I grip the edge of the sheet and pull it back.
This is what true death looks like. She’s not infected, so she will not turn. She’s so gone from us no bite will bring her back. I bring my hand close to her face, but I can’t bring myself to touch her. Everyone says death looks like sleeping, that it looks like that kind of peaceful, but this is nothing like that. The stillness. Her lips, her mouth, her hair. Everything is wrong. I can’t accept that she’s here in this room, in front of me, but she’s not here. She’s here but she’s not. I think of the dead outside, bodies. Bodies—but not people.
But they were people.
I cover her face. When Trace comes back, he finds me next to her and I just want to say something that will make him feel better, less alone. Remind him he still has family.
“Go to Rayford. Find your cousin.”
He looks at me. “Leave Grace, you mean.”
“I didn’t mean it like that—”
“How else could you have meant it?”
“Get out. I want to be alone.”
“Get the fuck out, Sloane! Who told you I wanted you here in the first place?” He gets so close and for one second, I think he’ll hit me. I see my father. I will see my father in every anger. “Get out.”
I brush past him and as soon as I’m out of that room, I can breathe in a way I couldn’t before. My legs are shaky. Weak. When I go back to the auditorium, Cary and Rhys are waiting for me.
“How is he?” Rhys asks.
“Bad,” I say. “Where’s Harrison?”
They don’t answer.
“Tell her, Cary,” Rhys says. He doesn’t sound happy.
Cary flushes and clears his throat. “He wouldn’t stop fucking crying and I kind of lost my temper. He’s wandering around. Did you mention leaving to Trace?”
Rhys looks at me. “Tell me you didn’t. It’s way too soon to throw that at him.” My face gives it away. He closes his eyes. “Shit, Sloane.”
“That’s Trace’s problem,” Cary says. “Not ours.”
Rhys gets up abruptly, throws Cary a disgusted look.
“I’m going to find Harrison.”
When Rhys is gone, I just stand there, staring at Cary.
“Grace is dead,” I tell him.
“I can’t bring her back.”
“She was ours and she’s dead.”
He stares at the table.
“She wasn’t mine.”
“But you were with her.”
“Sloane.” He looks at me and the bags under his eyes are pulling his face down. In the right light, I’d swear he was infected. He exhales slowly through his teeth. “Don’t.”
Thoughts of Grace prevent me from sleep.
I doze, thinking of her body in Yee’s room, decomposing. We probably can’t move it from there without something happening, her skin shifting. I don’t know where we’d move it. I just think we need to do something with her.
It doesn’t seem right that there can’t be a burial.
I think about how no one has said anything about her. We haven’t talked about how she was good, that she was nice, that she loved Trace more than anything in the world. These things still matter. She was a good person. She wanted me to stay with her when we got to Rayford. The memory of that fragile possibility of her and me, me being part of the kind of family I always wanted to be part of—I feel the weight of it like it’s still there, even though it’s gone.
I wasted it.
The room gets light. The sound of quick, heavy footsteps nearing wake me completely. I open my eyes and see Trace striding across the room. Nothing about him being away from Grace makes sense to me and I have that dumb thought again—she’s alive. It’s the only way he’d leave her.
And then he kicks me. In the side. My head spins, my bones scream. I wrap my arms around myself at the exact same moment he aims for my abdomen. His foot connects with my arm instead. I groan. I can’t breathe. He brings his foot back and kicks me in the legs. I roll away from him. He kicks me again and I split in half.
Rhys and Cary are awake. They pull him away and Trace starts screaming.
“I had the shot—I had the fucking shot and you ruined it!”
I force myself to my feet and stagger across the room. I lean against the stage and try to get my bearings. He had the shot. I ruined it. I frantically sort through images in my head, trying to remember. It’s not true. I pulled Baxter off Grace, I pulled him off of her, there was no time—the shot, there was the shot, but I saved her I—I jump between them. I grab Baxter and pull him off her and then there’s a shot, this incredible bang and it’s so in my ears that I feel it in my teeth.
I sit down on the floor.
He had the shot and I ruined it.
Trace stops, just lets himself go right there. Cary and Rhys struggle to hold him up but his weight is too much for them. They ease him onto the ground and he starts to sob. Rhys hurries over to me, reminds me of the pain I’m in but it’s not anything. It’s not real.
