Chapter 1: Alice
As much as she hated school, Alice Mayfair had always hated school vacations even more. At least when she was at one of the eight different schools she’d attended, there was always hope, a chance that some kid might like her or some teacher would befriend her; always a glimmer of a chance that her life could turn around.
Time with her parents offered no such hope. They didn’t like her. Worse, they were ashamed of her. And nothing Alice could do or say would change it.
Mark and Felicia Mayfair had arranged her life so that they saw as little of her as possible. When she wasn’t away at school, she was at camp. When she wasn’t at camp, she was spending a week with her beloved Granny in Cape Cod, the only place she’d ever felt happy. It was only for the handful of days she wasn’t in one of those three places that she was Mark and Felicia’s—she’d long ago learned not to call them Dad and Mom—responsibility.
Her mother was elegant and slender, always in a dress or a skirt and high heels, her hair sleek and shiny, her mouth painted red. Her father was handsome in his suits and shiny shoes, with a newspaper or an iPad tucked under his arm and a look on his face that let the world know he was important.
Then there was Alice, tall and broad, her hair a tangly mess, all stained clothes and clumsy hands and big feet. Alice, who resembled neither of her parents. Alice, who didn’t fit.
Now that she had learned the truth about herself—now that she knew she wasn’t human, and that her parents weren’t really her parents and that her home was not really her home—for the first time Alice didn’t feel ashamed, or like she wanted to make herself smaller. Alice felt free.
She’d left her boarding school, the Experimental Center for Love and Learning, on a chilly morning in December, to start her winter break. It was early afternoon when Lee, her parents’ driver, dropped her off at her apartment building on New York City’s Upper East Side. Alice waved at the doorman, took the elevator to the penthouse, and found her parents waiting for her at the door. She hugged her mother, flinging her strong arms around Felicia’s narrow shoulders, even as she felt Felicia’s body stiffen and saw the startled look on her face.
“Look at you!” said Mark, and instead of slumping or slouching or trying to rearrange the curls that had escaped from her braids, Alice stood up straight and met his eyes and smiled. And did her father flinch a little when she looked at him? Was Felicia looking a little sneaky and strange as she stroked Alice’s hair with a fragile hand?
It didn’t matter. They weren’t her parents. She didn’t belong with them, and that knowledge, a secret tucked up and hidden, like a butterscotch in her cheek, let her smile and say, “I thought I’d make us dinner.”
Her parents exchanged a surprised glance. “You can cook?” asked Mark.
“She took a cooking class at school,” Felicia said, letting Alice know that at least one of her so-called parents had glanced at the “narrative assessment” the Experimental Center for Love and Learning sent home instead of report cards.
“I’ll go grocery shopping,” Alice announced before her parents could object. “We’ll eat at seven.”
After a moment of startled silence, her parents agreed and handed over a credit card. Alice found her apron in the suitcase she’d packed, and she went to the apartment’s airy, immaculate, rarely used kitchen to get started on the meal she’d imagined. She planned on serving it at the small table in the kitchen instead of the enormous one in the dining room, where they typically ate on the rare occasions when all three of them dined together.
They tested your blood, and it isn’t human. That was what Jeremy Bigelow, the so-called Bigfoot Hunter who’d been hot on Millie’s trail, had told her that morning. At first Alice had been shocked and scared—was she a space alien, or some kind of mutation?—but, almost immediately, she realized what this could mean.
If she wasn’t human, she might be Yare—what humans called Bigfoots. She might be part of the same tribe as Millie, her best friend. Which would, of course, be wonderful. Maybe that was why being Yare was the only possibility she’d considered, the only thing she thought might be true. Once, during one of their early conversations right after Alice had learned the truth about her friend, she’d asked Millie whether, if Bigfoots were real, then other things might be real too.
“What other things?” Millie had asked.
Alice felt uncomfortable. She’d caught the way Millie’s voice had gotten a little louder when she’d used the words Bigfoots and things, as if Alice had implied, or meant to suggest, that the Yare were in a different, less-important category than humans.
“I don’t know . . . vampires? Hobbits? The Abominable Snowman?”
Millie had thought, then shaken her head. “I am not hearing of those ones,” she said. “Probably they are stories that the No-Furs tell their littlies, to keep them behaving. Like the Bad Red-Suit No-Fur, which is, of course, Santa Claus.”
Alice had smiled, remembering how Millie had told her the Yare legend of a No-Fur in a red suit who snuck down Yare chimneys and stole the toys of bad Yare boys and girls and gave them to the No-Furs, and how Alice had explained how the Yare had twisted the story of Santa.
“How about the Loch Ness Monster?” Alice asked.
“Oh, she is real,” Millie said immediately. “But very shy. Also, she does not like to be called ‘Monster.’”
Alice’s mouth had dropped open, and Millie had giggled, and Alice, knowing that Millie was teasing her, but not in a mean way, started laughing too.
Alice probably had real parents, Yare parents, out there somewhere who were looking for her and who would love her when they found her. Being Yare would explain all the ways she was different, bigger and taller than other girls her age, with big hands and big feet and a wild tangle of unruly hair that she called the Mane. She would find her parents, and she would find her people, and she would make sense, and, most of all, she wouldn’t be lonely anymore.