Sarah makes me a hot chocolate and wraps a blanket around me as I cup it in my hands.
“I don’t know how you didn’t notice how cold it was but be happy you haven’t lost any fingers,” she says. Now that I’m inside a warm house, I feel absolutely freezing. My fingers and toes ache from the cold and I sip my hot chocolate, hoping it’ll warm me.
Sarah sits down in front of me, crossing her legs. Her glasses are on crooked and he eyes seem puffy. I feel bad for waking her up.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” she says.
“What makes you think something is wrong?” I ask, gingerly sipping my drink.
“You wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t. Now what is it?”
Looking down at the shaggy black carpet, I clear my throat and say, “I tried to kill Marcus.”
Sarah stares at me, her mouth gaping open. Then she seems to get ahold of herself and she shuts her mouth, sitting up straight and clearing her throat. “Judging by the use of the word ‘tried,’ I’m assuming you didn’t accomplish it,” she says.
“Right,” I say. I’ve started shivering now, but that’s probably a good thing, considering I felt warm earlier. I know that feeling warm can be a sign of hypothermia.
I peer at her face, looking for signs of amusement. “Aren’t you supposed to be scolding me right now? Or at least scared or angry or something?”
“Look, I already know about everything that’s going on. If you didn’t think about killing him at least once, I would think that there’s something wrong with you. Now tell me what happened and we can decide what to do next.”
Sighing, I take a deep breath and begin with what happened with Matt. That I traded him a book for the drink, and that it worked. I tell her about Tiffany, and then what happened earlier at Marcus’s, trying to quickly catch her up on the events.
“I had a chance to kill him and I couldn’t do it. I can’t believe I did that. If I could go back, I’d rip his heart out with laughter, but I can’t now. So stupid.”
“Yeah, it was pretty stupid,” Sarah agrees.
“Hey,” I say, glaring at her.
She shrugs. “I didn’t say I was gonna be sympathetic. But honestly, Jules, I think the best thing for you and Logan to do is leave. The most important thing here is both of you guys’s protection, and that’s the only way to guarantee it. At least, temporarily.”
“Yeah,” I say quietly, nodding. It seems like a good idea, but I can’t just leave everything behind like that. And what am I gonna tell Mom? But then again, I told Cecilia that we’d leave anyway, so what’s the difference? Better now than later.
“So are you going to do it?” Sarah asks.
I look at her, confused. “Do what?”
“Leave,” she says, like it’s obvious.
“Oh. I don’t know. I’ll call you and tell you if we do, but otherwise our plan is still on. And Luke is in on it, so maybe you should go down there together tomorrow to work all the details out.”
Sarah and I talk some more, and I don’t end up leaving for another hour or so. It feels good having someone I can tell everything to and not having them be angry at me or scared of me. I don’t think I leave out a single detail and at the end of it, it feels like a weight has been lifted off my chest. Especially about Marshall. I don’t think I’ll be having any more weird visions of him or anything, at least not anytime soon.
It’s almost morning by the time I get home, and as soon as I do, I go to Logan’s room.
“Logan, get up,” I hiss, shaking her sleeping body.
“What do you want?” she says, her eyes still closed.
“We’re switching places, remember? Give me your clothes, then go into my room and get some of mine.”
“Oh my god,” she groans, then reluctantly rolls out of bed. In her drowsiness she luckily doesn’t notice my bloody, torn-up clothes, and I quickly dispose of them when she’s gone. I plop down into her bed and end up falling asleep, awakening again not long after to the sound of an alarm buzzing in my ears. Good thing, too, because I’m pretty sure my dream was about to take a dark turn.
I stumble my way down the hall into my room, wake Logan up, then get ready for the day. I pick out a pair of Logan’s jeans and a long-sleeve lace yellow shirt, even putting my makeup on like she does.
It isn’t long before we have to leave so we can retrieve Mom from the hospital, but upon walking to the garage I realize that I’m going to have to drive. I have never driven before.
All in all, the ride goes okay. I almost caused two wrecks, my turns were super sharp, and I always hit the brakes too hard, but I thought it wasn’t bad for my first time. Logan seemed terrified though.
Mom is wheeled out to us and Logan helps her into the back seat, then hops back into the front with me. Mom seems weak and tired, but at least she’s well enough to be checked out of the hospital now, I guess. Plus her memory is back, so that’s good, too.
“Logan, why has your driving gotten eight times worse since I’ve been in the hospital?” Mom asks after I brake too hard at a stop sign.
It’s not until Logan nudges me with her elbow that I realize that she’s talking to me. “Oh, um, I don’t know. I’m just nervous, I guess.”
Looking in the rear view mirror, I can see that Mom looks nauseous and I slow down. I manage to get us home safely, though I have a feeling it’ll be a while before I drive again.
