I closed my eyes.
“You look pretty good, Mara,” he said softly.
Please, please let him die. Please.
“Your opinion,” I whispered, “means very little to me, Jude.” I opened my eyes. I couldn’t help it.
Jude’s smile had spread. He rocked back in his chair. “I bet that mouth gets you into all sorts of trouble.”
He exposed more of the blade he was holding, smiling the whole time, and a primal, instinctive shiver ran through me. He raised his hand, staring at the wickedly sharp edge.
“What do you want?” I was surprised by the strength in my voice. It fortified me.
Jude looked at me like I was a puzzle he was trying to work out. “I want Claire to not be dead.”
I closed my eyes and saw the words he left for me in blood.
My bones hurt and my mouth and arms ached from my position. “I want Claire to not be dead too.”
“Don’t say her name.” His voice was edged with razor blades. But then, seconds later, it was calm. “Are you going to bring her back?”
He knew what I’d done. That I killed her. And now he was punishing me; he’d been punishing me all along. This was revenge.
I had no idea what to do. I didn’t see a way out; I was tied up and trapped and I’d tried to kill him before but he didn’t die.
Should I lie? Pretend I didn’t understand? Or admit what I did since he already knew it? Apologize?
I couldn’t decide so I ignored the question. “I thought you were dead too.” I swallowed. Looked at his hands. “How are you alive?”
He rocked forward in his chair this time, until he was inches away from me. I felt his breath on my face.
He wanted me to flinch, so I kept still.
“Disappointed?” he asked.
He wanted me to say yes, so I said, “No.”
His eyebrows lifted. “Really?”
I couldn’t help it. “No.”
At that, a toxic grin spread across his mouth. “There we go,” he said softly. “Some honesty, finally. Don’t worry, I don’t hold that against you.”
“It was an accident,” I said, before I even knew that I’d said it.
Jude considered me for a moment, then gave a single shake of his head. “We both know that’s not true.”
“The building was old and it collapsed,” I said, trying like hell not to sound so desperate and fake.
He tsked. “Come on, Mara. You don’t believe that.”
I didn’t, but how did he know what I believed?
“I don’t believe that either,” he said. “You saw the video.” He shook his head. “God, that laugh, Mara. Really creepy.”
“How did you get it?” I asked him. “How did you get out?”
“How did you trigger the pulley system?” he asked me, moving closer. “How did you get the doors to close? Did you just think it and it happened?”
Was that how I did it?
“I heard the levers shriek and then ran to the doors, but they closed on my hands,” he said. His eyes studied my face. “You actually smiled at me when I turned to look at you. You smiled.”
The memory flickered in my mind.
One second, he had pressed me so deeply into the wall that I thought I would dissolve into it. The next, he was the trapped one, inside the patient room, inside with me. But I was no longer the victim.
I laughed at him in my crazed fury, which shook the asylum’s foundation and crushed it. With Jude and Claire and Rachel inside.
“What kind of person does that?” he asked, almost to himself.
Own yourself. My lips were dry and sour. My tongue was sandpaper, but I found my voice. “What kind of person does this? What kind of person forces himself on someone else?”
His nostrils flared. “Don’t pretend you didn’t want it,” he said sharply. “You wanted me for months. Claire told me.” Jude crouched next to me, his cheek close to my ear. He held up the box cutter in front of my eye. “This could happen two ways. One, you do it yourself. Two, I do it for you. And if you make me do it for you, I am going to take my time.”
The blade was so close to my eyes that I squeezed them shut reflexively. “Why are you doing this to me?”
“Because you deserve it,” he hissed in my ear.
HELPLESSNESS AND FEAR WARRED WITH hatred and defiance—I didn’t know what to do or say, but the longer I kept him talking, the longer I would stay alive.
“They have you on camera,” I said, grasping for anything. “They’ll know you did this.”
He laughed. “At the police station? Did you tell them it was me?” He took my chin in his hand. “You did. I can tell just by looking at you. Let me guess—they have a guy on camera who was wearing long sleeves, baggy clothes, and a baseball cap. And you thought they’d believe it was your dead boyfriend? No wonder they think you’re crazy.” He sucked in his lower lip. “And let’s be honest, you kind of are. But it does make this easier,” he said, glancing down at the box cutter. “Less messy.”
He stood from his chair and my veins flooded with adrenaline, bringing everything into sharper focus. I felt wrung-out and picked clean, but my wrists were less numb. My legs were less limp.
The drugs were wearing off.
“Why’d you come to the police station? To school?” I asked. Begged.
“I wanted you to know I was alive,” he said, and I was so grateful just to hear words issue from his mouth that I could have cried with relief. “I thought you saw me at—What’s it called?”
“Your old school.”
“Croyden,” I said.
He snapped his fingers. “Right. You ran,” he said with a smirk. A snake smile, reptilian and cold. “And the precinct? I didn’t know why you were going. But I was—” he paused, considering his words. “Concerned. I wanted to distract you.”
It worked. “You could have killed me a hundred times before now. Why wait?”
Jude smiled in response. Said nothing. Lifted the blade.
Oh, God. “What about your family?” I whispered. Talk, Jude. Talk.
“Claire was my family.” Jude’s voice was different now. Less harsh. He swallowed and took a deep breath. “You know what they found?” he asked evenly as he moved behind me. “She was so badly mangled they had to have a closed casket.”
“Rachel too,” I said in a low voice.