I stopped short. “Do you want to go back?”
He rubbed his forehead with both hands and pulled at his face until his eyes drooped.
“No.” He dragged out the word.
“Then kindly shut up and help me.”
But, Stella found us first. She’d relied on the old hide-in-the-broom-closet trick, except that when we passed it, she reached out and grabbed Jamie by the sleeve, making him scream, which made me scream.
“What is wrong with you?” Jamie said, hitting her lightly on the shoulder.
“Sorry! I wanted to get your attention without calling out.”
“That worked out well for all of us,” he replied.
Stella looked mostly the way I remembered her, except for the clean mom jeans she wore, along with a weirdly formal silky blouse. I couldn’t imagine her choosing those clothes for herself—I couldn’t imagine anyone choosing them for themselves. But her face was the same—her olive skin healthy, her black hair shiny and brushed. And she wasn’t covered in blood or any other bodily fluids. Of the three of us, I was the mess.
“My God, Mara. It’s good to see you, but you look—”
“No, but, like, really—”
“I know,” I said. I turned a corner, then another one, trying to follow my faded, faulty memories, but there was no part of me—no conscious part, anyway—that recognized where we were. Jamie was equally clueless.
But Stella wasn’t. If it weren’t for her, we might never have found it.
“She brought me back here, once, for some kind of written test,” she said as we stood silently in front of a nondescript door. But this one had an extra little camera thingy above the top right corner of it. A retinal scanner. Just where Jude said it would be.
“Well?” Jamie asked. “Use the eye.”
I reached out to hand it to him.
He backed away, shaking his head. “Nope. I’m squeamish.”
I looked at Stella.
“Not a chance.”
“I need one of you to do this,” I explained. “There’s a map inside, and our files.”
“So . . . come look with us?”
I felt a flare of anger and tried to swallow it down. “Haven’t you noticed that one of us is missing?”
Stella and Jamie exchanged an uncomfortable glance.
“I can’t be here. I have to find Noah.”
“Mara,” Stella started to say. “Noah’s not . . .”
“Alive,” Jamie finished.
I ignored the word that came before it. “He’s alive,” I said with an intensity that shut both of them up. “Jude said he is. He said he was going to find him, and he found both of you and let you out, didn’t he?” Jamie opened his mouth to speak, but I didn’t wait for him to answer. “I was supposed to come here, to get our files—the real ones, so we can finally understand what the fuck is happening to us and then find the map that will lead us out of this place. But first I need to find Noah.” I struggled to explain what it felt like, knowing he was alive, knowing he was here but not with me. I couldn’t. “So you get the files”—I looked at Stella—“you get the map,” I said to Jamie, “and I’ll find you again.”
Jamie put a tentative hand on my shoulder and I flinched without meaning to. “Okay,” he said quietly. “Listen. I know you want to find him. But it doesn’t make sense for you to try before you even know where you’re going. So come in, we’ll get the files, get the map, and then get out. Together. We’ll do this together. Okay?”
I looked at my friend. He had always been on my side, even when he hadn’t agreed with me. He didn’t believe that Noah was alive, but at the moment it didn’t matter. He was right. I would have a better chance of finding Noah if I had the map first.
So I handed the tape recorder to him and opened my fist. Wayne’s brown eye stared at nothing. I pinched it very carefully between my thumb and forefinger and held it just above my own eyes, like Jude said.
The door unlocked. We went inside.
I THINK ALL OF US half-expected to find a swat team armed and waiting for us. Or to be felled by poison darts or something. But when I entered Dr. Kells’s office, with Jamie and Stella flanking each shoulder, the room was dark and silent.
The room was also practically empty. Distressingly blank. There were no papers on the metal desk, which was really just a worktable, but there was a worn Persian rug beneath it, looking out of place in the sterile room. There were no notebooks, no file folders, not even an office chair—just a little metal stool. It looked nothing like an office, even, except for the wall-to-wall file cabinets, which I prayed weren’t empty.
“Where do we start?” Stella asked. “And what are we looking for, exactly? Can someone catch me up?”
I looked at Jude’s watch. Twelve thirty-six. In the morning, I assumed. We had passed no windows, and there was no way to tell whether it was night or day, but I guessed night. It seemed more appropriate.
If what Jude had said was true, Kells knew where we were, and she was probably watching us right now, so I played the tape. We listened to Jude’s message together. It sounded even stranger in Kells’s office, somehow, than it had in the room with Wayne, and I noticed things I’d missed the first time. Jude’s voice sounded softer than I remembered it. More earnest. There was no edge to it, no hint of sarcasm or impatience. And he sounded sick. I heard him faintly wheezing between words, and his breath rattled when he coughed.
“He never told us where to find the map,” Stella said when the tape ended. “It could be anywhere. And there’s only one way in and out.” She flicked a nervous glance at the door.
“That we know of,” Jamie added.
They were both right. “But why would Jude help us escape just to trap us in her office, when we were exactly where she wanted us before?”
“Maybe he doesn’t want what she wants anymore,” Stella said. “Maybe . . . ” Her voice drifted off. “When he took us before, I was on my way back to my room, and he just grabbed me. Stuck something into my arm, and I passed out and woke up in the Zen garden, tied up like you saw.”
Jamie picked at his lips. “Same with me. And he never said anything to us, not until you got there. He was just—quiet. Focused.”
Stella closed her eyes, and her thick eyebrows drew together. “Megan woke up, and she was begging him not to hurt her.”