the air after Abbie was gone.
The truth was powerful that way.