“A spinal block, maybe?” Stella suggested. “So you couldn’t feel what they were doing to you.”
“You know this how?” I asked.
“My mom’s a nurse.”
“Can I just take a second to say, I am so happy they’re dead,” Jamie said, running a hand over his scalp, then over his face. He peeked at me through two of his fingers. “She is dead, right?”
Oh yes. “Yes.”
“What happened in there?” Jamie asked me.
“It wasn’t really Noah. It was just his voice. Kells recorded it, played it, played me.”
“So, ’twas a trap?”
“Yup,” I said. “You were right.” I felt his hand on my shoulder.
“I’m so sorry, Mara,” Jamie said.
“No, about—about Noah, I mean.”
“He’s not dead.” Jamie said nothing. I pushed myself up until my spine was straight. “I don’t know how I know it, but I do. He’s out there, somewhere.”
“Then why isn’t he here?”
That was a very good question. One I would do anything to answer.
“Kells said the building collapsed,” Jamie started.
“She told me that too. But that doesn’t mean it’s true.”
There was no way to know without going back there. But even if it had collapsed, there was more to Horizons than just the treatment facility, we now knew. And if Jamie survived, and Stella survived, I had to believe Noah survived too. He was the only one of us who could heal. He had to be alive.
“Do you still have the tape?” I asked. Jamie’s forehead creased. “The tape Jude made me?”
“Stella had it last, I think,” Jamie said.
I spun around. “Where’d she go?”
Just then, a rusty hinge creaked. Our heads snapped up, but it was only Stella, emerging from the building holding three bags. One was Jamie’s, another must’ve been Stella’s, and the last one—the last one belonged to Noah.
An image of him appeared in my mind, of Noah standing with that bag over his shoulder, guitar case in hand, dripping wet from the rain, waiting to be led into the Horizons Treatment Center so he could save me. My heart leapt. “Where’d you find this one?”
“She kept our things—boxes of stuff—in a little room near the morgue,” Stella said, handing the bags to me and Jamie. “I guess if we died or something, she wanted to make sure we were in our own clothes and not hospital gowns or whatever. Stage the scene.”
I wondered what she’d done with my things. How she’d planned on staging that scene.
I gripped Noah’s bag with what was probably excessive force. “How did you know this was—” No, not “was.” Is. “How did you know this is his?”
“There were cubbies labeled with our names. And his guitar was next to it.”
His guitar. He wouldn’t have left that behind. An ache rose in my throat, but I swallowed it back down.
“Did you look in the morgue?” Jamie asked Stella.
“Um . . . ” She shot me a nervous glance. I both did and didn’t want her to answer.
“No,” she finally said.
“One of us should.” Jamie’s voice was soft.
I shook my head. “Noah isn’t in there.”
“If you don’t want to go, I will,” Jamie said.
I thought of what he would find there if he went—the blood, Kells’s body. I thought I should go with him, to explain it.
Stella decided to come with us, and the two of them helped me up and let me use them as crutches as we opened the door and began the trek back down.
Despite our lack of shoes, our footsteps echoed loudly on the metal grates, and I knew I wasn’t the only one wondering if what we were doing was smart. If we weren’t alone down there, someone else would easily hear us. But we kept walking (in my case, limping) anyway. We had to see what was there . . . or wasn’t.
The door to the morgue was slightly ajar, and a bloody, smeared handprint wrapped around the edge, just beneath the handle. It was mine. Jamie and Stella just stared at it. I pushed the steel door open with my fingertips.
Dr. Kells was where I’d left her, her dead eyes fixed on nothing. Stella’s chin wobbled as she surveyed the scene. “What happened?” she whispered. But Jamie spoke before I could answer.
“I’ll look in the drawers,” he said, but made no move to enter the room. I urged both of them forward, breaking the spell. We stared at the rows of large metal cabinets, wanting and not wanting to know what was inside them.
In the end it was Stella who opened the first drawer. I leaned on Jamie as she unlocked it. We collectively held our breath as she slid out the tray, and collectively sighed when it turned out to be empty. Every nerve in my body felt raw and exposed as she unlocked drawer after drawer, each of them empty, until one wasn’t.
A sheet covered a shapeless mass. No, not shapeless. Body-shaped. Person-shaped.
Stella didn’t reach for it, so I broke away from Jamie, using the wall to support myself. I slid the sheet off and found Adam. Dick-Adam. Whom I could have saved, maybe, but had chosen not to. And now he was here, and dead, like Kells and Wayne and everyone else I’d hated.
But not Noah. Not Noah.
WE SLEPT BY THE WATER. The beach was half sand, half mud and was littered with jagged shells and tree roots, but I felt more dead than tired, so I stuffed Noah’s bag under my head and crashed anyway.
The feeling came back into my legs in a trickle, not a wave. When I woke up, my muscles ached with soreness, my mouth tasted spoiled, and my stomach hurt. I was itchy and filthy and miserable, but when the sun peeked through the trees and I realized that I could stare at it, bask in it, worship it if I wanted to, my mouth curved into a smile. I was free.
Jamie and Stella were still sleeping. Mist crept up from the gray ocean onto the beach, reaching for their feet, clinging to the tall sea grass. I stood quietly, weak-kneed but able to walk on my own. Seagulls picked over something on the shore. They scattered at my approach.
My papery hospital gown was crusted with blood and sand and dirt. I had no clothes, so I brought Noah’s bag with me, figuring I’d wash myself off in the ocean and change into something of his. But my hand froze on the zipper.
I didn’t know if I could keep it together if I opened his bag and smelled his scent and felt the fabric that had touched his skin. I knew he was alive—knew it—but he wasn’t here.