The walk to Andrew’s was sheer hell. In summary, I’ll just note, for future reference, that Simon shouldn’t be allowed to give directions to the restrooms, much less anyplace more complicated.
Three hours after we left the bus terminal, we arrived at Andrew’s place. Any other time, I’d have been gaping at the surrounding fields and woods, wondering why in hell anyone chose to live there, and praying I wouldn’t have to stay long. Right now, though, the isolation looked safe and quiet and welcoming.
As we walked up the long lane, I had visions of collapsing on the nearest couch while Simon explained the situation to Andrew. When he rang the bell, I was craning to see through the front window, looking for that sofa.
I rapped on the door . . . and it opened.
“No, that was not a spell,” I said before Simon could comment. “It wasn’t closed properly.”
I pushed it open farther and started to go in.
He nudged me aside and leaned in. “Andrew?” Then louder. “Andrew?”
“Now can we go in?”
“No, he might be out back.”
I sighed and plunked myself on the porch to wait while Simon checked. He came back saying there was no sign of Andrew and—finally—let us go inside.
Simon searched every room, getting more anxious by the second, until he reached the kitchen. There, he stared into a half-full cup of cold coffee for almost a minute.
“Yes, your dad’s friend is a slob,” I said, waving at the cup and other breakfast dishes.
“And I wasn’t being defensive. Andrew is a neat freak. He wouldn’t leave the place like this. Towel dropped in the bathroom. Mail all over the floor. Dishes on the table. Something happened.”
“Um, yeah. He got busy. It happens. I like things tidy, too, but come exam time . . .”
I was talking to myself. Simon had disappeared into the next room. When I caught up with him, he showed me a set of keys and a wallet.
“He didn’t just leave. It’s like what happened with my dad. He was there. And then he wasn’t. Disappeared.”
“So this is how your dad vanished?” I walked to the fridge, opened it and grabbed a Diet Coke.
“You shouldn’t just take—” He began as I popped open the can.
“I guess we can’t exactly ask first,” he said. “Go ahead. We’ll take food and drink.”
“Outside,” he said, opening a cupboard. “We can’t wait in here.”
“I really don’t think Andrew would mind.”
“No, and neither would whoever took him, if they’re after us. Get what you need. I’ll leave a note for Derek and Chloe.”
We retreated to the pool house. It was lovely. Dark and dank and cold. Stunk of chlorine and mildew. We set up lawn chairs. Then we sat and ate. When Simon was finished, he stood.
“I think we should take a look around,” he said. “In case we’re being watched.”
“Seriously? You really like this running-for-your-life stuff, don’t you?”
“No, Tori, believe it or not, I’d really rather be safe at home right now. I’d rather know my brother is safe. I’d rather know Chloe is safe. I’d rather know my dad is safe.”
He exhaled and slumped into the lawn chair.
“What?” I said. “Do you think I didn’t notice you left me off that list?”
“I left Rachelle off, too. I hope she’s okay, though. Same as I hope you’ll be okay.”
“Great. So the girl who’s been watching your back for two days gets as much sympathy as the one who betrayed you.”
“Watching my back? Like you watched Chloe’s with those gangbangers?”
“That was a mistake. I was running and I thought she was right behind me.”
“Did you check?” he repeated. “One glance over your shoulder to make sure she was still there?”
He shook his head. “I’m not accusing you of letting that girl grab Chloe so you could get away. I’m not accusing you of seeing her in trouble and deciding to do nothing about it. I know you didn’t look back. You never thought of it.”
“I was scared, okay? You want me to admit that? Fine.”
“Chloe would have looked back for you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course she would. Because Chloe is good and perfect.”
“No, because she thinks of others. I would have looked back, too, if you were behind me. Even Derek would have. Why? Because we’re a team now. We need to have each other’s backs. No matter what.”
“No matter what you think of the other person, you mean.”
He groaned and dropped his face into his hands.
“Oh, please. Don’t go all drama queen. I know you don’t like me.”
