“Pish tosh. But my aunt has a place on the Upper West Side. We could go there.”
“Except wouldn’t she maybe wonder why her nephew and his two female friends have turned up on her doorstep on a random school night?”
“She’s not there. She’s at her condo in Florida right now till the summer.”
“How would we get in?” Stella asked.
“I’m sure we could figure it out,” Jamie said. “And she’s not even my real aunt. She’s my mother’s BFF. Even if we’re being looked for, no one would tie us together.”
Good enough for me. Stella agreed, and so Jamie gave the driver directions to his aunt’s house. I didn’t pay much attention. My gaze kept wandering to my stomach. It was still bleeding a little—there was a small wet spot on the T-shirt, but luckily the shirt was black. No one would notice.
My thumb kept running over the tiny line, and I realized I was picking at the seams of the cut. I couldn’t seem to stop. I kept thinking about the train, and the edge of Noah’s razor, and the relief—the release—when I’d pressed it against my skin. A voice whispered in my mind.
Something inside us.
Get them out.
I glanced at Stella nervously. She didn’t see me; she was staring out the window on the left, and Jamie was looking out the one on the right. I ran my fingertips against my belly, pressing into it. I didn’t feel anything—no, wait. I slid my hand left, toward the inside of my left hip, pressing down. Something seemed to—to shift, like a tight muscle being kneaded out of place, but small. What was that?
“Stomachache?” Stella asked.
Caught. “Mmm-hmm.” I crossed my arms and folded myself slightly over them.
“We’ll be there in a few,” Jamie said.
Shame warred with need. I couldn’t let them see that I’d cut myself. I had to figure out a way to get ten, maybe twenty minutes alone.
The cab pulled over to the curb, and Jamie said in that voice of his, “You never saw us.”
“I never saw you,” the driver repeated, sounding dazed.
“You drove this astonishingly hot underwear model from south Texas. You wanted to lick his abs.”
“I wanted to lick his abs.”
“You’re such an asshole,” Stella muttered as she climbed out of the cab.
“I get my kicks where I can.”
As we waited for the traffic to stop and the light to change, Jamie took the opportunity to throw up into a garbage can.
“Ugh, gross,” a high-heeled, miniskirted girl squealed as she walked by.
Head still bent, Jamie raised his middle finger at her, then spat into the garbage can and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
“Ugh. Gross,” he said. “I’m never going to get used to that.”
“You’re not supposed to get used to it,” Stella said. “You’re supposed to not do it.”
Jamie’s aunt’s house turned out to be a brownstone on a relatively quiet tree-lined street. We walked up the front steps, and he peered in through the glass door. It was dark.
“How are we supposed to get in, again?” Stella asked.
“My cousin once told me a story about breaking in post-curfew using a spare key from under a fake rock or some such. Maybe . . .”
Jamie hopped back down the steps and ducked behind a small gate in front of the garden apartment. There were some wilted plants there, and a package with the word “perishable” on the side of it, and—
“Fake rock!” Jamie said, bending down. “Score.” He held up the key, hopped back up the steps, and unlocked the front door. Stella and I followed him inside.
The house was gorgeous. The parlor still had most of its original details—an ornate plaster medallion in the center of the ceiling, carved woodwork between the parlor and the kitchen, and a massive fireplace with a mirror as the overmantel. Stella whistled.
“I know, right?” Jamie said. “Bedrooms and bathrooms are upstairs. Take whichever ones you want. There’s a package outside for my aunt. I’m gonna bring it in. Shall we convene in an hour for food plans?”
Stella nodded. I did too, even though I wasn’t hungry. I was already on my way up the stairs.
“How do you feel?” Stella asked. She was following behind me.
“A little better,” I lied. Then crinkled my nose. “You smell ripe.” I needed to get rid of her.
“Yeah, I feel gross,” she said. “I desperately need a shower.”
“I hate to say it,” I lied, “but you really do.”
We each claimed a bedroom, but just as I’d hoped, Stella did not pass go or collect two-hundred before she ducked into the bathroom, duffel bag in hand. When curls of steam began to filter out from the beneath the door, I set Noah’s bag on the bed in the room I’d chosen. I had his razor in my back pocket still, but I wasn’t sure that was what I wanted. What I needed.
After a minute or two my hand closed around a tightly rolled T-shirt I’d buried near the bottom of his things. I took it out and unrolled it, finding the scalpel I’d hidden there. That was what I needed.
My fingertips seemed to tingle as I held the metal up. I knew, objectively, that what I was about to do was crazy, but somehow my feet carried me toward the guest room door, and my fingers turned the lock so no one would be able to stop me. And then I lifted up my shirt and began to cut.
OH GOD, OH GOD. STELLA, get in here!”
My eyes fluttered open, just enough to see a blurred outline of Jamie leaning over me.
“What’s wrong?” Stella’s voice, from a distance away.
“It’s— Mara did something!”
He grabbed a towel, and I felt pressure on my stomach.
Did I get them out did I get them?
“Don’t you dare even try to talk, you idiot,” Jamie said to me. He propped my limp hands over my stomach, over the towel, then sprang up to get the door.
“What happened?” Stella said as she appeared in my frame of vision. “Oh. Oh my—”
“I wanted to use Noah’s laptop for something,” Jamie said, “and I knocked on the door to get it from her, but she didn’t answer. So I knocked again, louder, and still nothing. And I just had this bad feeling, so I used a needle from the sewing kit to pick the lock, and I opened the door, and she was like—”
“Oh, God,” Stella whispered.
“Oh my God, Mara, what did you do?”