After

17 - Sam

Chris had abandoned ship pretty quickly after that phone call. He'd kept muttering something about Ashley and how he had to go, pressing 'call' on his cellphone numerous times, but always dropping his hand in defeat after every one.

I had assured him that I would be fine on my own, that he should go to her, whatever the problem was. I'm sure that, even if I had said anything else, his obligation would still be with Ashley - he'd always go to her, regardless. She was one hell of a lucky girl.

"Josh," I finally pluck up the courage to face the elephant in the room, the one lounging on my sofa. Though he's a little more orange than grey.

He has grabbed the nearby television remote - obviously too scared to move very far for fear of Wolfie snapping at him - and is aimlessly flicking through channels, creating an erratic, irritating mash up of news reporter voice, commercial jingles, and the latest scandal in a soup opera.

"He left," Josh says blatantly as his dull eyes are fixed on the screen - though I can't tell if he's looking at it or just looking through it.

"Yes," I say cautiously, my response equally as curt.

"He always chooses her over me," he huffs, rolling his shoulders, the action alerting Wolfie, his rumbling growl growing louder. Josh uncomfortably meets Wolfie's dark, beady gaze and I consider calling him to heel. But it's probably a good idea to at least have somebody keeping Josh in order. Josh suddenly snaps his gaze to me, his expression twisting in hurt. "You know he totally tried to kill me over her?"

That's it. "No!" I snap, shooting forward and glowering down at him. He tips his head up, his deep, black pools of eyes peer up at me, shocked. Wolfie even starts at the sudden movement, shuffling back. "You forced him into that situation! Do you really think he wanted to make that choice?! Do you really think he wanted to lose you?!"

It feels like somebody has poked my eyes with needles, pricking little holes for tears to squeeze out.

I don't know the complete details of Chris and Ashley's ordeal that night, two years ago. Chris had indulged about as much as a wet sponge. But I know enough to tell it was more than harrowing – to think that your best friend had died at your hand... that would haunt me for life.

Josh whimpers, recoiling. "You don't have to get mad at me, Sammy," he whispers.

"No," I say plainly, swiping away a stray tear in anger, a red blotch left in its wake. "I do! You can't just break out of prison, smash through my bathroom window and expect me to be happy about it!"

He looks terrified, curled in on himself. I've even got Wolfie cowering in a corner.

"I just-" my words are cut off by huffs of frustration and pent up anxiety, accumulated like dust since this day's beginning. "I just..." My energy sizzles and then puffs out and I collapse onto the sofa with a thud, covering my face with my hands.

"Sorry, Sammy," Josh says cautiously, and through my smeared tears and weave of fingers, I can see a flicker of remorse on his features. But more than that, anger - anger at himself for making me upset, anger at me for letting him make me upset. I can't even tell anymore, though, if he's sorry for what he said, or just because it made me cry.

And I don't think he's ever once felt those feelings about what he did atop that mountain. I don't think he's sees anything to regret...

"It's okay, Josh," I say weakly, dropping my hands from my face, letting my head drop back against the soft, sofa cushions.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Josh bite his lip cautiously as he slides his hand very carefully in my direction. His fingers crawl along the sofa cushion like a spider until they hover next to my thigh and then softly brush against my fingers. Electricity shocks my skin. I jerk my hand away.

I'm obviously not that okay.

The droning voice of the news reporter on the television screen catches my attention. Josh's face has flashed up in a box on the screen, a photo taken about two years ago, when he was put into custody. His cheeks were fuller then, his bones cushioned by muscle and skin. The picture of him there is barely recognisable.

"Josh Washington, a convicted arsonist, has recently breached the security of the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York, and is currently on the loose," the man reads blandly from his script, his eyes drooping. I'm sure if anyone gave him a pillow now, he'd be napping on his desk. "Local authorities are asking citizens to stay calm and call the emergency services at any possible sightings of the fleeing criminal."

"They keep saying that," Josh lolls his head to the side, his chilling eyes locked on the news reporter, as if he could drill lasers through the man's eyes. "I didn't... I didn't do anything."

If only that were true.

"Remember, Josh?" I turn to look at him, but his face is locked in position away from me, his cheek marred by an ugly, stretch of a scar. "Your parents?"

I remember the trial vividly. After the Washingtons had been informed about the state of their lodge and of their son, they had panicked. And, for them, the best choice was for Josh to be in a stable prison environment where he'd be able to recover some crumbs of his sanity, and be kept away from the public eye. Probably so it wouldn't harm their public image. Great parents. So charges of arson had been pressed against Josh – there wasn't much else legally he could be put away for – and without any financial backing from his parents for a lawyer, Josh had been sentenced as guilty for reasons of insanity almost immediately.

Josh nods his head lazily and I almost fear that his neck will snap.

Then he freezes

"Ssshhhhhhh," he slithers, his eyes bulging out of their sockets as his gaze unnaturally snaps to the window. He stabs the off button on the TV remote, cutting the screen to black.

"What?" My throat dries.

"Shhhh!" He hisses more violently, clocking his head to me for a brief second, his index finger fitting over his lips. And then he pulls himself to his feet, lugging himself to the curtained window.

"Wait," I breathe, following him and tugging on his elbow. I almost flinch at feeling the bony arm underneath his jumpsuit. "You can't go to the window. Someone will see you."

But, just like Josh, he doesn't listen. His hand reaches for the edge of the curtain and I stretch to stop him. But he's jerked it open before I can yank on his wrist.

And there, trapped in the window frame, fluttering in the wind, is a piece of paper – stark white against the black night backdrop – with these printed words on it;

WATCH YOUR BACK

And printed underneath is a photo from that site, a picture of Chris and I at the courthouse, my back to the camera – but this photograph is zoomed in enough so I can read the text that has been typed and weaved into the back of my suit jacket;

CLUES


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