“Hell, yes,” I lied. I smiled for emphasis.
“Because we can turn around if you want.”
I can’t say his suggestion wasn’t appealing. Warm covers usually win over midnight excursions in the freezing cold.
But tonight was different. Rachel had been begging me to do this since last year. And now that she had Claire in her corner, my neuroses could cost me my best friend.
So instead of saying yes, emphatically yes, I rolled my eyes. “I said I was in. I’m in.”
“Or, we could stay here.” Jude pulled me toward him but I turned my head so that he caught my cheek.
“Do you want to turn around?” I asked, even though I knew the answer.
Jude pulled away, irritated. “I’ve already done this. It’s just an old building. Big deal.”
He launched himself out of the car and I followed. He’d be pissy later, but it was worth it. We’d been dating for only two months, and during the first one, I actually liked him. Who wouldn’t? He was the picture of all-American wholesomeness. Dark blond hair and green eyes, same as Claire’s. Big linebacker shoulders. And he was sweet. Syrup sweet. For the first month.
But lately? Not as much.
The passenger door of Claire’s car slammed and Rachel bounded out to meet me, her dark hair flouncing behind her.
“Mara! I’m so glad you came. Claire thought you’d chicken out at the last minute.” She hugged me.
I glanced at Claire, still huddled by the car. Her eyes narrowed slightly in return. She looked unfriendly and disappointed, likely hoping that I wouldn’t show up.
I lifted my chin. “And miss my chance to spend the night in this illustrious insane asylum? Never.” I placed an arm over Rachel and grinned at her. Then looked pointedly at Claire.
“What took you so long?” Claire asked us.
Jude shrugged. “Mara overslept.”
Claire smiled coldly. “Why am I not surprised?”
I opened my mouth to say something obnoxious, but Rachel took my hand which had frozen solid in the few moments I’d been outside and spoke first.
“It doesn’t matter, she’s here now. This is going to be so much fun, I promise.”
I looked up at the imposing Gothic building in front of us. Fun. Oh, yes.
Jude blew into his hands and pulled his gloves on. I steeled myself in anticipation of the long-ass night to come. I could do this. I would do this. Claire had made fun of me for freaking out after Rachel’s birthday party for the last time. I was sick of hearing about the Ouija board incident. And after tonight, I wouldn’t have to.
As I stared at the building, fear seeped into my bloodstream. Rachel withdrew her camera from her pocket and opened the shutter, then took my right hand again as Jude moved to hold my left. Still, their company and the contact didn’t make what we were about to do less terrifying. But I’d be damned before I freaked out in front of Claire.
Claire took out her video camera from her backpack before slinging it over her shoulder. She started walking toward the building and Rachel followed, pulling me along behind her. We reached a dilapidated fence with several NO TRESPASSING signs plastered along the length of the weathered wood, and I reflexively looked back up at the ominous institution above me, towering over us like something out of a Poe poem. The architecture of the Tamerlane State Lunatic Asylum was formidable, made more sinister by the creeping ivy that snaked its way along the front steps and expansive brick walls. The stone window facades crumbled in decay.
The plan was to spend the night in the abandoned building and head home at dawn. Rachel and Claire wanted to thoroughly explore it, and try to find the children’s wing and the rooms where shock therapy was administered. According to Rachel’s canonical horror literature, those would be the rooms most likely to contain any paranormal activity, and she and Claire planned to document our adventure for posterity. Hooray.
Jude inched closer to me, and I was actually grateful for his presence as Rachel and Claire scaled the rotting wood fence. Then it was my turn. Jude gave me a lift but I hesitated as I grabbed the fragile wood. After a few words of encouragement, I finally hoisted myself over with his help. I landed hard, into a rustling pile of decaying leaves.
The easiest way into the building was through the basement.
I KNEW RACHEL WANTED TO GO TO THE ASYLUM. But until the night after Mabel’s piece of shit owner died, I didn’t remember why I agreed.
On Saturday I tried to prepare myself to dream more, to remember more—to watch her die. I crawled into my sheets shaking, wanting and not wanting to see her again. I did, but it was the same dream. Nothing new on Sunday night, either.
It was a good sign, the remembering. It was happening slowly, but it was happening nonetheless. And without a psychologist or mind-altering chemicals. My mind was obviously altered enough.
I was almost glad to have Mabel to wonder and worry about all weekend, even if I couldn’t bring myself to try and find out Noah’s phone number. I figured I’d ask him how the dog was in English on Monday, but when I got to class, he wasn’t there.
Instead of listening, my mind and my pencil wandered over my sketchbook, drifting lazily as Ms. Leib collected our papers and discussed the difference between tragic heroes and antiheroes. Each time a student left or entered the classroom, my gaze shifted to the door, waiting for Noah to stroll in before the next bell rang. But he never did.
When class ended, I glanced at the drawing before closing the book and stuffing it in my bag.
Noah’s charcoal eyes squinted at me from the page, cast downward, the skin around them crinkled in laughter. His thumb grazed his bottom lip as his hand curled in a lazy fist at his brilliantly smiling mouth. He looked almost shy as he laughed. The pale plain of his forehead was smooth, relaxed mid-chortle.
My stomach churned. I flipped to the previous page, and noted with horror that I’d traced Noah’s elegant profile perfectly, from his high cheekbones down to the slight bump in his solemn nose. And on the page before that, his eyes stared back at me, aloof and unattainable.
I was afraid to keep looking. I needed serious help.
I shoved the sketchbook in my bag and glanced furtively over my shoulder, hoping no one saw. I was halfway to Algebra before I felt a light tap on my back. But when I turned around, no one was there. I shook my head. I felt strange all of a sudden, like I was floating through someone else’s dream.
By the time I arrived at Mr. Walsh’s classroom, I was surrounded by laughter. Some guys whistled when I walked in the room. Because I was finally wearing an iteration of the school uniform? I didn’t know. Something was happening, but I didn’t understand it. My hands trembled at my sides so I balled them into fists as I sat at the desk next to Jamie’s. That was when I noticed the sound of crunching paper behind me. The crunching of the paper that was taped to my back.