I clenched my jaw as I realized that I would always be afraid. Now that I knew Jude was alive, that he was here, I wouldn’t be able to walk into the bathroom without wanting to throw back the shower curtain to make sure he wasn’t behind it. I wouldn’t be able to walk down a dark hallway without picturing him at the end. Every snap of a twig would turn into his footstep. I would imagine him everywhere, whether he was there or not.
That was what he wanted. That was the point.
So I unlocked the door and stepped outside.
I was enveloped by the dull roar of crickets the moment my foot touched the patio. It was a rare cool night in Miami; the earlier rain became mist and the night sky was completely obscured by clouds. If it weren’t March in Florida, I would have thought it was about to snow.
I breathed in the damp air, one hand still on the door handle as the wind shook a few stubborn raindrops from the trees. Someone might be out there—Jude might be out there, but my parents were inside. There was nothing he could do.
“I’m not afraid of you,” I said to no one. The breeze carried my words away as it raised the hair on my skin. He might be alive but I wouldn’t spend my life in terror of him. I refused. If fear was what he wanted from me, I would make sure he didn’t get it.
A mosquito hummed by my ear. I dodged it, and stepped into something wet.
I backed up toward the house, fumbling for the outdoor lights. They flickered on.
The still body of a gray cat lay inches from where I’d been standing, its flesh torn open, its fur streaked with red. My feet were soaked in blood.
I covered my mouth to trap my rising scream.
Because I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t make a sound. If I did, my parents would come running. They would ask what happened. They would see the cat. They would see me.
They would want to know what I was doing outside.
I heard my mother’s voice in my mind.
“She was paranoid. Suspicious.”
That’s what my parents would think of me if I told them someone was out there. That I was paranoid. Suspicious. Sick. They would be worried, and if I wanted to stay home, stay free, I couldn’t afford that.
So I turned off the lights and ducked back inside. I left a trail of bloody footprints in the hall. I grabbed toilet paper from my brothers’ bathroom and rubbed at the blood staining my feet until I was clean. Then I cleaned up the floor. Checked all of the locks on all of the doors. Just in case.
And then, finally, I escaped to my room.
Only then did I realize I was shaking. I looked down at my feet. I could still feel the soft, wet, dead fur—
I rushed into my bathroom and threw up.
My hair was pasted to the back of my neck and my clothes were damp against my skin. I slid down to the floor and hugged my knees to my chest, the tile cool beneath me. I let my eyes drift closed.
Maybe the cat was killed by an animal. Another cat. A raccoon, maybe.
That was possible. More than possible; it was likely.
So I brushed my teeth. Washed my face. Forced myself to get into bed. Told myself that everything was fine until I actually found myself starting to believe it.
Until I woke up the next morning and looked in the mirror.
Two words were written there, scrawled in blood:
The room tilted. I heaved into the sink.
And then I cried.
Jude knew what happened that night. That I was the one who brought the asylum down. That I was the one who killed Claire. That was why he was here.
I wanted to scream for my parents. To show them the cat, the message—proof that Jude really was alive and that he was here.
But it wasn’t proof enough. My hands trembled but I steadied myself against the sink and blinked hard. I willed myself to ignore the panic scratching at the surface, threatening to shatter my carefully constructed lies. I forced my feet to move. I checked the windows in my bedroom and checked the rest of the house too. All of the doors were locked.
From the inside.
I squeezed my eyes shut. If I showed them the message, they might think I wrote it myself.
They might think I killed the cat myself, I realized with horror. They would sooner believe that than they would believe that Jude was alive.
The thought stole the last bit of hope from my heart. Jude was in my bedroom. He left a dead animal outside my house and a bloody message on my mirror, and I couldn’t tell my parents. I couldn’t tell them anything or I’d be caged in a mental hospital while Jude taunted me through the bars.
Without Noah, I would be truly, completely alone in this.
My father might be right. If I lost Noah, I might just lose my mind.
I WAS JACKED UP ON ADRENALINE THAT GRAY MORNING and couldn’t stop moving, afraid that if I did, I’d crack. I washed away the blood on my mirror. I forced myself to eat breakfast, to smile at my parents as they got ready to drive me to the program. The air was oppressive; it had poured again overnight. Before we left, I checked outside to see if I left any footprints on the patio, leading from the cat back to the house.
The cat was gone.
The car seemed to contract around me and even though I managed to stay engaged in their conversation, I couldn’t remember what my parents said. Nausea gnawed on the remains of whatever was left in my stomach and I was drenched in sweat.
I willed myself to hold it together as my mother wrestled with snarls of traffic, and by the time she pulled into a nondescript strip mall in South Miami, I succeeded. The three of us headed toward a storefront sandwiched between a Weight Watchers and a Petco, and my mother squeezed my arm in what I assumed was meant to be a reassuring gesture. As long as they thought I was nothing worse than nervous, I’d be okay.
A man who looked oddly like Santa Claus was waiting for us just inside the door. “Marcus Dyer?” he said to my father as we stepped in.
Dad nodded. “Sam Robins?
The man gave a wan smile and extended his arm, stretching the fabric of his red polo shirt tight across his belly. “Welcome to Horizons,” he said cheerfully. Then he spoke to me. “I’m the admissions counselor. How was I-95?”
“Not too bad,” my mother said. She looked past the man and into the space behind him. “Is Dr. Kells here?”
“Oh, she’ll be along for the intake evaluation,” he said with a smile. “I’m just here to get you all acquainted. Come on in.” He waved us inside.
The interior was much brighter than I expected, and modern, from what I could see of it. Horizons was all white walls and sleek furniture, dotted with a few calming pops of blue-hued abstract art. And even though I couldn’t see much of it from where we stood, I could tell it was huge. It might’ve been a gym in its former life.