Girls Grow Quicker Than Books
by Kyra Cullinan

Years later, the smell of mothballs will make her feel like crying. A hot and prickly sensation blooming suddenly behind her eyes and aching in her chest, not exactly like sadness but subtle enough that even if she were to try, she couldn't name all the emotions tangled up inside her.

Her mother's wardrobe is new wood, light-colored with trendy handles. Completely wrong in all respects, but she finds herself crawling in without meaning to, the first day back. Back to the home which feels very little like one, compared to everything else the word has come to mean. The golden, rugged scent of a thick mane --

She jerks her mind away from that, because all at once everything seems too much to bear. Even when they'd found themselves back in this world, the rest of the holidays still before them, there were stories to tell once, then ten times: life as a dragon, the Dufflepud's house, increasingly familiar words buoying her in place of the events themselves.

But now they're home again, Mother and Susan back from America, she and Ed collected from the relatives, and soon it'll be a new school year with nobody to talk to about it at all. Home itself borders on surreal, always the same after everything. Only she won't get the startle of returning to its unchanging presence ever again, because she'll never leave. Without warning, she can hardly think of Eustace, because she knows. One of these days there'll be a letter and he'll be brimming with excitement and she'll be the outsider and won't have any idea what to do. It's never not been her before.

She shifts in the corner, and one of her mother's dresses brushes against her face. Cotton, not fur. London, not the country. Late summer and no hope of snow-covered woods. She presses her palm to the wooden floor and she can feel the difference, how it refuses to hum under her fingers the way the other had, even when it was no longer a way to get from here to there. Whispering its shared knowledge to her skin whenever she crawled in seeking comfort after the first long adventure. 'I know. I've been there, too.'

The door bangs open suddenly and Susan yelps in surprise.

"What are you doing?" she says fiercely. "God, Lu, if you don't stop sitting around in cupboards everyone's going to think you're even stranger than they already do. You're far too old for this sort of thing."

She's using her best grownup voice, which Lucy hates more than anything. Before she can answer, the phone rings and Susan hurries off, pushing the door shut behind her. Lucy catches it, leaving a finger-wide crack where late afternoon sunlight streams through to lie across her lap.

Too old, too old, says everyone. Susan and Aslan so surely it's true, isn't it?

She curls herself as small as she possibly can and squeezes her eyes closed until she sees nothing but Narnia.


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