Chapter Seventeen: Emily
Coolness. Safety. No fear. Openness. Christopher bad. Earnestine good. Beauty. Friendship. Never want to leave...
I wake with a start and stare past the dark to find myself in on wet blades… of grass.
Blinking, I stare at the grass, and then look up at the bush that tripped me.
And the ladies’ dormitory standing in the distance. Without me.
But who is out here with me?
Pushing myself to a standing position, I hug myself as a cool breeze racks my bones. My pajama-clad bones.
How did I make it out here past all the locks and the receptionist. And Violet. And… and Christopher.
He should be looking for me by now, at least.
A twig creaks in the distance and I start. And take off running. I’ll call Christopher off the hunt when I’m safe inside.
There’s something thick about the darkness around me. I swear it takes longer to make my way through the shadows now than it would have taken me in the sunlight.
They’re going to get me. My hair stands on end sensing the coming danger.
Then I run so fast I’m barreling up the stairs before even registering coming inside. My door is partially open, and I push my way in before slamming it behind me.
The lump of Violet in her bed doesn’t stir, so maybe it’s just loud to me. Like my over-stimulated heart.
Pressing my hand over my chest, I try to calm my breathing. I need to call Christopher-
My eyes fall to where he’s lying on the floor by the window, his chest rising and falling with the steadiness of deep sleep.
He wasn’t looking for me.
He didn’t even know I was gone.
If I didn’t wake up in time, anything could’ve happened to me.
Anything could’ve happened to me already.
Panic rises within me, and I press my hand over my mouth before shakily walking toward my bed and collapse, burying my face in my pillow so I can scream and cry all I want without waking those who didn’t bother waking for me before.
Somehow, morning comes despite all the terror and loneliness of night, and the daylight dispels a good portion of that terror and loneliness.
“I think we should charge rent,” Violet says as Christopher uses the bathroom for a quick shower.
“Uh-huh.”I pull my hair out of the polo I’ve just pulled on, but something still feels wrong…
Staying turned away from Violet, I search for the problem.
And pull a note out of my bra.
My heart stops beating for a moment and my lungs push out all my breath.
But then life goes on and my shaking hands move to unfurl the note that I don’t remember putting there. That I don’t want to think of anyone else putting it there…
The same bold marker used in the last note stares up at me:
Leave this school, and you’ll regret it. Almost as much as you’ll regret Christopher dying by the knife in your sock.
Knife in my sock?
My whole body is trembling now as I reach down and touch a strange bump in my left sock and pull it out.
A pocket knife.
Dropping it, I scream.
Violet jumps up and rushes over. “What?”
I point at the pocket knife. “Is that yours?” Did it just fall into my sock or something?
She studies it before shaking her head. “Mine are bigger.
The bathroom door swings open, and Christopher rushes out, sopping wet with a towel around his waist. “What is it?”
“That was in my sock.”
He stares at the knife. “You didn’t put that there?”
“No! And it gets creepier-” I hold out the note.
Only, the note’s not there anymore. I spin around, looking for the note.
But there’s no trace of it anywhere. “But...”
“Yes, Emily?” Christopher doesn’t stand down.
I sigh. “It’s… nothing.” Or so it would seem.
Nodding, he slowly moves back to the bathroom and closes the door.
And Violet smirks. “Maybe we won’t charge rent after all.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I whisper, still staring at my hand. What’s anything supposed to mean?
I feel so exposed when I leave the room. But then again, I feel so exposed in my room. Feel exposed everywhere I go.
Someone- or something is playing with me.
And I’m helpless against it.
Shaking myself out of my stupor, I turn to see Violet frowning at me. “Yeah?”
“Ready for art class?”
Senorita Hernández smiles when she sees me. “Are you feeling better, Miss Rogers?”
Um, no. I force a smile and take my seat. Then I pick up my pencil and try to force myself into a focus on my self-portrait. Escape myself for a little while… with a picture of myself.
But I’m not myself as I shadow, and I accidentally overdo it and make myself look like a Goth. Anyone who saw it would think I had a dark mind or something.
I sigh and stare at it. Then my pencil slips out of my hand.
Sighing some more, I bend over to pick it up, and something falls out of the front of my shirt.
My heart lurches and my stomach drops. The note from before, crumpled up like I left it.
But, I left it in my hand. How did it get back into my shirt?
Leaving the pencil where it lies, I slowly sit back up and stare ahead. What is happening to me?
