The car starts up and pulls away. Still holding Beth’s hand, I look out the window, seeing the white building of the clinic disappearing behind us. The road we’re on is unpaved and bumpy, and the atmosphere in the car is tense. The two men in the backseat with us are gripping their weapons tightly, and I again get the sense that they’re afraid of something . . . or someone.
I wonder if it’s Julian. Does he know what happened? Is he even now on his way to the clinic? I stare out the window, my eyes dry and burning. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I should be going back to the island today, back to the placid life I’ve had for the past year. It’s a life I crave now with a desperate intensity. I want to lie in Julian’s embrace, to feel his touch and smell the warm, clean scent of his skin. I want him to own me and protect me, to keep me safe from everything and everyone except himself.
But he’s not here. Instead the car is bumping along the road, taking us further and further away from safety. It’s hot inside, and I can smell the spicy odor of unwashed male bodies and sweat; it permeates the car, making me feel like I’m suffocating. Beth seems to be in shock, her face blank and withdrawn. I want to hug her, but we’re pressed too tightly together, so I just gently squeeze her hand instead. Her fingers are limp and clammy in my palm.
The ride seems to last forever, but it must be only about an hour, because the sun is still not all the way up in the sky when we arrive at our destination. It’s an airstrip in the middle of nowhere, and there is a sizable plane sitting there. It looks vaguely military to me. The men force us out of the car and drag us toward the plane. I do my best to walk where they’re leading me, not wanting to tear my stitches open. Beth doesn’t put up a fight either, though she seems too shellshocked to walk straight, forcing them to practically carry her in.
Inside, the plane is far from luxurious. As I had suspected, the body of the plane is military in style, with seats along the walls, instead of arranged into rows. It’s the kind of plane I’ve seen in movies, usually with Navy SEALs jumping out of it with parachutes. The men strap Beth and me into two of the seats and handcuff our hands before sitting down themselves.
The engines rev up, the plane begins to roll, and then we’re airborne, the sun shining brightly in my eyes.
By the time we land a couple of hours later, I’m dying of thirst and desperately need to pee. Sneaking a glance at Beth, I see that she’s in even worse discomfort, her eyes glazed and feverish-looking. The swelling on her face has turned into an ugly bruise, and her lips are crusted with blood. With my hands cuffed together, I can’t even reach over to give her a comforting pat on the arm.
As soon as the plane touches down, they unbuckle us and drag us out of the plane with our hands still cuffed in front of us. The leader approaches us, giving us a quick once-over before pointing toward a black SUV parked a few yards away. He spits out some order at his men, and I understand it to mean that our journey is about to continue. Before they can force us into the vehicle, however, I speak up. “Hey,” I say quietly, “I have to use the restroom.”
Beth flashes me a panicked look, but I ignore her, focusing my attention on the leader. I’m pretty sure I’d sooner die than piss my pants—or my hospital gown, as the matter may be. He hesitates for a second, staring at me, then jerks his thumb toward the bushes. “Go, bitch,” he says harshly. “You have one minute.”
I scramble toward the bushes, ignoring the man with a machine gun who follows me there. Thankfully, he looks away as I hike up my gown and squat to relieve myself, my face flaming with embarrassment. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Beth following my example a dozen yards away.
Once we’re both done, we get into another hot, stuffy car. This time, the ride is even longer, the road winding through what appears to be some kind of jungle. By the time we get to a nondescript warehouse-like building—our final destination—I’m soaked with sweat and badly dehydrated. I’m hungry too, but that need is secondary to the thirst that’s consuming me right now.
When we get into the building, we are led toward two metal chairs standing in the corner. My handcuffs are unlocked, but before I have a chance to rejoice, the same man who guarded me at the bushes binds my wrists together behind my back. Then he ties my ankles to the chair, one to each leg, before wrapping a rope all around my body to secure me to the chair. His touch on my skin is indifferent, impersonal; I’m just a thing to him, not a woman. Turning my head to the side, I see that the same thing is done to Beth, except that her handler seems to enjoy causing her pain, yanking her legs roughly apart to tie them to the chair. She doesn’t make a sound, but her face gets even paler and her cracked lips tremble slightly.
I watch it all with helpless anger, then turn away once the man leaves her alone, focusing my attention on our surroundings instead.
It seems that my initial impression was correct. We’re inside some warehouse, with tall boxes and metal shelves forming a maze in the middle. Now that we’re securely tied to the chairs, the men leave us alone, gathering around a long table in the other corner.
Beth and I finally have some privacy to talk.
“Are you okay?” I ask her, taking care to keep my voice pitched low. “Did they hurt you? Before I came out, I mean . . .”
She shakes her head, her mouth tightening. “Just smacked me around a bit,” she says quietly. “It’s nothing. You shouldn’t have come out, Nora. That was stupid.”