Rowan Connor, inmate of the House of Hope- the largest, filthiest orphanage in New Jersey- released a ripping scream into the darkness of the room she shared with three others and bolted upright. She was horrified, not because she'd had a nightmare, as one might think, but because she'd had a good dream. A bright, wonderful, innocent dream.
She could still see it in her head, with torturous clarity. Her mother's lovely, smiling face, giving her small daughter one last hug before she left on a trip with her dad. Little Rowan's fingers had clung to her mother's soft blouse, but her mother had whispered, "Mommy will be back in three days, Sweetheart. You'll have lots of fun with Auntie Grace until I'm back. And when I come home, we're going to do something special. A Mommy and Rowan day." Little Rowan, comforted by that thought, finally released her mother.
Little Rowan had no idea, then, that she would never get that special day that had been promised. She didn't know that that was the last time she'd see her mother.
It was the last good memory Teenage Rowan had. It hurt to relive it.
But then, maybe it wasn't a memory. Rowan shied away from that thought, but had to admit to herself that she had no way of knowing that she'd ever had a mother like that, one so kind and caring and warm. She dreamed "memories" all the time, and some of them couldn't be right. Sometimes, Rowan would dream that people called her Princess Rowan, and that her mother had been a queen. Sometimes, Rowan dreamed that she had a brother, one who adored her and would do anything to keep her from getting hurt.
She'd never had that. So who was to say that this dream wasn't a lie, too? It hurt more to think that than it did to have the dream in the first place.
Ignoring the grumbling of the roommates she'd accidentally awoken, Rowan crept out of bed and stood in front of the window. She gazed out and longed for something, anything to take her from this place. She knew that it wasn't going to happen, that she was stuck for the remaining five months she had as a seventeen-year-old, but some small part of her still hadn't given up hope.
Even more than an escape, though, Rowan yearned for a companion. Maybe that brother she dreamed of. She was awfully lonely here in this overcrowded orphanage.
Rowan picked up the newspaper she'd discarded earlier that day- she liked to do the puzzles in it, and to read the comics. Sometimes, she would look through the obituaries and try to imagine the people in the pictures as alive.
She rarely read any actual news, but she couldn't risk sleeping again and having another dream that made her want things she couldn't have, that stirred up feelings best left dormant. The headline was 'Boston Massacre Kills Twenty-Three'. The article then went into detail about a high-class ball that had been set fire to. The decorators had been overly fond of draping fabrics everywhere, and it hadn't taken much more than a spark to turn the place into an inferno.
It was all Rowan could do not to imagine those people, and what they must have been feeling. How awful, to be burned alive. How terrifying, to look for an escape and find that you were stuck, that there was no getting away. Rowan knew how that felt, especially since the same thing had so nearly happened to her just last night.
Rowan shuddered. She could still smell smoke. An entire wing of her orphanage had been destroyed, and seven children had died. The source of the fire? Rowan's bedroom. She nearly didn't wake up soon enough to escape; she was a heavy sleeper. But she had felt the terror. There was so much of it in the air, and it choked her more than the smoke had.
Rowan shook her head, willing away those memories. That was over now, and she had managed to get out of that room. She had a thick, line-shaped burn on the palm of each hand, from when she'd thrown her hands up to protect her head from a falling beam, but that was the only injury she'd sustained. She looked out into the night and calmed herself by wishing on stars.