“I’m good,” I said, staring into the rain.
“Okay. On the count of three. One,” he started, bending his front knee. “Two . . . Three!”
We dashed out into the deluge. My father tried to hold the umbrella over my head but it was pointless. By the time we threw open our respective car doors, we were soaked.
My dad shook his head, scattering droplets of rain onto the dashboard. He grinned, and it was infectious. Maybe ice cream was a good idea after all.
He started the car and began to pull out of the parking lot. Reflexively, I checked my refection in the side mirror.
My hair was plastered to my face, and I was pale. But I looked okay. Maybe a little thin. A little tired. But normal.
Then my reflection winked. Even though I hadn’t.
I pressed the heels of my palms into my eyes. I was seeing things because I was stressed. Afraid. It wasn’t real. I was fine.
I tried to make myself believe it. But when I opened my eyes, a light flashed in the mirror, blinding me.
Just headlights. Just headlights from the car behind us. I twisted in my seat to see, but the rain was so heavy that I couldn’t make out anything but the lights.
My father pulled out of the lot and onto the road, and the headlights followed us. Now I could see that they belonged to a truck. A white pickup truck.
The same one from the strip mall parking lot.
I shivered and huddled into my hoodie, then reached out and turned on the heat.
“That New England blood is thinning out fast,” my father said with a smile.
I offered a weak one of my own in return.
“You okay, kid?”
No. I glanced into the fogged glass of the side mirror. The headlights still hovered behind us. I twisted around to see better through the rear window, but I couldn’t see who was driving.
The truck followed us onto the highway.
I felt sick. I wiped my clammy forehead with my forearm and squeezed my eyes shut. I had to ask. “Is that the same truck from the parking lot?” I tried not to sound paranoid, but I needed to know if he saw it too.
My father’s eyes flicked to the rearview mirror. “What parking lot?”
“At Horizons,” I said slowly, through clenched teeth. “The one we left ten minutes ago.”
“Dunno.” His eyes flicked back to the road. He obviously hadn’t noticed, and didn’t think it was a particularly big deal.
Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the stress of the pictures, of the interview, triggered the fainting, which triggered my hallucination of a disobedient reflection in the mirror. Maybe the truck behind us was just an ordinary truck.
I checked the side mirror again. I could’ve sworn the headlights were closer.
Don’t think about it. I stared ahead at nothing in particular, listening to the hypnotic, mechanical swoop of the windshield wipers. My father was quiet. He reached to turn on the radio when we heard a squeal of tires.
Our heads jerked up as we were bathed in light. My father spun the steering wheel to the left as the pickup truck behind us swung into the right lane, nearly swiping the rear passenger side.
My father was yelling something. No, telling me something. But I couldn’t hear him because when the truck pulled up next to us, my mind blocked out everything but the sight of Jude behind the wheel.
I screamed for my father. He had to look. He had to see. But he was screaming too.
He’d lost control of the car. A black wave of panic threatened to pull me down with it as the car spun out beneath us on the rain-slick pavement. The truck cut across several lanes and raced ahead. My heart thundered against my rib cage and I gripped the center console with one hand. Bile rose in my throat—I was going to throw up. We were going to crash. Jude followed us and now we were going to crash—
The second I thought it, we were plunged into silence.
“Asshole!” my father yelled. I glanced over at him—sweat had beaded up on his forehead, the veins in his neck were corded.
That’s when I noticed we weren’t moving.
We weren’t moving.
We didn’t crash.
We sat motionless in the far left lane—the carpool lane. Cars veered around us and honked.
“No one knows how to drive in this goddamned city!” He slammed his fist on the dashboard and I jumped.
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “Mara—Mara?” His voice was brittle with worry. “Are you okay?”
I must have looked awful, because my father’s expression morphed from fury to panic. I nodded. I didn’t know if I could speak.
My father didn’t see him. He didn’t see Jude. I was the only one who had.
“Let’s get you home,” he muttered to himself. He started the car and we crawled the rest of the way. Even the retirees in their powder blue Buicks honked at us. Dad couldn’t have cared less.
We pulled into our empty driveway and he rushed to open my door, holding the umbrella above our heads. We hurried to the house, my father fumbling for his key before finally opening the front door.
“I’ll make some hot chocolate. Rain check on the ice cream?” he said, with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. He was seriously worried.
I forced myself to speak. “Hot chocolate, yeah.” I rubbed my arms as a shudder of rain lashed the giant living room window, startling me.
“And I’ll turn off the air—it’s freezing in this house.”
A fake smile. “Thanks.”
He grabbed me then and hugged me so tightly I thought I might break. I managed to hug him back, and when we broke apart he headed for the kitchen and began to make a lot of noise.
I didn’t go anywhere. I just stood there in the foyer, rigid. I glanced up at the gilt mirror that hung above the antique walnut console table by the front door. My chest rose and fell rapidly. My nostrils were flared, my lips pale and bloodless.
I was seething. But not with fear.
My father could’ve been hurt. Killed. And this time it wasn’t my fault.
It was Jude’s.
MINUTES OR SECONDS LATER, I PEELED MYSELF away from the mirror and marched to my room. But when I opened my bedroom door, I was highly disturbed to find eyes staring back at me.
A doll sat placidly on my desk, its cloth body leaning against a stack of my old schoolbooks. Her sewn-smile curved happily. Her black eyes were unseeing, but strangely focused in my direction.
It was my grandmother’s doll, my mother had told me when I was little. She had left it to me when I was just a baby, but I never played with it. I never named it. I didn’t even like it; the doll took up residence beneath a rotating assortment of other toys and stuffed animals in my toy chest, and as I grew up, it moved from the toy chest to a neglected corner of my closet, to be obscured by shoes and out-of-season clothes.