I tried to catch his eye. “Misery’s no fun if you keep it to yourself.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” he said, but didn’t look up. “My parents asked if I wanted to go somewhere else for ninth grade but”—he waved his hand—“you know it doesn’t matter. There’s always one or two or five of them and I was short and a nerd and a minority in every major way and that’s more than enough reason to be picked on.” He exhaled through his nose. “But you know what their real problem with me was? I never wanted to be one of them. That’s what bothers bullies the most.”
Jamie stared at the near empty glass in his fist, gripping it tightly. “Of course, you can’t say any of this out loud, or people will clutch their pearls and call you a monster.”
I thought of my less-than-honest answers on this morning’s assignment and nudged my friend with my shoulder. “Not me. I took the sociopath test this morning. I only got three out of ten non-sociopath results.”
“That’s plenty.” Jamie flashed a weak half-smile, deepening his dimple, then went on. “I’m sure she had a redeeming quality or two and her family and sycophantic friends will miss her dearly. And if she were sitting here now talking about me, I’d probably feature in her narrative as a Moor out to steal all da white ladies.” He shrugged a shoulder. “I just can’t muster up the energy to feel shitty. I don’t really want to. She wouldn’t want my pity, even if she had it. You know?”
“I do,” I said, because I did.
He looked at the wall in front of us, at a ridiculous motivational poster with an eagle skimming the water, triumphantly clutching a fish in its talons. “A little dark for dear little Jamie?”
“No,” I said.
“Your love of Ebola tipped me off,” I explained. “And you’re not so little, either.”
He inclined his head slightly, with a smile to match. Then he stood. “I am going to go throw up now. Enjoy your cookie.”
Jamie left but I just sat there, feeling vaguely nauseated myself.
His words unlocked something inside of me and images of corpses bobbed up in my mind.
Morales. Would I have killed her for failing me if I knew what I was doing? No. But was I sad that she was dead?
The brutal, honest answer was no. I was sorry that I might’ve killed her, but I barely thought about her at all.
And Mabel’s owner. If he was alive, she wouldn’t be. Or she’d be suffering still, with gaping wounds in her neck infested by maggots as her body consumed itself, as she died slowly in the miserable heat. But because he was dead? She was spoiled and fat and happy and loved. Her life was worth more than his.
And then, of course, there was Jude. Who trapped me. Pushed me. Forced me. And tortured me, now that he wasn’t dead after all.
I wasn’t sorry that I tried to kill him. I was sorry he was still alive. I would kill him again if I had the chance.
JAMIE WAS SENT HOME EARLY AFTER ONE OF THE counselors heard him throwing up in the bathroom. I was not so lucky. At lunch, I sat down next to Stella, who picked idly at her loaded sandwich. I started inhaling mine; the cookies from snack time were stale and store-bought, but the food they served in the dining room was addictive.
But then Phoebe sat across from us and began watching me intently. She scribbled in her journal, chewing on her fingernails as she scratched away, creating a little pile on the table.
Appetite gone. “That’s gross, Phoebe.”
“It’s for the voodoo doll,” she answered, her smile spreading like a stain. “It looks just like you.”
You can’t respond to a statement like that. There’s just nothing to say.
A weird look settled over Phoebe’s weird face and she leaned forward. “Gimme your hair,” she said to me.
Stella stood suddenly, and pulled me away from the table.
“I’m telling my boyfriend!” Phoebe shouted after us.
It was all so screwed up that it was almost funny. I told Stella as much and she dropped my arm. That was when I noticed the bruise. An oil slick of colors, peeking out from beneath her sleeve.
“You okay?” I asked her, staring at it. She tugged her sleeve down, and when I met her eyes, her face was a mask.
“It’s nothing,” she said blankly. “Are you okay?”
I must have looked confused, because she nodded at the table. “Phoebe—” she said.
“Oh. I’m getting used to her shenanigans, I think.” I shrugged.
Stella didn’t say anything. Then, “She was getting intense.”
“Phoebe’s definitely not one of my favorite people.”
Stella looked at me for a beat and said, “Be careful, okay?”
I was about to ask what she meant, but Dr. Kells appeared behind us and called out my name.
“Mara. Just the person I wanted to see.” She looked from me to Stella and then back to me. “Are you busy at the moment?”
Stella offered a small wave, and walked away. Damn.
“No,” I said. Wish I was.
“Can you step into my office for a sec?”
Let’s get this over with.
“I wanted to check in with you,” Dr. Kells said with a benevolent smile. “How are things?” She lowered herself into her chair.
“Fine.” I said nothing more. She said nothing more. A common psychologists’ trick, I knew—she who speaks first loses. I was an expert at this game now.
I felt the urge to yawn. I tried to stifle it, but eventually biology took over.
“How are you sleeping?” Dr. Kells asked.
“Okay.” It was kind of true. I’d woken up in my own bed two days in a row. That should count for something.
She studied my face. “You look pretty tired,” she said.
I shrugged. A non-answer.
“And thin. Are you dieting?” she asked me.
I shook my head.
“Maybe you’re having difficulty adjusting? Do you think you could use something to help you rest?”
I wanted to throw my head back and groan. “I’m already on a lot of pills.”
“You need your sleep.”
“What if I become addicted?” I challenged her.
It didn’t work. “The pills I’ll prescribe for you are non–habit forming, don’t worry. How are your other medications working out for you, by the way?”