Door number three seemed the most promising. I went limp.
Jude did not care. He crushed into me with more force, and I fought the swirling hysteria rising in my throat. This was wrong, wrong wrong wrong wrong. Jude crushed his mouth against mine, panting, and the force of him pushed me deeper into the wall, setting loose small clouds of dust that billowed around my body. I felt nauseous
“No,” I whispered. I sounded so far away.
Jude didn’t answer. His pawing hands were rough and clumsy under my coat, under my sweatshirt, under my shirt. The cold of his skin against my stomach made me gasp. Jude laughed at me.
It sparked a cold, rocking fury inside of me. I wanted to kill him. I wished that I could. I pulled one of his hands off my body with a force I didn’t know I had. He replaced it, and without thinking I hauled off and smacked him.
I did not even have the opportunity to register the sting on my hand before I felt it on my face. On my face. Jude’s blow came so fast and so fierce that it seemed to take me minutes, or hours, to realize he’d even hit me back. My eyeball felt like it was dangling from my socket. The pain bit at me from the inside. My whole being was hot with it.
Shaky-limbed and crying—was I crying?—I began to sink. Jude pulled me up, up, and pinned me, trapped me against the wall. I trembled so furiously against it that bits give way against my hands, my arms, my legs. Jude trailed his tongue over my cheek, and I shuddered.
Then Claire’s voice rang out, cutting the charged, silent air. “Mara?”
Jude backed away just a little, only a little, but my feet would not move. My cheeks were cold and itchy with tears and his saliva that I couldn’t wipe away. My breath was ragged, my sobbing silent. I raged at myself for not knowing the hollow stranger standing near me. And I raged at him for hiding himself so well, for tricking me, trapping me, crushing me. I felt something tug at the edges of my mind, threatening to pull me down.
A pair of footsteps a few feet away brought me back. Claire called my name again on the other side of the doorway; I couldn’t see her, but I clung to that voice, tried to shake off the infuriating helplessness and powerlessness that clogged my throat and weighed down my feet.
Her flashlight danced around the room and finally landed on Jude as he stepped out from behind the wall, raising tiny cumulus clouds of dust.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hey,” Jude replied with a calm, even smile. It was impossibly more frightening than his rage. “Where’s Rachel?”
“She’s looking for the blackboard room to add our names to the list,” Claire said quietly. “She wanted me to come back and make sure you guys weren’t lost.”
“We’re good,” Jude said and beamed, flashing those all-American dimples. He winked at her.
The shrieking violence inside of me escaped in only a faint, wretched whisper. “Don’t leave.”
Jude stared hard into my face, his eyes reflecting pure anger. He didn’t give me a chance to speak before turning back to Claire. He grinned and rolled his eyes. “You know Mara,” he said. “She’s a little freaked out. I’m taking her mind off of it.”
“Ah,” Claire said, and chuckled softly. “You two kids have fun.” I heard her footsteps retreat.
“Please,” I said, a little louder this time.
The footsteps paused for a moment—one bright, hopeful moment—before picking up again. Then they faded into nothingness.
Jude was back. His meaty hand pushed against my chest, crushing me back into the wall. “Shut up,” he said, and unzipped my coat in one harsh motion. He unzipped my sweatshirt in another. Both garments hung limp from my shoulders.
“Don’t move,” he warned me.
I was frozen—completely, stupidly incapacitated. My teeth chattered and my body shook with anger against the wall as Jude fumbled with the button on my jeans, popping it out of the buttonhole. I had only one thought, just one, that had crawled like an insect into my brain and beat its wings until I could hear nothing else, think nothing else, and until nothing else mattered.
He deserved to die.
As Jude unzipped my fly, three things happened at once.
Rachel’s voice called out my name.
Dozens of iron doors slammed shut in a deafening clang.
Everything went black.
THE SOUND OF MY MOTHER’S VOICE SHOCKED me awake.
“Happy birthday!” She stood next to my bed and smiled down at me. “She’s awake, guys! Come on in.”
I watched numbly as the rest of my family paraded into my room, carrying a stack of pancakes with a candle in the middle. “Happy birthday,” they sang.
“And many moooooreeee,” Joseph added, with jazz hands.
I put my face in my hands and tugged on my skin. I didn’t even remember going to sleep last night, but here I was in bed this morning. Waking up from my dream-memory-nightmare about the asylum.
And about the Everglades?
What happened last night? What happened that night? What happened to me? What happened?
My father pushed the plate at me. A tiny droplet of wax rolled down the side of the candle and lingered, trembling like a lone tear, before it hit the first pancake. I didn’t want it to fall. I took the plate and blew the candle out.
“It’s nine thirty,” my mother said. “Enough time for you to eat something and shower before Noah picks you up.” She brushed a strand of hair out of my face. My eyes wandered to Daniel. He winked at me. Then my gaze shifted to my father, who didn’t look as thrilled with this plan. Joseph beamed and waggled his eyebrows. He didn’t look tired. He didn’t look afraid.
And my shoulder didn’t hurt.
Did I dream it?
I wanted to ask Joseph, but I didn’t see how to get him alone. If it had happened, if he had been taken, I couldn’t let my mother know—not until I spoke to Noah. And if it hadn’t happened, I couldn’t let my mother know. Because she would have me committed for sure.
And at this point, I would be completely unable to argue with her.
I hovered on the edge of the dream and the memory, unable to tell which was which, as I accepted my family’s kisses and my present, a digital camera. I thanked them. They left. I pushed one leg out of bed, then the other, and planted my feet on the floor. Then one foot, then the next foot, until I reached my bathroom. Rain lashed the small window and I stared straight at the shower door, hovering between the vanity and the toilet. I couldn’t look in the mirror.