I help Mom into the living room and lay her down on the couch.
At lunch I make her jello, make Logan and I spaghetti, and after that, I follow Logan into my room to talk to her.
“What is it?” she asks, sitting on my bed.
I join her, bringing my knee up beside me. “I want you to know that you don’t have to worry about Marcus. We have that back-up plan set up in case it goes wrong. You’re gonna be fine, okay? Let’s stay switched and there’s no way you’ll get hurt.”
Logan’s eyes seem . . . sad, almost. She gives me a tiny smile like she doesn’t really believe me. “Yeah,” she says quietly.
I try to shake off the feeling I get from her, that she thinks she’s not going to make it, and continue. “Anyway, I was talking to Sarah and she told me something. I think she’s right. We need to leave. Like, now. It’s way too dangerous to stay here and it’d be best if we just left for a little while. We can come up with something to tell Mom on the way.”
“Julia,” Logan starts, “are you sure that’s the best idea? I mean, Marcus isn’t going to stop until one of us is dead. Maybe we should just stay here and face him. Get it over with.”
“No,” I say, shaking my head. “We need to leave.”
The same sad look on Logan’s face from earlier passes over her again. “Okay,” she practically whispers.
I search her eyes out to see if she’s serious. “Okay?” I reply.
She nods. Relief floods over me and I have to let out a sigh.
I jump to my feet. “All right, you get some things together and wake up Mom, I’ll go start the jeep and call Sarah and Luke so they won’t go to the woods tonight.” I fly out the door, down the hallway, and past Mom sleeping on the couch, but when I get close to the side door, I hear something strange. It almost sounds like . . . like laughter. That’s crazy, Jules, you’re just starting to lose it after everything.
I swing open the side door and step out, then freeze in my tracks. I was right about the laughter. Two people are sitting down in lawn chairs a few feet away from the door. One is a man, the other a woman, and they both stop laughing and stand up when they see me.
“Guys!” The woman yells. “One of them is over here!”
The man steps forward, smiling at me. After a second I recognize him as Marcus’s helper at the warehouse. His smile sends chills down my spine and on instinct I step back, bumping into the door, which is now closed, behind me.
“What is this?” I say, glancing between the man and the woman behind him. Two more people come running around the house, one coming from the front and one coming from the back, both of them men. The two men and the woman appear to be either in their late twenties or early thirties.
The man I met at the warehouse seems to be the unannounced leader, now speaking to me.
“We’re here to make sure you don’t try to go anywhere before tonight.” He steps even closer to me, close enough I can feel his breath coming from his mouth as he speaks. “You weren’t trying to go anywhere, were you?” he says slowly, carefully articulating the words.
Something about the gleam in his eyes and the way he speaks to me runs goosebumps down my skin, and every molecule in my body is screaming at me to run.
“No,” I say quietly, unable to tear my eyes away from his.
“Look at that,” one of the men says, nudging the other one. “Z’s scaring her.”
They snicker to each other, then the taller one of the two talks to the man hovering over me right now. “Yo, you got this, man?”
“Yeah,” he says. “You can go back to your posts.” The other two men shuffle off in opposite directions, and then it’s just me, the man who I assume is called Z, and the woman.
“I seem to recall you throwing me across a room at the warehouse,” Z says. His face comes forward until he’s just mere millimeters away and I squeeze myself back against the door as hard as I can trying to get away from him. His hands come up on both sides of my head, blocking me in. “I think maybe I should pay you back for that.”
He smiles, his teeth now elongated into a point. His eyes go from dark brown to bright, neon yellow, and his creep factor seems to triple.
“You must be mistaking me for my sister,” I manage to get out. “I’m Logan.
He smile seems to get bigger. “That’s even better.”
“C’mon, Z,” the woman says, putting her hand on his shoulder, “I think you’ve made your point. Marcus wanted us to guard them, not harass them.”
Z’s head flips around as he yells at her, though his hands still stay by the sides of my head. “Shut up, Lorraine! Just close your eyes and pretend you’re not here!”
He turns back to me and runs a claw slowly down my throat, not hard enough to hurt, but still uncomfortable. At the feel of his touch on my skin, fury mixes with my fear and I want to shove him off and claw his neck open, yet I can’t. Something’s holding me back and keeping me frozen in place.
His eyes look up from my neck to me. “You don’t have to be scared,” he says, though being scared seems to be exactly what he wants. His lips land on my neck and he begins kissing me. I want to knee him in the groin, do something, anything, but it feels as if invisible glue is keeping me stuck to the door. My body stiffens and every muscle tenses up. If I could just move, I could take him, I know I could. His hand reaches underneath my shirt, slowly going higher and higher.
