I didn’t know how to answer him because I didn’t know myself. I pointed at a little kiosk, and my brother nodded, unshackling me from his side. I bought a sandwich and dropped it for the bird.
A muggy breeze announced the arrival of an oncoming train, and we shoved our way in behind the braid-crown girl and before a man with dreadlocks down to his waist, who held the hand of a little girl who kept shouting, “I am Spider-Man!” A businessman with a purple birthmark on his face sat with his leg squashed against a pole, eating from a greasy bag of sweet roasted nuts.
Jamie was quiet as we sped through the veins of the city, until a space large enough for the three of us opened up and we slid into it. The Spider-Man girl was still broadcasting her identity when Jamie spoke.
“What if someone had lice on the subway?”
A preteen couple with matching sprays of acne who had been kissing half a second before looked at him with disgust.
“Uh, what?” Daniel asked.
“What if there’s a kid on the train with lice? And you’re sitting next to him and then you get it.”
“That’s disgusting,” I said.
Jamie ran his hand over his scalp. “I bet it happens.”
“Stop!” I yanked at his hand. Just the thought was enough to make me itch.
“Don’t worry, Mara,” he said as he ruffled my head. “Your hair looks luminous.”
We both burst out laughing at the same time. Relief was not a big enough word to explain what I felt. Jamie was my friend still. I might be different now, but I still needed as many of those as I could get.
Feeling lighter, I let my thoughts drift as I watched my reflection blur in and out of the darkened train window across from me. My reflection was obedient and silent, and I felt weirdly peaceful. I was just about to fall asleep when the lights flickered and the train screeched to a jarring stop. The next stop was ours, but we never made it.
HI, FOLKS,” A TINNY VOICE announced from the speaker. “There seems to be some sort of service interruption.” He began to say something else, but the words dissolved into static before we heard, “We’ll get you folks moving as soon as we can.”
New Yorkers are pretty unflappable as a group, and the motley crew in our car was no exception. An elderly Asian woman held the hand of an adorable little boy in a blue peacoat, who spoke to her calmly in English, though she spoke to him in something else, maybe Chinese? Next to her a frazzled-looking mother was trying to keep her two children from breaking off in opposite directions after her bag of groceries had fallen to the floor. Her apples scattered across the car like billiard balls. But no one cried. No one panicked. Not until the lights went out.
There was silence at first, then noise. People talking, a child crying. The car wasn’t completely dark—the emergency lights were on in the adjacent cars, just not in ours.
“This stuff happens all the time,” Jamie said. His face was painted in a faint, eerie glow. “They’ll figure it out.”
A burst of static startled Daniel—I felt him jump against my shoulder. Someone’s cell phone buzzed with a text. And then a stranger said my name.
The owner of the voice was a twentysomething girl with gauges in her ears, a hoop in her nose, and a bushel of wild, curly hair. She held a book with a leafy green tree on the cover, title obscured, and a cell phone in the other. “Who is Mara Dyer?”
I felt Daniel’s and Jamie’s eyes boring into each side of my face. The stale air seemed to press in on me, slowing my thoughts. “Uh, me?” I said, before Jamie shushed me.
Everyone in the car stared as Curly Girl walked over to me and handed me her phone. “Someone’s texting you.”
“I don’t know you,” I said, pointing out the obvious.
“And I don’t know you. But the person texting me doesn’t seem to care.” She gestured with the phone. “See for yourself.”
I tried to, but realized that my arms were in the iron grips of my brother and Jamie.
“This is bad news,” Daniel said. “Bad news.”
I shook them off and took the phone from the girl.
I HAVE WHAT YOU WANT.
Below that was a picture of Noah. I couldn’t see where he was and didn’t know what he was doing; it was just a close-up of his face. But it was Noah to the life. And there was a newspaper next to him with today’s date.
“Can I have my phone back now?” Curly Girl asked. I ignored her.
“Ask who it is,” Jamie said.
“Like he’s going to answer?” Daniel replied.
“How do you know it’s a he?” Jamie asked.
Daniel rolled his eyes. “It’s a he.”
Who is this, I texted back. A few seconds later, the girl’s phone pinged again.
DOES IT MATTER? OPEN THE DOOR BETWEEN CARS AND GET OUT. LEAVE YOUR BROTHER AND FRIEND BEHIND SO THEY DON’T GET HURT.
“Trap,” Daniel and Jamie said simultaneously.
“Hey,” Curly Girl said, clearly annoyed now. “My phone?”
Jamie looked at her and said, “This isn’t your phone.” Her forehead creased and her eyes glazed over. “You dropped your phone on the tracks.”
“I dropped it?” Her voice wavered as she looked back and forth between Jamie and the phone in my hands.
“Yes. Run along now.” Jamie gestured at her. “Shoo.”
When she walked away, I stood up.
“Oh, come on, Mara,” Jamie said.
Daniel was shaking his head as he spoke. “You’re not going out there.”
“Of course I’m going out there.” More static from the speaker, but no lights and no movement still. Daniel and Jamie were right. Obviously right. And I was in no frame of mind to process the picture other than to seize it as proof that Noah was, in fact, alive. I had to make sure he stayed that way. I had to make sure Daniel and Jamie stayed that way too.
“Sister, I love you, and I would do anything for you, but I really do not want to creep around in the bowels of the New York City transit system for you. Please do not make me.”
“Not only am I not making you,” I said as I reached for the handle of the door between the cars. “I’m not going to let you.”
“You’re not going to stop me,” Daniel said.
Jamie bent over. If he’d had hair, he’d have been pulling it. “Damn it, Mara. We’ve been here before.”