“You’re wondering if he betrayed you?” David’s eyes narrowed a bit. “How little you trust him.” His sentence was punctuated by the ringing metallic clang of metal on metal and the sound of approaching footsteps. “Speak of the devil,” David said, and then Noah appeared behind him.
I DULLY STALK BEHIND MY father, briefly noting the fiberglass army of armless, headless mannequins that surround us. They seem to stiffen at my arrival, to cringe at my too loud steps. So sinister. Lovely touch.
Walking feels like an effort, as does thinking, unfortunately. My vision is oddly tunneled; we appear to be in a large, probably condemned warehouse of standard decrepitude; the plaster is peeling off of the dingy once-white walls, the casement windows are thick with grime, et cetera. I notice a sign just outside one of the windows with the words STORAGE WAREHOUSE: FIREPROOF painted on it, except someone had blackened out the letters so that it read, RAGE WAREHOUSE: IREPROOF. Mara would love that so much.
Thinking her name cuts through something in my brain, steals the laughter from my throat. And then I see her.
But it isn’t Mara—or at least it isn’t the Mara I remember. The one with quick, smudged fingers, lips that couldn’t decide whether to swear or smile, with eyes that told me nothing about her and everything about me.
The last time I saw that Mara, she stood held against Jude’s body, his blade at her naked throat. Or no, no, that wasn’t the last time. A split-second frame flickers in my mind, a quick and blurred picture of her pressing Jude against a wall, almost into it, with her hands at his throat, digging into his bare skin. And I remembered what preceded it. Mara began as his victim, and then she made him hers.
But it wasn’t just us fucked up teens that last night in Horizons. A scentless something invaded the air, made it shimmer and wave. I remembered my voice as I called out to her, the way it competed with the sound of blood rushing beneath my skin, with the sound of my ragged breath roaring in my ears, before my world went black.
God knew how many minutes, hours, days I’d spent in darkness after that, waking up to be forced to eat by a person, or people, with blurred, blank faces and gloved hands, only to be swallowed back into unconsciousness as a dark, wet tongue pushed me to the back of its throat. I remembered practically nothing until today, when my father’s face appeared at the door.
“You’re safe now,” he said, and miracle of miracles, led me out into the world. I felt bliss for a moment when I saw the sky, until I realized it was the color of spoiled milk. My father seemed to be talking to me, reassuring me or something, but I had trouble translating the words. I did try to find some sliver of gratitude for him, some rejoicing at my freedom, but I felt absolutely nothing at all.
Until he mentioned her name.
My father had found her the way he’d found me, he said. She needed help that only I could give her, and would I go with him?
I would go anywhere, with anyone, to see the girl I loved again. Obviously.
The girl before me now doesn’t quite look like her. She is different in a way I can’t name, in a way that goes beyond her thinness, her new shape. If she were naked beneath the faded black T-shirt she wears (one of mine—the hem is half-torn), her ribs would show, her spine would protrude, her collarbones would cut glass. But she doesn’t look ill, not the way she had begun to before Horizons. Color blooms in her cheeks, and her eyes are lit with an emotion I can’t name. And there’s something more, more than the change in her features and in her body. Looking at her is like walking into a home you once lived in to find it changed by new, alien owners. She is bound, prone, and Jude, that absolute horror of a human being, looms over her, but she looks nothing like a damsel in distress. She looks like a dragon instead. I am struck dumb and thoughtless with the sense that I don’t know a thing about this person until she speaks my name.
The sound of her voice thaws my mind and my blood; it pulses hotly through my veins. I ignore Jude’s presence—she and I can butcher him together later. My feet carry me to my girl and I kneel and reach for her. Something stops me—not Jude. Not my father. My hand curls into a fist and falls by my side, and a strange, unfamiliar voice inside me whispers, Don’t.
I look to Mara for an answer to the question I haven’t asked. She says instead, “You’re here.” But what I hear in her tone is, Where were you?
My heart would break if it weren’t filled with happiness. Her voice is the same. It’s home.
My father pollutes the air with his, however. “Mara was told that Horizons collapsed.”
I look up in confusion. “Why?”
“To keep you safe,” he says to me.
“From what exactly?”
Mara is silent for a moment, and blinks her dark lashes that frame her too-wide eyes. They would look innocent on anyone else. “I would never hurt him.”
My father looks at her with no expression. “You already have.”
BUT NOAH WASN’T HURT. HE was alive. Whole.
I nearly choked on my own breath when I saw him, and when I heard him speak, I thought I would dissolve. If I had been standing, I would have fallen to my knees.
He wore unfaded jeans and a T-shirt, too new-looking to be his, and they hung loosely on his already lean frame. He knelt beside the table and examined my hands.
“Do you have something I can cut these with?” he asked his father. I blinked, confused, as his father withdrew something from a nylon briefcase beside him. My neck hurt trying to see what it was.
“Yes,” Jude mumbled. “Yes.”
Whatever warmth I’d felt at Noah’s timely reappearance vanished. Something was happening here, but I didn’t understand what.
Noah didn’t either, clearly. He cut the zip-ties on my wrists, on my ankles, with no protests from David or Jude. What were they playing at? What was this?
My limbs were shaky and weak, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand or run. But I could sit up. Noah helped me.
“What happened to you?” he asked as his hands gripped my shoulders, propping me up against the wall.
I laughed. I couldn’t help it; it just bubbled up from my throat. How could I even begin to answer that question?
Noah looked away from me, his jaw tense now. “Who did this to her?” He focused on Jude. His voice was flat when he asked his father, “Why is he here?”
David plucked a manila folder from his bag. “I told you today that I needed you to help her,” he said, and I wanted to spit in his face. “This is why.”