A flier gets put on my desk. Some invite to a club or something Senorita Hernández is handing out.
I blindly take it and stuff it into my pocket before it can wind up in my shirt. Then I shakily rise and make my way to swim class.
Christopher frowns when he sees me and approaches me. “What’s wrong?”
“Wh-what do you m-mean?”
“You’re shaking.” His deep blues search mine. “Why? Did something else happen? Did someone hurt you?”
I stuff that horrid piece of paper into his hand and then dive into the water.
“Everyone, come here!” Coach Bill calls, rocking back and forth with pent up enthusiasm he seems to have every time he’s out of the water. He hands several students papers. “Athletes work better in close-knit groups.”
One gets handed to me and I stare down at it. It’s the same club Senorita Hernández was advertising. “I already got one.”
Coach Bill forces another one into my hand.“Take another.”
“So,” Christopher says, coming up beside me as I walk toward the locker rooms. “You really want to go?”
He holds up a crumpled piece of paper. “You gave this to me, remember?”
Snatching the paper from him, I unfurl it and stare at it. Sure enough, it’s the invite, not the threatening note.
My hand slips under my swimsuit and Christopher’s eyebrows raise.
Then I pull out the threatening note, all the ink washed off, leaving nothing but really, really bad memories.
A note gets slid onto my science lab desk, and I almost scream.
Then Mickey slugs me. “Just some feedback about our last class.” She leans closer to whisper, “We had to pretend we were poisoned and come up with antidotes. Now we’re waiting with baited breath to learn if any of us made it.”
Professor N. looks up from his desk as the clock ushers in the eleventh hour. “Welcome back, class.”
Donald sits up straight in his seat- a first. “Give it to us straight, Professor. Are we dead?”
“You are.” Professor N. slides his glasses further up his face. “However, several of you survived. Now, who’s ready to dissect a frog?”
“Ugh,” Mickey mutters. “Don’t tell me I survived for this.”
I stare down at the knives they bring me.
One is my pocket knife.
Grasping my desk, I lean over and fight the urge to be sick.
“Miss Rogers?” Dr. N. asks. “Are you all right?”
“I need… to be excused.”
“Yes, very well-”
I hurry out of the lab and toward the restroom.
When I shakily emerge, no one else is in the hallway.
Except Dr. Earnestine.
He smiles when he sees me. “Ah, there you are, Miss Rogers.”
Trembling all over, I press my back to the wall. “D-d-dr. Earnestine. What are you doing here?”
“You’re all alone.” He tilts his head to one side, his eyes sympathetic. “You feel isolated. Trapped in your own head. Hunted in your own head, unable to reach out.”
He steps closer, and I press my head against the wall too, closing off all space between it and me.
Even as he closes in on the last pocket of space between him and me.
“Just know,” he says when his mouth is just a hairbreadth from my ear. “I’m here for you, Emily. I’ll always be there for you.”
Another piece of paper gets placed on my lab table. I stare at it blankly. Then I look at my watch.
It’s almost noon.
But… but where did the last hour go?
I rack my mind, but it only aches in reply.
A whole other kind of terror grips me.
“Sharp minds are sharpened by other sharp minds,” Professor N. announces, passing out more of those papers.
I pass him without taking one and walk quickly out of the room.
My feet take me to the lunchroom out of habit, though the rest of me still feels so discombobulated at doing this at this time because it doesn’t properly remember what time it is.
A hand touches my forehead and I throw myself backwards.
But strong arms reach around me and keep me from knocking my brains out. “Emily, why so jumpy?”
Blinking, I look up at Christopher’s concerned orbs. “Wh-what?”
“I was just checking your temperature. Are you feeling all right?”
Licking my lips, I drop my gaze and shrug.
“This is so awesome!” Donald cries suddenly as he slides into his seat.
Mickey cocks her head at him. “What is?”
“Duh- the club. Everyone is talking about it.”
“I’m surprised you’re so interested,” Violet says, deftly unwrapping her protein bar without looking at him. “Since the teachers are the ones pushing it.”
Donald points at her and shakes his head. “Not just the teachers. All the cool kids are talking about it.”
“And the un-cool ones too, apparently.” She takes a bite of her bar.
He sticks his tongue out at her before turning to the rest of us. “Well, are you guys joining?”
Mickey grins. “I am.”
And Christopher does the opposite of that as he turns to study me. “I don’t know.”
“Well I am,” Destiny announces suddenly, reminding us that she’s here with us.
