So I decided. I looked at Joseph in the rearview mirror. “I don’t think we should mention it. Mom will freak out, I mean—freak out. She might be too scared to let you play soccer any more, you know?” Guilt flared inside of me at the lies, but the truth could break Joseph, and I wouldn’t be the one to do it to him. “And Dad will probably sue the school or something. Maybe just use the pool shower outside, get into bed, and I’ll tell her you didn’t feel well last night and asked me to come pick you up?”
Joseph nodded in the backseat. “Okay,” he said evenly. He didn’t even question me; he trusted me that much. My throat tightened.
Noah pulled onto our street. “This is your stop,” he said to Joseph. My brother got out of the car after Noah shifted it into park. I followed suit before Noah could open the door.
Joseph walked to the driver’s side window and reached in. He shook Noah’s hand. “Thanks,” my brother said, flashing a dimpled grin at Noah before heading to our house.
I leaned down to the open passenger window, and said, “We’ll talk later?”
Noah paused, staring straight ahead. “Yes.”
But we didn’t get the chance.
I met up with Joseph back at the house. All three cars were in the driveway now. Joseph showered outside, then we crept in through my bedroom window so as not to wake anyone. My brother was smiley, and tiptoed down the hallway with exaggerated steps like it was a game. He closed his bedroom door and, presumably, went to bed.
I had no idea what he thought, what he was thinking about all this, or why he let me off so easily. But I ached with exhaustion and couldn’t begin to work through it. I peeled off my clothes and turned on my shower, but found that I couldn’t even stand. I sank down under the stream of water, shivering despite the heat. My eyes were blank, vacant as I stared at the tile. I didn’t feel sick. I wasn’t tired.
I was lost.
When the water ran cold, I got up, threw on a green T-shirt and striped pajama bottoms, and went to the family room, hoping the television could dull the droning non-thoughts in my brain. I sank into the leather couch and turned on the TV. I scrolled through the guide but saw little besides infomercials, while the news hummed in the background.
“Locals reported a massive fish kill this morning in Everglades City.”
My ears pricked at the mention of Everglades City. I closed the guide, my eyes and ears riveted to the plastic-looking anchorwoman as she spoke.
“Biologists called out to the scene are saying it’s most likely due to oxygen depletion in the water. A startling number of alligator corpses are thought to be the culprit.” The video switched to a freckled, blond woman in khaki shorts with a microphone pointed at her bandana-covered mouth. She stood in front of an eerily familiar looking body of murky water; the camera panned in on the white-bellied, dead alligators floating in it, surrounded by hundreds of fish. “An abundance of decomposing matter in the water soaks up a large amount of oxygen, killing off fish in the area in a matter of hours. Of course, in this case, whatever killed the alligators could have killed the fish. A chicken and the egg puzzle, if you will.”
The anchor-mannequin spoke again: “The possibility of illegal dumping of hazardous waste is being investigated as well. Herpetologists at the Metro Zoo are expected to do necropsies on the animals over the next couple of days, and we’ll be sure to report the results right here. In the meantime, tourists might want to steer clear of the area,” she said, holding her nose.
“You aren’t kidding, Marge. That has got to stink! And now over to Bob for the weather.”
My arm shook as I held out the remote and turned the television off. I stood, swaying on alien feet, as I made my way to the kitchen sink for some water. I pulled a cup from the cabinet and stood at the counter, my mind reeling.
The place they showed on camera didn’t look exactly the same.
But I was there in the middle of the night; surely it would look different in the daytime.
But maybe it was somewhere else entirely. Even if it wasn’t, maybe something had poisoned the water.
Or maybe I hadn’t been there at all.
I filled the plastic cup and brought the water to my lips. I accidentally caught my reflection in the dark kitchen window.
I looked like the ghost of a stranger.
Something was happening to me.
I heaved the plastic cup at the dark glass and watched my reflection blur away.
I WOKE UP THE NEXT DAY IN A SKELETAL, INSTITUTIONAL bed inside the Tamerlane State Lunatic Asylum. The mattress beneath me was torn to pieces and filthy. The bed frame groaned as I shifted and I looked down at myself. I was dressed in black. Someone kissed my neck behind me. I whipped around.
It was Jude. He smiled, and snaked his arm around my waist, pulling me closer.
“Come on, Jude. Not here.” I ducked under his arm and stood up, tripping over the debris and insulation on the floor.
He followed me, and backed me up against the wall.
“Shhh, just relax,” he said, as he lifted his hand to my cheek and went for my mouth. I turned my head away. His breath was hot on my neck.
“I don’t want to do this right now,” I said, my voice hoarse. Where was Rachel? Claire?
“You never want to do this,” he mumbled against my skin.
“Maybe because you do it so badly.” My stomach clenched as soon as the words were out of my mouth.
Jude was still. I chanced a brief look at his face; his eyes were vacant. Lifeless. And then he smiled, but there was no warmth in it.
“Maybe it’s because you’re a tease,” he said, and his smile faded. I needed to leave. Now.
I tried to extract myself from between his body and the wall by pushing against his chest with my palms.
He pushed back. It hurt.
How was this happening? I’d learned over the past two months that Jude had his dick moments—entitled, spoiled, obnoxious—typical Alpha male garbage. But this? This was a whole new level of fucked up. This was—
Jude pressed me against the dusty, crumbling wall with the full weight of his body, cutting off my train of thought. I felt the individual hairs rise on the back of my neck and assessed my dwindling options.
I could scream. Rachel and Claire might be close enough to hear me, but they might not. If they weren’t—well. Things would get uglier.
I could smack him. That would probably be stupid, as I’d seen Jude bench-press twice my body weight.
I could do nothing. Rachel would come looking for me eventually.