“Not us,” Jamie said quietly.
Jamie had it exactly right. “Me. He’s been following me. Ever since I met him.” My thoughts raced faster than I could speak. “He has to have been the one who sent the note, with the doctor’s bag, when I got sick. Which means he has to have known what was happening to me, what was inside me, which means—”
He would know where Noah was too. Maybe he was the one keeping him.
“But then why would he need the access key?” Jamie scratched his nose. “If he’s the man behind the man or whatever, if he orchestrated all of this, funded all of it, and is following us to, I don’t know, monitor what’s happening to us, wouldn’t he have access to the archives already? Why would he need the key?”
“Maybe that’s not how this works,” I said. “Maybe, to stay anonymous, he organized the corporation that funds Horizons so that only one person at a time can access the archives—so he needed to get the key before he could check whatever he wanted to check, and because even the people who work for him don’t know who he is, he had the key sent here to his friend.”
“Far-fetched,” Jamie said.
Stella wound her hair around her finger. “I’ve heard worse theories. But wait . . . does that mean he has the key now? If one person at a time can access it, maybe—”
“Maybe he’s there,” I said, finishing her sentence. “Maybe he’s there right now.”
We all looked at one another. It was more than past time to end this. “Let’s go.”
We caught the train just before the doors closed, and Stella and I squished in between an older lady with purple hair clutching a Bloomingdale’s bag to her chest and a Hasidic teenager slouched over a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. Jamie mocked a man in a business suit jamming audibly to something on his headphones, but otherwise we were silent until we got off. When we emerged from the subway, the sun was setting. Whatever neighborhood we were in looked pretty industrial. There were hardly any people walking around at all. It almost looked deserted.
“Okay,” Jamie said. “Two blocks east, three north, and we should be there.”
The sun slipped behind the jagged city horizon as we walked. It was almost dark when we arrived.
“This is it,” Jamie said, looking up at a mammoth shuttered warehouse. There were dozens of windows reaching up several stories high. Most were boarded shut with wood, and others were just dark. Adrenaline surged through my veins. This was where we were supposed to be. I could feel it.
“How are we supposed to get in?” Stella kicked the huge metal shutter enclosing what must have been the entrance.
“Fool of a Took!” Jamie hissed through his teeth. “If someone’s in there, they probably heard that,” he said, and stooped down to the ground. “Look. Padlock’s off.”
“So someone is in there,” Stella said. “Lukumi?”
“Maybe,” I said. Or maybe Noah.
Jamie looked at me. “Are you sure we should do this?”
“No,” I said honestly, staring up at the building. “Lukumi has been leagues ahead of us this entire time. He’s known everything we’re about to do before we’ve done it. He’s probably expecting us.”
Stella tugged at her hair. “I don’t really like the idea of that.”
“I don’t either, but the alternative is turning around and going home,” I said. “And I can’t do that.”
Jamie looked at me and then crouched and lifted the shutter with both arms. You could probably have heard the metal groan all the way in Miami. We stood in front of a dark brown, or maybe rusted red door with a window covered in newspaper in it.
“Well,” Stella said, “if he didn’t know we were here before, he definitely does now.”
I put my hand on the doorknob. It turned without effort, and I led the three of us in. The darkness outside was nothing compared to the darkness inside. It seemed solid, almost. Like if you reached out your hand, you would feel it.
“Should we look for a light?” Stella whispered.
“Are you afraid of the dark?” Jamie asked.
“I’d rather not break my neck tripping over you.”
“And I’m pretty sure we already announced ourselves unintentionally,” I said. “I vote for light.” In no small part because I suddenly felt very afraid of the dark.
Jamie turned and scanned the wall behind us for a switch. It took a while, but soon—
“Bingo,” he said, and flicked it on.
Rows and rows of lights slammed on, illuminating the vast space, which was lined with shelves that nearly scraped the ceiling. We heard something crash to the floor.
Jamie and Stella looked at each other. Neither of them had spoken.
I didn’t look at either of them. I just stared straight ahead, my mouth hanging open. I knew that Ow.
WHAT—MARA?” DANIEL SAID AT full volume. And then he poked his head out from behind a shelf at waist height.
I couldn’t run fast enough. My brother was kneeling on the floor, rubbing one knee, and I dropped down and gave him the hug of his life.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, my voice muffled by his shoulder. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t believe how good it felt to be hugged by my big brother. Or hugged period, really.
“I heard the shutter opening and flipped off the lights and hid, sort of, behind the stacks. And then you turned the lights on, and I tripped over a footstool.”
“You are a genius,” I said, smiling.
“What are you doing here?”
I pulled back, and the words just came pouring out of me—what had happened to me at Horizons, what had happened to me before Horizons, all of it. The dam had burst, and there was no putting it back together. Daniel’s expression morphed from confusion to shock to horror to resignation and back to confusion as I spoke, breathless and flushed by the time I finished.
“So you’re telling me . . . ,” Daniel started. “You’re telling me it was all real.” A nervous laugh escaped from his throat. “Everything you—everything you said you were writing, for that Horizons assignment, that fiction thing? It wasn’t fiction. There was no protagonist. You were talking about you.”
I smiled, thinking of what Noah would have said if he were there. He’d thought I was being too obvious about my little problem, by telling Daniel it was an “assignment.” I wished he were there, so I could say, I told you so.