Donald gapes at her for a moment before turning to Violet. “Are you?”
Mickey blinks. “Why not?”
“Because the teachers are pushing it.”
And that’s that.
And I’m still missing an hour.
I stand in the hallway, not sure if I should go to Dr. Earnestine office or flee.
A mental list of times I’ve felt this unsure of right and wrong:
(1) When I fell into the wrong crowd in fourth grade and they tried to get me to buy illegal pop on campus;
(2) When I fell into no crowd in junior high and doubted everything, including my own conscience (and definitely my self-esteem);
(3) When the Masters were doing evil things and I felt driven to do… questionable things;
But only Dr. Earnestine can answer what happened to me that hour.
“Emily, wait up!” Christopher calls.
But I don’t. I charge right into Dr. Earnestine’s office.
He smiles when he sees me. “Ah, Miss Rogers-”
I plant my hands on his desk and glare down at him. “What happened that hour?”
His smile slides down in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I know you were there. The eleventh hour. You met me outside the bathroom-”
“Yes, and we started talking.” He tilts his head to one side. “Do you not remember what we were talking about?”
I blink, my anger dissipating under his calmness. “But… you do?”
“Of course we do.” He gestures for me to take a seat. “You talked about how stressed you and Christopher were here. Took a ditch day- naughty, naughty.” He winks at me. Then he sobers up. “And we discussed the possibility that Christopher might be hurting you.”
Any semblance of a smile on my face melts right off. “What? What do you mean? He would never hurt me-”
“But you told me of a bruise you had right here.” He touches his chest. “We even went to the nurse about it- you can bring it up with her again, if you want-”
I stare at him, uncomprehending. And then I do. “Oh, that was just the ink… from a note… I put there. And then swam with.”
He gives me a patronizing look. “But it hurts, too.”
A gasp escapes me when he says this, and I can almost feel my pain in his words. But I don’t. I tell myself that I don’t, and reach up to press on my chest.
And feel the sting of a bruise. Another gasp escapes.
“You still don’t remember getting it, do you?” Dr. Earnestine’s eyes are kind and sad.
I shake my head. “But it wasn’t Christopher. He’d never hurt me- he almost died for me.”
“So he thinks he has a right to you. Owns you, even.”
This time I stand up and punch his desk. “Stop it. That is not Christopher. You are lying.”
“Defensiveness is common when a delusion is threatened-”
“Or someone I love is slandered!”
He sighs and folds his hands. “Forgive my forwardness, but have you two been… intimate?”
I recoil in disgust. “No! We both believe that intimacy is for marriage alone and are keeping ourselves pure-”
“Ah.” He nods like this explains everything. “So, it’s a case of suppression-”
Rolling my eyes, I sit down again. “Freud had a totally twisted outlook on life and has nothing to do with this or us.”
“You said he was in your room last night.”
My jaw drops. “I did? It’s not what it seems like- my roommate was there the whole time-”
“Was she there with you during the whole time you skipped school?”
“No… But I kind of remember that day. Christopher did nothing to hurt me.”
“And you were awake and fully conscious the whole time?”
I purse my lips. “He wouldn’t have hurt me.”
He sighs. “Just promise me you won’t try to leave the school grounds with him alone. I’m worried he might try to harm you.”
My heart jolts at that, but then I glance at the glass door and see Christopher at his post, as loyal and pure-hearted as a golden retriever. “I owe you nothing.”
Standing up, I leave.
Christopher pushes away from the wall. “Did everything go okay?”
“Um… sure.” Now that I’m standing here with him, though, without a door between us, I don’t feel so safe. Well, I do, but I wonder if I really should. Like when I’m with Dr. Earnestine. Can I really trust my feelings in this? “I just wanted to stop by the nurse real quick.”
He reaches to touch my forehead again. “Are you feverish?”
I inch backwards slightly. “I don’t know about feverish.” Maybe hallucinations… “Let’s go find out, though.”
I have to sit down when the nurse smiles at me. “Oh, you’re back, sweetheart.”
“Y-you recognize me?” I glance back to where Christopher is sitting in the waiting room.
“Of course, hon. You were only here this morning.”
I lick my suddenly very dry lips and turn back to her. “And my ailment...”
“You had a bruised rib cage. It was making you nauseous.” She leans forward. “Is someone hurting you, dear?”
I back away quickly. “No. No one at all.”
Gulping, I glance at Christopher, who quickly pulls himself to his feet when he sees me leaving. “No one at all.”