God, god, why can’t you move? Move, Julia, move!
But I don’t have to move. The woman–Lorraine–grabs him and yanks him off. Suddenly, I feel as if I can move again and I grab the door handle, darting inside while they fight with each other outside. I lock the door, once again leaning on it but on the opposite side now, and slowly slide down to the ground. I rest my face in my hands, my breathing out of control. I feel as if I just dodged a huge bullet, and though Lorraine is probably a despicable person as well, I feel like I owe her something.
“Julia, are you okay?” I raise my head to find Logan standing in the kitchen in front of me.
“Yeah, I say, standing up, rubbing my hands on my jeans. “But I don’t think we’re going anywhere anytime soon. Marcus has people outside, and I’m pretty sure if we try to go anywhere they’ll attack us. But for now they’re just sitting outside.”
“Take a look,” I say, gesturing to the door. I step behind her as she unlocks the door, then cracks it open enough for us to see out. Z and Lorraine are back to sitting in their lawn chairs, once again getting along. Z sees us, gives me a wicked grin, and twirls his fingers at us. Logan quickly slams the door and relocks it.
“I don’t like the way he was looking at us,” Logan says. “He’s creepy.”
“I know,” I agree. “Plus there’s two more guys out there, one on the front and one in the back. I think we’re going to have to rely on our backup plan now unless we find a way to get out.”
Logan agrees with me and we go back into the living room, where Mom is now awake.
“Julia, why did you wake me up?” she asks, rubbing her eyes. I stiffen but relax when I realize that she’s talking to Logan.
“Sorry, it’s just . . . it’s time for you to take your pills,” Logan says, somehow coming up with a believable lie. Not only that, but it is time for her to take some more pills.
“I got it,” I say, and Logan gives me a nod before walking down the hallway, into my room. I get Mom some water and her pills, trying to think of ways to get out of her without being seen. Logan and I can’t take all four of them.
They’re only guarding three sides of the house. If we crawl out one of our bedroom windows we might be able to avoid them.
I sit on that thought for a while, although another one keeps entering my head. Why couldn’t I move?
I can’t figure it out, but the sick feeling of his lips on my neck never entirely leaves my mind. The minutes slowly start turning over to hours, and I know that we’re running out of time. I feel like we’re just sitting ducks.
I check the time on the wall. Ten o’clock. Anytime now and they’ll be coming for us.
Mom says she’s getting tired again, and she asks us to help her into her room, which I’m happy to do. We help her into her pajamas and I turn the tv on for her, setting the remote on the bed next to her.
“Any ideas on what we’re gonna do?” Logan asks, gently closing the door behind her.
“I thought that we might be able to sneak out the window on this side of the house,” I say, putting my hands up to show which side I mean. “They might not see us. We could go somewhere and find help. I don’t think they’ll bother Mom; Marcus wouldn’t allow it. Only us. So she should be fine if we leave and find help. Then we can get her and all leave together.”
Logan nods. “I guess it’s worth a shot.”
She follows me into her room, then starts to open the window to the right of her bed.
“Wait,” I say, “let me shift first. It’s dark out and I want to be able to see better.” I close my eyes for a moment, feel my claw slide out of my fingertips, and reopen my eyes knowing that they’re glowing.
“You’re getting fast at that,” Logan says. She slides the window open, then braces herself to hop out. She lifts herself up from above the window and slides her legs through, then drops to the ground outside.
I hear a gasp and see her waving at me. “Logan, Logan, hurry up, someone saw me, he’s coming.”
I stick my head out and see someone in our backyard, getting out of a lawn chair. It’s set up so that he can see behind the house and down this side at the same time. He starts running toward us.
“Julia, run,” I say. I shove on her shoulder. “Run, I’m right behind you.”
She doesn’t look like she wants to but she turns and runs toward the front of the house. I lift myself up like Logan did and jump out, landing in front of the man running after her.
I bare my teeth at him and take a couple steps back, then stand my ground. I’m gonna have to fight him.
He comes at me and I duck, then slash across his back. His fighting is sloppy, too aggressive. He comes at me again and this time I roll beside his legs, slashing them as I go by. I end up back where I started, but now I take the offensive, clawing at him viciously. I hit his chest and neck a few times, but they start healing quickly after.
With Logan running away, I have a strong motivation to protect her, giving me strength and bravery I didn’t know I had. Growling, his fist comes up to hit me and I duck. I shoot back up, letting out a roar before I can stop myself. I swing my fist and it collides with his jaw, sending him spiraling. My fist hurts from it, but I end up smiling, quite enjoying winning this fight.
A twig snaps behind me. Before I can check it out, I feel my head flings sideways. Then I'm engulfed by darkness.