Meanwhile, Mr. Ernst appeared to be having trouble with his pants. I wriggled my arm behind my back, which unfortunately arched my body toward his. He took it as encouragement.
“I knew you wanted it,” he whispered into my ear. Then he licked my cheek.
“The tongue definitely has to go,” someone said in my voice.
I looked up into the cracked mirror behind him and Stella. My reflection stared back. She shook her head in disgust. Neither Stella nor Mr. Ernst seemed to notice.
A small shift in movement, and the scalpel was in my hand. I tucked it against my forearm, holding it tightly against my skin. It was sharp enough to cut me.
I swallowed, then said, “I need my hands. I can’t do anything without my hands.”
He adjusted his gun, poking it under my ribs, then nodded once quickly.
I brought my hands in front of me, tugging the waistband of the WELCOME TO THE SUNSHINE STATE boxers down with my thumbs. Mr. Ernst was watching, but not closely enough. Stella had fled. And before he could even register the movement, I stabbed him in the eye. He screamed until I cut his throat.
I took his keys and his gun when I was finished. Before I left, I glanced up at my reflection in the dark, cracked mirror. The asinine WELCOME TO THE SUNSHINE STATE T-shirt was streaked and soaked with Mr. Ernst’s blood, and so was my skin. It was under my fingernails, in my hair. It freckled my face.
I stared at my reflection, waiting for a rush of disgust or terror or regret—something. But it never came.
I KNEW WHAT I LOOKED like as I walked calmly back to the truck. Jamie and Stella were already on their way back to find me.
“Fuck,” Jamie said when he saw me. That about covered it.
“I’m okay. Get into the truck.”
“Is he . . .”
Yes. Yes, he is.
“I have the keys,” I said. “We need to go.”
Stella reached out her hand. It was shaking. “Keys?” she asked as Jamie pulled me up into the cab. I reached into my pocket and tossed them at her.
“What—what happened?” Jamie asked.
I looked out the window, catching my reflection in the side-view mirror. She shrugged. “He made a mistake,” I said quietly. I began to notice the blood drying on my skin. I felt sticky. Dirty. I pulled my hair back into a knot. It was clotted with blood.
“Mr. Ernst?” Jamie asked. “Did he touch you?”
“He tried,” I said under my breath.
I swallowed hard. “I’m okay.” It was true enough. I wasn’t hurt. “He thought I was someone else.”
Jamie’s eyebrows knitted in confusion. “Who?”
“Someone who wouldn’t fight back. Listen, we need to go.” I withdrew Mr. Ernst’s gun from the back of my boxers and shoved it into the glove compartment. Jamie’s mouth hung open, disbelieving.
“Did you shoot him?” Stella was looking at the floor of the cab. Her voice sounded hollow, like she wasn’t really there.
I shook my head. “He had the gun. He was pointing it at me. I cut him while he was trying to . . . undress.”
“I should have stayed with you guys,” Jamie said. “Fuck. Fuck.”
Stella’s chest rose and fell rapidly. Her face was pale and bloodless. “Mara helped me,” she said, as if to herself. “And then she had to help herself. It was self-defense.” She began to nod. “I saw it, most of it, before I ran to get you, Jamie. So we can call the police and tell them—”
“We can’t call the police,” Jamie said. His voice was muffled. He had put his head between his knees. “You know we can’t.”
Stella closed her eyes and squeezed them shut. “Right. Right. Okay, so, Mara wouldn’t have done anything unless she had to—and she had to.”
I had to.
“But now we have a problem.” She looked at my hands. “His DNA is under your fingernails. Yours is probably all over his body. This isn’t like Horizons. We have his truck. If we leave it here, we’re stranded. If we take it, we’ll be easy to track.”
“It can be tracked anyway, even if we leave it. But Mara’s right, we can’t stay here,” Jamie said. “I vote for ditching the truck somewhere unobvious and then we’ll figure the rest of this shit out.”
“We’ll burn the clothes or something,” Stella said, looking at my T-shirt. “Clean you up. It’ll be all right.” She sounded like she was trying to convince herself more than she was trying to convince me.
“Then the only way out is through,” Jamie said, and Stella started the truck.
THIS IS LIKE THE PERFECT storm of bad decisions,” Jamie said as the three of us approached a bed-and-breakfast in Key Largo. It was dark out. We’d ditched the truck about seven miles before; minutes later, it had begun to rain. Not enough to wash the blood out of my T-shirt or off my skin, but more than enough to make the miserable seven-mile walk even more miserable. Stella scratched at a thousand mosquito bites, and Jamie muttered about Lembas the whole way.
“Fine. Let’s get this shit show on the road,” he said as we stood in front of a well-lit, charming old green Victorian with yellow plantation shutters and scalloped trim. The shingles were weather-beaten and worn, and creepers snaked up the siding from the ground to the windows. “Mara, you should probably stay outside while I—”
“What?” I looked up. I’d been picking at a flake of dried blood between my thumb and forefinger, not paying attention.
“You’re not exactly inconspicuous,” he said. “And I’ve never tried to Jedi mind-fuck anyone like this before.” His voice wavered a little.
I arched an eyebrow. “Don’t you mean ‘mind-trick’?”
“Not when I do it,” he said.
“You’ll be fine,” I said. “Just ask for three rooms.”
But I’d never seen him so nervous. He ended up taking my hand and walking in with me, filthy and bloody though I was. Our clothes dripped water on the maroon runner that led up to the front desk. The wood had been painted a dark hunter green, and the desk itself looked like it was covered in a giant doily. A fan lazily spun above our heads, and the breeze made me shiver.
No one was actually at the desk, of course. There was a little silver bell, like an actual bell, with a card that said Ring for Service in calligraphy.
“Well?” Stella looked at Jamie.
Jamie fidgeted. “I’m not sure I can—”