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To Catch A Star

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The postcard had a lovely view- more than lovely- haunting as a half-remembered song in a minor key. Bare black branches heaped with snow dipped down toward their reflected images in still waters. Off to the side, barely in the picture at all, the arch of a bridge also bent to its reflection.

Emily knew it was from Dean- could only be from Dean. She had used him terribly, and yet- How could she have done anything else, after the strange call of another world had pulled her across space- across time- to rescue Teddy? Surely that siren call could only summon her to the man she loved, and there could only be one such love- even if he was forever lost to her.

She turned it over, half-frightened to read the message. He had lied to her, and led her to destroy the work of her heart- but she had promised him his heart's desire. Like the book that could never again be written, he would never find another.

Star of the Morning,

I write to you from Japan, where gardens are an art as elegant and concise as their poetry. This was written by a dying poet:

Taken ill on a journey
My dream goes wandering
Over withered fields

You would shine in these stark gardens, Star, that I had meant to show you in the spring.

-Dean

Emily shivered. The picture was exquisite- and yet- She hesitated, then thrust it between the leaves of the book she carried, in the section she had already read so it wouldn't suddenly appear to haunt her with its images of the places she'd never see, and the paths she'd walked away from to explore the fields beyond.

She was suddenly desperate to leave the innocent sitting room, whose dark walls seemed to oppress her spirit. Tucking the book under her arm, she sprang for the front door, and almost collided with Ilse- golden Ilse- whose exclamation of surprise rang out in the still room.

Ilse caught Emily's hands and swung her around. The book fell to the floor, and the odd flared skirt of Ilse's scarlet dress flew out, transforming her into a blown rose with a heart of gold. She seemed an impossibly vibrant creature to exist in quiet New Moon, with her bright hair and sparkling eyes and absurd hat wreathed with orchids. Her laugh alone threatened to shatter Aunt Elizabeth's heirloom mirror.

"What are you doing in New Moon?" asked Emily, when she regained her breath. "I thought you were on tour."

"Home again, home again," chanted Ilse. "A town hall burned down, so I came back early. What's this?"

Before Emily could stop her, Ilse stooped and plucked up the postcard that had fallen from the book. She contemplated the winter garden, then flipped it over and read the message.

"Don't read other people's mail!" exclaimed Emily, much too late.

One never knew with Ilse whether a reproof would spark a laugh or a furious tirade and broken breakables. Emily got neither, but rather a long steady look from amber eyes.

"Honey, you had plenty of time to stop me," said Ilse. "I wondered why you were looking so sad. I think he's making himself gloomy on purpose, reading dead people's poetry about dying in dead grass. Don't let him pull you into the underworld with him."

"The Underworld- That's it exactly," said Emily wonderingly. "No wonder that card made me feel so strange."

"Well, you shouldn't. He went there all by himself." Ilse's yellow eyes flashed at Emily. "Don't you go thinking it would be pretty and poetic to follow him."

The image came to Emily of Orpheus walking into Hades for his beloved Eurydice. But in Emily's mind, Orpheus stood tall and straight with a reed pen in his hand, and Eurydice was green-eyed and limping.

"You are thinking it!" said Ilse.

Emily felt herself flush. Her childhood friend knew her too well.

Ilse suddenly snatched up the fallen book and shook it. Two pages came loose and fluttered out, along with a drawing of Teddy's- a dear little sketch of quarrelsome ravens in Lofty John's bush.

Emily rescued the drawing with some annoyance. "Stop attacking my papers. Whatever are you looking for?"

"Dean's still got his claws in you. I just want to know where."

For an instant, Emily had the mad urge to take off her shoes and stockings, and show Ilse the scars from her fall down the stairs after Dean had claimed her novel was worthless. But Ilse would laugh and call her melodramatic, and Aunt Elizabeth would be shocked if she walked in and saw Emily barefoot, and those wounds no longer bound her.

Instead, Emily took a different book from a shelf. Opening it, she took out another postcard. This one showed a fantastical white marble palace that seemed to float in the middle of the lake. She handed it to Ilse. Emily knew the words by heart.

Lady of the Starry Night,

I show you a fitting home for a being born of mist and moonlight, but since I cannot give you the Floating Palace, I offer you what is mine to give. Take it, please, and if you care to, remember me.

-Dean

"What's that scribble at the bottom?" asked Ilse.

Emily replaced the postcard. "It's a map."

"Of what?"

"I'll show you."

