Was Jude watching me last night? Did he see me throw it away? And then put it back in my room while I was asleep in Noah’s?
Goose bumps pebbled my flesh and my skin was slick with sweat. But I couldn’t let my father know anything was wrong. I had to dress and look and act like everything was normal. Like I was healthy and Jude was dead and none of this was happening.
“Get up,” I whispered to myself. I stayed on the floor for one more second, then stood. I turned the faucet on, cupped my hand under the stream of water and brought it to my lips, glancing at my reflection in the mirror as I straightened.
I froze. The contours of my face seemed strange. Subtly unfamiliar. My cheekbones were sharper, my lips were swollen as if I’d been kissing, my cheeks were flushed, and my hair stuck to the back of my neck like paste.
I was transfixed. The water slipped through my fingers.
The sound of it hitting the porcelain sink brought me back. My throat ached—I turned the faucet back on and cupped another handful of water and greedily drank it from my palm. It cooled me from the inside out. I looked in the mirror again.
I still looked different, but I felt a little better. I was tired and scared and angry and frustrated and obviously stressed out. Maybe I was getting sick, too. Maybe that’s why I looked strange. I rolled my neck, stretched my arms above my head, and then drank again. My skin prickled, as if I was being watched.
I glanced at my dresser. The doll was still inside.
“Almost ready?” Dad called out from the hallway.
“Yeah,” I yelled back. I turned away from the mirror and put on clothes. I threw one last look at my dresser before I left my room.
The doll had to go.
GOOD MORNING,” MY FATHER SAID WHEN I FINALLY appeared in the kitchen.
“Morning.” I grabbed two granola bars and a bottle of water from the pantry, gulping half of it down while Dad finished his coffee. We headed for the car together.
He rolled down the windows once we were inside. It was unusually gorgeous out—blue and cloudless and not hot yet at all, but the inside of my skin burned, anyway.
“How’re you feeling, kid?”
I shot him a glance. “Why?”
“You look a little tired.”
“Thanks . . .”
“Oh, you know what I mean. Hey, you know what movie I rented?”
“Um . . . no?”
He paused meaningfully. “Free Willy,” he said with a giant smile.
“Okay . . .”
“You loved that movie—we used to watch it all the time, remember?”
Like when I was six.
“And Joseph is up in arms about the plight of orcas now, so I thought we could watch it together, as a family,” he said. Then added, “I bet Noah would like it.”
I couldn’t help but smile. He was clearly making an effort. “Okay, Dad.”
He grinned and turned on the classic rock station and the two of us sat in silence. But being back in his car again, I found myself reflexively glancing back in the side mirror. I was looking for the truck, I realized.
I was looking for Jude.
I spent the whole drive to Horizons worrying I would see him behind us, but I didn’t. Dad dropped me off and I was warmly welcomed by Brooke, who introduced me to the art therapist I’d be working with a few days a week. She had me draw a house, a tree, and my family—some kind of test, definitely—and once I did so to her satisfaction, it was time for Group. Half of the students had to share their fears.
I was very glad to be in the other half.
Phoebe kept her distance from me that day, and Jamie made me laugh the way he always did. The hours passed unremarkably but I found myself sneaking glances outside at every opportunity, waiting for the white truck to appear in the parking lot.
It never did.
When my father and I pulled up to the house that afternoon, Mom’s car was already in the driveway. More importantly, so was Noah’s.
I felt a burst of relief. I needed to tell him about the doll in my room this morning, about Jude in my room last night while we slept. I nearly dove out of the car while it was still moving.
“Tell your mom I’m off to work on her list,” Dad said, rolling his eyes. “I’ll be back soon.”
I nodded and shut the door. He didn’t drive away until I was inside the house.
Machine gun fire erupted from our family room, and I entered it to find Noah and Joseph slouched on the floor with controllers in their hands, their eyes glued to the TV.
Our conversation would have to wait.
“How was fishing?” I asked, in a casual voice that did not suit my mood. I walked through the archway into the kitchen and opened the fridge. I was hungry, but nothing looked good.
“We did not, in fact, go fishing,” Noah answered, still squinting at the screen.
Joseph rocked forward, gripping his controller fiercely. He didn’t speak.
“Joseph didn’t want to kill any fish, though he seems to have no problem killing—you bastard.”
Something exploded loudly and my brother dropped the controller, raising both hands in the air. “The champion is undefeated.” He flashed an obnoxious smirk at Noah.
“Good for you,” I said.
Noah shot me a look. “Where’s the loyalty?”
“I meant about the fish, but for the game, too.” I high-fived my brother and then I flashed an obnoxious smirk of my own. “Blood over boys.”
“You’re both evil.”
“I’m going to be a vegetarian,” Joseph told me.
“Mom will think I put you up to it.” I hadn’t eaten meat since the Santeria birthday show; every time I looked at it, I tasted blood in my mouth.
I dropped onto the couch. “So what did you guys do if you didn’t fish?”
“We went out on the boat and watched for dolphins,” Joseph said.
“Jealous. Did you see any?”
Noah nodded. “A small pod. We had to go out pretty far.”
“The boat was so cool,” Joseph said. “You can come with us next time.”
I grinned. “That’s very generous of you.”
“Well,” Noah said, standing up and stretching. His fingers touched the ceiling. “I don’t know about you, but after letting your brother win, I’m quite famished.”
Joseph slit his eyes at Noah. “Liar.”