He lifted his head. “No, I don’t. When I first met you at Lyle House, I liked you well enough. But I let you know I wasn’t interested in you as a girlfriend. I tried to do it nicely. It was nothing personal—I had too much else on my mind to think about girls—and I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. But you wouldn’t stop. Then Chloe came along and I paid attention to her because I thought she needed a friend, and you went nuts. You locked her in a basement crawlspace. Tied up and gagged.”
“I’d have gone back for her.”
“So that makes it okay? The only thing that made it even slightlyokay was thinking you were mentally ill. Only you weren’t.”
He sighed and shook his head.
“What? I was. And I was stressed out.”
“So it’s not your fault. No reason to take responsibility. Sure as hell no reason to apologize. You’ve treated us like shit, Tori. Me, Chloe, Derek. You’ve made it clear that you think we’re all losers and you’re only here because you have no choice. And you seem to think we should be okay with that. We should start to treat you better. You haven’t stuck a knife in our backs, so obviously you’ve changed and we’re jerks for not seeing that.”
When I said nothing, he pushed to his feet. “I’m going to scout outside. Are you coming?”
He stood there a minute, sighed again, said, “Suit yourself,” and left.
After Simon was gone, I lay on the inflatable raft and closed my eyes. It didn’t take long for me to start dozing. Not really sleeping, just slipping in and out of consciousness.
A hand shook my shoulder. I leapt up, but no one was there. I rubbed my eyes and shook my head. I’d been dreaming.
I closed my eyes and drifted into the dream again. A hand touched my shoulder, shaking me. I was back on the bus. It was dark and warm and I just wanted to sleep, but Chloe kept shaking my shoulder.
“Tori?” she whispered. “We’re at a truck stop. It’s Derek. He . . . he’s not feeling good. It could be the Change again. He needs to get off the bus. I’m going with him.”
“Are you awake? Did you hear what I said?”
She said something else, but I was already drifting back to sleep. Then she was gone.
I bolted upright in the pool house. Chloe had told me they were getting off the bus. Damn it! I’d screwed up. I’d really—
No, wait. I hadn’t remembered this before, so that suggested it never really happened, that I’d just dreamed it now.
Of course. That was it. Damn Simon. He’d made me feel guilty and now I was dreaming that I’d let them down.
Unless I’d forgotten because I’d been half-asleep when it happened.
But Simon wouldn’t believe that. He’d think I’d lied because I’d wanted to push on to Andrew’s house, where I could get a soft bed and hot showers.
Chloe couldn’t have told me anything. I was sure of it.
Now that I was awake, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about what Simon had said. Had I ever apologized to Chloe for the crawlspace thing? I was pretty sure I hadn’t. At least, not a real apology. But how do you apologize for something like that? How do you say you’re sorry when, deep down, you still don’t really understand how it happened?
Simon said I kept defending myself. But I wasn’t just making up excuses. I really did think it was the meds or stress or a combination of the two, because otherwise . . . Otherwise, how do you explain it? I wasn’t a bad person. I wasn’t my mother. But I’d done a very bad thing, and no matter how hard I tried, I didn’t understand it myself.
I can’t say I acted on the spur of the moment. I can’t say I got angry, knocked her out and ran. I set it up. I put the rope and the gag in the crawlspace, and then I went and lured her to the basement. Knocking her out hadn’t been part of the plan, but the rest had.
I’d wanted to teach her a lesson. I’d wanted to make her afraid of me, and I thought this would do it. Later, when Derek said I could have killed her with the brick or suffocated her with the gag, my first thought was, “That’s nuts.” But later I realized he was right. My plan could have gone very wrong, and I hadn’t foreseen that. I hadn’t thought it through. Just like I hadn’t thought to look over my shoulder while those girls were chasing us.
My mom always said I was insensitive. Inconsiderate. Dad said I was just impulsive, maybe a little thoughtless. I’d always presumed they were wrong. After all, look what I did for Lara. Except now, lying here, I realized I hadn’t done it for Lara. I’d picked up her slack so I wouldn’t catch shit when stuff wasn’t done.