Emily led Ilse down the path, through the fir woods, and finally up the hill. Ilse chattered away gaily for a while, even making Emily laugh with her account of daydreaming during a recital and concluding the "Ode to a Nightingale" with the albatross of "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner." But Ilse fell silent, for once, when she saw the fog-gray boards of the Disappointed House.

"Dean left me the deed," Emily said, lifting the loose board from the porch to show Ilse where it lay. Ilse left the sad little bundle of dusty papers, but plucked up the key that lay atop them.

Emily couldn't help laughing. "You're like a magpie today."

"Grab this, snatch that- oh, shiny pretty!" Ilse dangled the key between her fingers. The brass flashed in the sun's fading rays, and Ilse's mobile features shifted as quickly as that spark was born and died. "I know you didn't love Dean, honey. But I have to ask- what made you decide not to go through with it?"

Emily lowered her head. She hated to talk about the strangeness that had three times now touched her life- once to find a body, once to find a child, and once to save a man. But she had brought her friend here to explain. Unable to look Ilse in the eyes, she stared at the boards as she haltingly spelled out the impossible tale of how she had looked into Great-Aunt Nancy's gazing ball, and saved Teddy from boarding the doomed Flavian.

"Do you love Teddy, then?" asked Ilse quietly.

"I must, mustn't I?" asked Emily. "I pulled him back from death. How could I travel in dreams halfway across the world, except to save him- save the one man meant for me? But he doesn't love me. I know he doesn't."

Ilse's amber eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "What if you had called to Dean? Would he be the man for you, if you had?"

"But I didn't. I called Teddy."

"Teddy was in danger. And you're worried about Dean." Ilse sprang to her feet, tugging Emily up with her. She thrust the key into the lock. The door pulled open, silently even after months of disuse.

"Ilse-"

Ilse dragged Emily inside, to the gazing ball.

"It happens by itself- I can't make it happen- Ilse-"

The ball spun slowly in the air currents from the open door. Emily saw herself reflected, a tiny Emily-in-the-glass hand-in-hand with a tiny Ilse-in-the-glass.

And a tiny Dean-in-the-glass.

Only for a moment- so brief that afterward Emily was never certain whether or not she had imagined it- but for a moment she saw Dean sitting on the edge of a crumbling fountain in some city of ruins. She reached out her hand, but he never looked up. Instead, he turned a page of his book. The flower pressed between its pages, whose sharp-pointed petals were a purple so dark it was almost black, was one she had never seen before.

Only a moment- and Dean was gone. Emily-in-the-glass turned to Ilse-in-the-glass, and turned her back on reflections.

"Did you see him?" asked Ilse.

Slowly, Emily nodded. "He looked sad. But he wasn't-"

"Clutching a noose in one hand and a bottle marked "POISON" in the other?" suggested Ilse unkindly.

"No," Emily admitted. "He wasn't. It's strange- I thought I loved Dean, for a while. Then I was called across the world to save Teddy, and I thought that meant I loved him. But if I could see Dean too- How can I love two men at once? What should I do?"

"Honey, you having visions of Dean or Teddy or every old biddy in Shrewsbury doesn't mean they're your true love. I can act and speak and wear colors that would make anyone else look like a clown with jaundice. You can write and-" Ilse shivered briefly. "You can do other things. You found a little boy once when you'd never met him before. Do you think that means you should marry him?"

Emily reflected that while people often remarked upon her friend's beauty and charm, they never gave her credit for an ability to squelch Emily's drama that would have done credit to Aunt Elizabeth. And though there were times when that was infuriating, there were times when she loved her friend for it.

Emily sighed. "I guess I'll be an old maid."

"An old maid with a brilliant career and a gorgeous little house," said Ilse. "An old maid with charming, beautiful, successful old maid friends like me."

"Oh, Ilse. Of course you'll marry."

"No. I won't." Ilse gave her old, adorable, stubborn tilt of the head. One of the orchids slowly slid down the brim of her ridiculous hat, and finally fell off the edge. It landed soft and light in Emily's waiting palm.

"I believe this belongs to you." Emily presented it to Ilse.

Ilse took Emily's hand in her own. Her grip was strong and warm. The orchid trembled, caught between Emily's pale fingers and Ilse's tawny ones.

"Yes," said Ilse. "It does."


The clan had already reconciled themselves to the idea that Emily would not marry, and so the only surprise when she and Ilse moved into the Disappointed House was that Ilse too had given up on marriage.

"Like Nancy Priest and her Caroline," said Uncle Wallace disapprovingly.

"Like the Moon and the Sun," said Teddy, who often painted them together.

"Like the Ladies of Llangollen," wrote Dean in a letter that smelled of sandalwood. "I should have realized that only a star can catch a star."