But now here she was, sitting on my desk. She didn’t move.
I blinked. Of course she didn’t move. She was a doll. Dolls don’t move.
But she had moved, though. Because the last time I saw her, she was packed away in a box, propped against stacks of old pictures and things from my room in Rhode Island. A box I hadn’t opened since—
Since the costume party.
I reached back to the memory of that night. I saw myself walk to my closet, preparing to slip off my grandmother’s emerald-green dress, only to find an opened cardboard box on my closet floor. I didn’t remember taking it down. I didn’t remember opening it up.
I rewound the memory. Watched myself walk backward out of the closet, watched my mother’s heels fit themselves back on my feet. Watched the water in the bathtub flow backward into the faucet—
The night I saw the doll was the night I was burned.
The skin prickled on the back of my neck. It had been a bad night for me. I was stressed about Anna and felt humiliated by Noah and I raced back even earlier, to when I first arrived home. I saw myself reach out to unlock the front door but—
It swung in before I touched it.
I thought I was hallucinating that night—and I had. I imagined my grandmother’s earrings at the bottom of the bathtub when they were in my ears the whole time. I assumed I forgot taking the box down from my closet too.
That was before I knew Jude was alive. If he was in my room last night, he could have been in my room that night.
My hands curled into fists. He took the box down from my closet. He opened it up.
And he wanted me to know it. That he was going through all my things. Watching me as I slept. Polluting my room. Polluting my house.
And when I left it, he chased my father and me back.
I was shivering before, but now I was feverishly hot. I felt out of control, and I couldn’t let my father see me like this—he was panicked enough. I bit back my anger and fear and shed my waterlogged clothes, then threw them in the sink. I turned on the shower and inhaled deeply as my bathroom filled with steam. I stepped into the hot water and let it course over my skin, willing my thoughts away with it.
It didn’t work.
I tried to remind myself that I wasn’t alone in this. That Noah believed me. That he was coming over later and when he did I would tell him everything.
I repeated the words on a loop, hoping they would calm me. I stayed in the shower until it ran cold. But when I emerged, I looked at my desk to find that the doll was no longer smiling.
It was leering.
My skin crawled as I stood there, wrapped in nothing but a towel, facing off with her as my heart beat wildly in my chest.
No, not her. It.
I snatched the doll off my desk. I walked to my closet and stuffed it back in one of my boxes. I knew, I knew the doll’s expression had not changed. My mind was playing tricks on me because I was stressed and panicked and angry, which was what Jude wanted.
I opened my desk drawer, ripped off a length of scotch tape, and taped the box shut, imprisoning the doll inside. No, not imprisoning. Packing. Packing the doll back inside. And then I dressed and made my way back to my father as if nothing had happened at all, because I had no other choice.
Time was supposed to heal all wounds, but how could it when Jude kept picking the scab?
It was early afternoon and Daniel, Joseph, and my mother had all come home. They talked loudly to one another as my father leaned against the pantry cabinets, holding a cracked mug with both hands.
“Mara!” My mother rushed over and wrapped me in a hug the second she noticed me.
Daniel set down his glass. Our eyes met over my mother’s shoulder.
“Thank God you’re okay,” she whispered. “Thank God.”
The hug lasted for an uncomfortably long time and when my mom released me, her eyes were wet. She quickly wiped the tears away and dove for the refrigerator. “What can I get you?”
“I’m okay,” I said.
“How about some toast?”
“I’m not so hungry.”
“Or cookies?” She held up a package of premade cookie dough.
“Yeah, cookies!” Joseph said.
Daniel made a face that I interpreted to mean: Say yes.
I forced a smile. “Cookies would be great.”
The second the words left my mouth, Joseph withdrew a cookie sheet from the drawer beneath the oven. Also the tinfoil. He grabbed the package of cookie dough from my mother and preheated the oven before she could get to it.
“How about some tea?” my mother asked, grasping for something, anything to do.
Daniel nodded his head yes, staring at me.
“I would love some,” I said, following his cue.
“I made hot chocolate,” my dad reminded her.
My mom rubbed her forehead. “Right.” She pulled out a mug from the glass-front cabinet and poured the contents of a saucepan into it, then handed it to me.
She tucked a strand of her short, straight hair behind her ear. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“Miami has the world’s worst drivers,” my father muttered.
My mother’s lips formed a thin line as she busied herself by making a pot of coffee. My eyes flicked to the kitchen window and searched our backyard through the rain.
I was searching for Jude, I realized with an accompanying sting of shame. He was making me paranoid. And I didn’t want to be.
“Hey, Mom?” I asked.
“Did you take out my doll?” There was a chance that she, not Jude, had moved it, and I had to be sure.
My mother looked up from the coffeepot, confused. “What doll?”
I exhaled through my nose. “The one I’ve had since I was a baby.”
“Oh, Grandma’s doll? No, honey. Haven’t seen it.”
That’s not what I’d asked, but I had my answer. She didn’t touch it. I knew who did, and this could not go on.
I glanced at the microwave clock, wondering when Noah would get here. I had to behave normally until he did.
“So how was Day One of spring break?” I asked Daniel between sips of hot chocolate. The liquid was warm, but didn’t warm me through.
“We went to the Miami Seaquarium.”
I almost choked. “What?”
Daniel shrugged a shoulder. “Joseph wanted to see the whale.”
“Lolita,” I said, setting down my drink.
My father shot my brother a look. “Wait, what?”
“It’s the name of the killer whale,” Daniel explained.