The Truth About Delilah Blue Online - Tish Cohen

Prologue

JUNE 6, 1996

The smell of asphalt and dandelions and the last days of school made the air tingle with summer promise: fireflies in applesauce jars, bare toes in the sand at Kew Beach, and leisurely decisions at the icecream truck about whether or not to chocolate dip. The afternoon heat had stilled the city. Other than the sprinkler clucking and whirring from across the road and the Young and the Restless theme song wafting from the window next door, the entire neighborhood of Cabbagetown had fallen silent.

She was meant to wait inside. But when the sun finally burst through the salt-stained curtain of winter, you took notice. Even at eight years old, you knew to plunk yourself in its lap, wrap its edges around your waist like a favorite sweatshirt you left on the streetcar and thought you might never see again.

Sitting on the driveway with dirty-blond hair covering her face, Delilah Blue Lovett played a game with herself—held a shard of broken glass over her thighs until she couldn’t stand the pain, then checked to see if she’d blistered.

Ian grunted a warning from the front porch. “No more yelping. That neighbor lady of yours will start up again.”

They both watched as Mrs. Del Vecchio’s plaid curtains snapped shut.

“When’s my dad coming?”

Ian appeared to be wearing the same ripped T-shirt and expensive-looking black jeans he arrived in the day before, when her mother introduced her new friend as a “mixedmedia artist with talent that is, honestly, nothing short of genius.” Delilah didn’t care what sort of skill the man had. He’d spent so much time in the Victorian house’s only bathroom that morning—shaving his already bald head to perfection—that she’d had to sneak out back in her nightgown and pee behind the cedars. He pried the cap off a bottle of beer. “Not until five.”

“Can we call him to come get me now?”

“No way. Your mother said you’re hers until five.”

“But she’s not here.”

“Hey, it’s no picnic for me either. You don’t see me whining.”

She climbed up off the pavement, tossed her glass shard into the bushes, and wandered to the road’s edge. “I wish I could see his house from here. I wish I could fly.”

He sucked from the bottle and swallowed. “Don’t waste your time wishing, kid. You’ll never have the goddamn wings.”

It irked her.

Delilah raced up and onto the porch, through the smell of beer, and up to her room. When she came back down she was wearing, over her T-shirt, the sparkly wire wings from an old fairy costume.

She rummaged through the crawlspace beneath the back porch and emerged with an armload of broken bricks, which she toppled onto the driveway before piling them up into a messy wall two bricks deep. Satisfied with her base, she found a long plank of wood and propped it against the buttress like a ramp, all the while conscious of the weightlessness and movement of the wings on her back.

After hopping on her squeaky red bike, Delilah coasted out onto the driveway and wound a slow circle around the makeshift ramp. The wings were fluttering now; she could feel them.

Ian laughed. “It’ll never work.”

Delilah gripped her handlebars, stood up, and pumped her pedals as hard as she could. Her circle widened as she raced around and around the driveway, picking up speed, wings flapping behind her in the hot breeze, bike rocking from side to side from her effort. The back tire skidded out on a few of her turns. Once the sun got in her eyes and she nearly lost control of the bike.

“Be careful,” said Ian.

She whizzed past. At the end of the driveway, she turned sharp and raced back toward the bottom of the ramp. The board buckled and thumped under the weight of her tires.

Then nothing but silence as the bike sailed into the air. As if all of the city had stopped, held its breath. No roaring bus engines, no keening cicadas, no honking cabbies. Even Delilah herself seemed to be frozen in time, standing up on her pedals, whitened fists gripping the handlebars, her face euphoric. Proud.

“Look!” shouted Delilah as Ian started off the porch toward her. “I’m flying!”

One

SEPTEMBER 4, 2008

The only thing that stood between Lila’s naked body and twenty-seven art students was a stiff brown robe that reeked of every petrified model that had come before her. The freshman boys were the worst, she’d been warned, particularly during the first term. They slumped behind easels and art boards, eyelids drooping with the