“You control whether they get hurt, you understand?”
“Yes,” I said. He gripped my head harder. “Yes,” I moaned.
I could do anything for them, as long as they would be okay. Even this. “I’ll do it.”
Jude sliced the duct tape from my feet and my wrists. He held me by the waistband of my jeans, just the way he used to.
“Give me your hand.”
My thoughts were a roar. I could barely stand. His blade touched the inside of my wrists, tracing a vein. Then it bit into my skin. I cried out.
The blood welled and flowed and the coppery scent made my stomach roil. He drew a horizontal line of blood along my wrist, not deep. Then handed me the blade.
“Cut deeper, exactly where I cut. Then your other hand. Don’t forget what I’ll do to Joseph.”
But the line was horizontal.
My heart soared for all of a second.
Until I looked back at Jude and realized—
JUDE DIDN’T WANT TO KILL ME. HE WANTED something else.
Something I couldn’t imagine as I freed the blood from my body, the metallic smell mingling with the salt of the water beneath us, around us, in front of us. Jude stood in front of me, holding my forearms steady as I cut, holding me up. I could not look away from the deepening gashes on my wrists. I was shaking and weak and I let out a low whimper.
My head snapped up at the same time as Jude’s. My vision blurred—from dizziness, now, not tears—but a lighter shape approached us.
I tried to scream but nothing came out. I was weak and scared and I could barely see and I couldn’t even cry out for help.
Jude let go of one arm and took my face in one large hand. “Don’t even think about it.” He took the blade from me, hid it, and shifted himself so that he stood between me and the voice.
“What’s going on over here?”
The man’s voice was getting louder. Closer. I heard rushed footsteps clap on the wood to my right.
“Everything’s fine,” Jude said calmly.
Clap clap. “Do you need—”
A pause. A gasp. “Oh my God,” the stranger said.
“Everything’s under control,” Jude said, turning on the full force of his charm. He was transformed—I could hear it. If I didn’t know about the rot inside, it would have reminded me why I was attracted to him in the first place.
The man’s voice changed—imbued with authority.
“Did you call an ambulance?”
I tried to speak, to form words, but I had no voice.
“They’re on their way,” Jude said.
My vision cleared a bit as more tears fell. The man reached for something at his hip. “I can have them here in minutes. Cop,” he said.
And then something shifted beneath Jude’s expression. He withdrew the box cutter and my mind roared with terror. The cop had just turned on his radio when Jude flicked the blade open.
The man’s eyes widened. “What are you—”
Jude was going to filet him open. He twisted the box cutter in his hand just as the cop lunged for it.
And then Jude stabbed himself in the side.
I couldn’t process what I was seeing.
Neither could the cop. He wrested the box cutter from Jude’s hand.
“What in the hell—what’s wrong with you?”
Jude fell to his knees, wincing. The cop turned on the radio. “Dispatch, send backup to—”
But the man dropped the radio before he could finish his sentence. An expression of exquisite pain swallowed his confusion. Then he dropped Jude’s box cutter.
Just a few feet away.
I slumped down and crawled toward it because I was too weak or too scared to stand. Pain chewed through my nerves. My vision was edged in black and red. I crawled anyway.
“Don’t . . . bother,” Jude wheezed. He just knelt there, half bent, staring down, his head heavy and his arms limp.
I moved toward him even though everything in me was utterly repelled. I wanted to stop. I kept going. There was groaning—but it wasn’t mine or Jude’s. It was the man, the cop. I couldn’t see him or hear what he was saying or see what was happening. I had one thing on my mind and that was the blade. I reached for it but my muscles weren’t under my control; they shook and I was weak and when my fingers nudged the plastic handle, it fell through the slats of the dock.
It was over.
I was done. My legs and shoulders collapsed and I couldn’t move myself up or anywhere. My eyes were open still and I was still conscious but there was so much pain I wished I wasn’t.
I felt the vibration of a body hitting the dock. It was the cop; I could see him out of my peripheral vision. His eyes were open. Glassy. His breathing was shallow. I heard a tinny voice somewhere to my left. His radio? The only other sound was the water beneath me. The wood was rough against my cheek. I looked down. The water slapped the pylons as the tide slowly came in. It was louder than I would have expected. The moonlight lit the surface of the water. Peaceful.
But then I noticed shapes down there. The shapes, the things, were slapping wetly against the pylons. It wasn’t just the waves.
In a burst of focus before I lost consciousness, I realized that the water wasn’t empty.
It was filled with hundreds of dead and dying fish.
TIME DIDN’T EXIST FOR ME ANYMORE. IT could have been seconds or years before I heard another sound.
I tried to open my eyes, but the world was bleached of color. Someone had scraped it all away.
“It’s so much more fun when you fight.”
Jude’s voice in my ear. I tried to kick out but I was tangled in something. Caught and helpless, still.
“She’s waking up.” A new voice, strange and foggy and unfamiliar. I tried to speak but gagged instead.
Footsteps approached rapidly. “Shh, now. Just relax.” A hand on my shoulder, heavy and somehow reassuring.
My eyes flew open and light seared my vision. I closed them for a minute, or maybe five. Then tried again.
A woman leaned over me, blurred at the edges, not looking in my eyes. I caught the underside of her jaw, her neck, and her large chest as she reached over me.
“Who are you?” I asked hoarsely, in a voice that didn’t sound like my own.
I thought I caught a smile. “Name’s Joan, sweetie.”
“Wait—is she—Mara, oh God, Mara, are you awake, honey?”
My mother’s voice rushed in, plunging me in warmth. Something clawed and tore at my chest and it was hard to breathe—then I realized it was a sob. I was crying.