Trace’s pain is real.
“Help him.” I want to scream it though; help him. Help Trace, help Trace. Please. Harrison and Cary stare at him uselessly. “You should help him—”
“I can’t,” Rhys says, but I think he must be wrong. There must be some way to help Trace. We just haven’t thought of it yet. “Are you okay? Did he break anything—”
I stare at Trace and it already feels like a lifetime ago that he hit me, made me see stars, my head against a coffee table, blood in my hair—no, wait. That wasn’t Trace.
“Sloane,” Rhys says. I shake my head slowly. He takes my arm. I try to pull away again. “Let me see how bad it is.”
I hear Lily’s voice in my head. After, she’d always tell me to just calm down. Let me see how bad it is. Did he break anything. No. Does anything feel broken. Yes. But not bones. I would know something like that, right, Lily? I’d know it. He’d never break anything, he’d never do a thing that would force us to the hospital because no one could know. No one can know what he does to us. Wait. That’s not Trace. Trace. I ruined his shot.
“He’s right,” I whisper, and Rhys stops looking me over. He sits down and rubs his eyes. Cary pulls Trace to his feet and says something about taking him to the nurse’s office.
Just calm down, let me see how bad it is.
They don’t just put Trace in the nurse’s office. They lock him in it.
I take a shower. At home, the showers after would be so hot, they’d turn my body to mush and I’d wrap myself up in my oversized terrycloth robe and lay on my bed and sometimes Lily would sit on the edge of it and I’d go so quiet, it scared her. She’d stay there, whisper about all the things we’d do when we finally got out, just her and me.
I change back into my clothes. Zip up my jeans. I slip out of the locker rooms and make my way to the nurse’s office. I peer through the window. Trace is on the cot, on his back, staring at the ceiling. I can’t tell if he’s awake or not. I rap my knuckles against the window. He doesn’t move. I think of Grace, laid out on the desks, the exact same position as him and she’s not moving, not seeing, not breathing. Time has stopped for them both. I press my hand to the glass and will his head to turn, for him to sit up, say something.
He stays perfectly still.
I go back to the auditorium and I’m alone for a moment.
And then footsteps. Rhys, Cary, Harrison. I don’t want to see them right now. It’s why I took the shower. I couldn’t stand the way they looked at me, like I was this pathetic weak thing. There’s no time to leave the room, so I climb onstage and slip behind the curtain.
“She wasn’t in the locker rooms—”
Their voices get closer to the stage so I back farther into it, wedging myself between the old out-of-tune piano that’s there and the wall. My hands brush something plastic. I look down.
I stare at it for a long time, trying to remember how it got here, trying to remember the last time I was behind here with my phone.
Rhys running his hands all over my back, telling me I’m fine …
“There aren’t many places she can be.”
“We couldn’t even find the fucking way Baxter got in.”
“Let’s just keep looking. Harrison, check the back of the school.”
They leave the room again but I stay where I am. I turn my phone on. It turns on. The last phone in here that works and it’s useless. There’s no signal.
But I have a text message.
I have a text message.
It’s the end of the world and I have a text message.
We’ve been in the school a little over a month but the message is dated three days after the morning it all started. I don’t know what I was doing then. Where exactly we were. We were a group. The Caspers were alive. Grace was alive. Text messages were still going out.
It’s from my father.
I tremble so badly the phone shakes in my hands. Beads of sweat blossom on my forehead and the back of my neck. I can’t get air into my lungs. I lean forward, hyperventilating, praying somehow to regain myself. It’s old. It’s old. It’s an old message. It’s old, it’s old, it’s old … and then I laugh stupidly, dizzily, because his timing is so—it’s so good. It is so good. It’s old, I think firmly, but another thought is louder and it makes me want to break myself, it makes me want to end it all here, now: he’s alive.
I open the message.
Lily’s here. It’s safe. Come home.
I need to go.
I get to my feet and jump down from the stage. I need to go to her. I need to get home now. No—I need to make sure I’m seeing this. I walk out of the auditorium, trying to figure out which way Cary and Rhys went. My hands are numb, still shaking so badly that I drop my phone. It clatters to the ground. I crouch down and pick it up, make sure it’s okay.