“You think it’s my fault?”
I stop. Cary stops.
“I think it could have happened to anyone.”
He gives me a pained look. “You should be a politician, Sloane.”
I pause. I don’t think it’s his fault but …
“You won’t repeat it?”
“I don’t think it’s your fault. I don’t think you killed them. I think…” I shrug. “I think you’re crazy good at this survival stuff.”
His shoulders sag. He gives me a small, relieved smile and we start walking again, his step a little lighter than it was before. It feels strange to have that kind of power over someone.
“I mean, you’re crazy good at it for a stoner who couldn’t seem to get his shit together academically at all,” I add.
He laughs. “First of all, I only sold. Second, high school was only that thing I was doing until I infiltrated the family business.”
“Yay nepotism,” I say. He gives me a thumbs-up. His parents run a small press. I wonder where they were when this started. “Where are your parents, anyway?”
“Toronto. They might have been in the air when it started. Maybe they didn’t make it.” He says it so easily. He glances at me. “I mean, I just have to think I’m never going to see them, either way. Not hope for anything. Seems greedy to make it this far and want more.”
“Kind of. Do you think Lily made it?”
Hearing someone else say her name makes me want to find something I can crush into dust. Do I think Lily made it. Of course she made it.
“I mean, I’m sure she did,” he says hastily.
“She knows how to take care of herself.”
“Did you have sex with my sister?”
“Oh, man, Sloane.”
“She bought pot from you,” I say, and then I keep pushing it because for some reason, I have to know. It’s important now. “Did she pay you or…?”
“Yeah, she paid me.” Pause. “And we fooled around. Sorry.”
I don’t know what to say. I’m not shocked or anything, I just don’t know what to say. It’s something Lily would do. It’s something Cary would do. Lily never had a boyfriend when she lived at home, ever. She said it would be too complicated and she’d spin stories about what would happen if an imaginary significant other found out about what our father did to us. The stories always ended in separation—us being ripped from each other. Never tell. For me, that meant never having anyone because she was sure I’d blurt out our secrets to the first person who was nice to me. For her, it meant nobody was allowed to get too close. There were boys who were friends and make-out sessions she’d spill about if she felt like it, but Lily wasn’t the Popular Girl. Guys didn’t have to have her. She was blond and pretty, but mostly she looked tired all the time.
“Fooled around as in had sex.”
“Yeah, that would be—yeah.” Cary’s face turns red. “Wow. Seriously, Sloane. If I just made shit awkward between us, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. It doesn’t make things awkward.”
But then I change my mind. Maybe it’s not okay. He fooled around with my sister and sold her drugs and he never looked at me twice before. I don’t know why but that bothers me.
“She made it,” Cary decides in a voice that tells me he’s thinking about being with her, touching her. I feel nauseous. “We were hanging out the night before she left and I knew she’d make it then. I know it now. She’s a fighter.”
I freeze. There are so many things wrong with what just came out of his mouth.
He was hanging out with her the night before she left.
He knew she was leaving.
“You saw her before she left?”
“Did she say where she was going?”
He stops as the question settles in.
“No,” he says.
I bite my tongue for a full minute. I should leave it at this because it’s only going to feel worse if I don’t. I should, but I can’t.
“Did she say why she was going?”
I know the answer to this, but I want to know if Cary knows. I want to know if whenever they fooled around, she told him about what it was really like in our house.
“No,” he says again, softer this time. “Shit, Sloane. I thought you knew. The way you two were … I would’ve never…”
“It doesn’t make a difference now,” I say.
“No,” he says. “I guess not.”
In the gym, I stare at the doors. My pulse keeps time with each thud, beating hard, filling me with the kind of anger I never thought I could be capable of. I study the desks and step forward. I kick one lightly and then I kick it again, harder. The feel of my shoe against the desk’s metal leg is satisfying and sends a little electric jolt through me so I kick it again and again and again until my heart is louder than the thudding. I make a mountain of desks shift just enough that one of them tumbles onto its side. A loud crash fills the gym and breaks me out of my trance. The anger disappears—I don’t know where it goes—and I realize what I’ve done.
I rush at the desk and pull it upright, like the doors are seconds away from bursting open, but they’re not. The sound causes a fit outside, though. It makes the dead frantic. Next thing I know, everyone runs into the gym because everyone heard. Cary, Harrison, Rhys, Grace, and Trace. They all ask the same questions.
What’s going on, what was that, are they inside, did they get in.
I tell them I don’t know what happened, the barricade just moved.
They believe me.
A whole day passes where barely anyone speaks.
Trace does his laps. We eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the soundtrack of our impending death. Everyone drifts around the auditorium looking hollowed out. There are dark circles under their eyes. They pace the room stiffly, like they’re hundreds of years old. Cary sits against the wall facing the doors and just stares at them. I think the thudding might drive us insane before the doors actually give. Trace thinks we should move to the library—it’s quiet there, after all—but no one is willing to do it and that’s when he and Cary have the only exchange of the day: Cary says a watched pot never boils. Trace reminds him there are three other doors in here no one is watching. That’s when I leave. I circle the first floor for a while, listening as the noise outside the front entrance gets louder and fainter the closer and farther I am from it.
The light wanes.
I walk the same path over and over until I need to stop. I’m not ready to go back to the auditorium, so I end up in the administration office. I push buttons on Mrs. Ramos’s computer and watch nothing happen.
I e-mailed Lily after she left, every day for the first two weeks. How could you do this to me? Who are you? I know she got them because eventually, they started bouncing back. Account closed. I push the power buttons on the monitor and the tower again. Turn on, turn on. They don’t. Carrier pigeons will come back in vogue. My eyes travel over the photos lining the desk. In them, Mrs. Ramos looks happy.
Nothing matters anymore.
The ferocity of this thought makes me want to run back to the gym and shake everyone until their necks snap. Nothing matters anymore. Nothing. My blood goes white-hot and I give the monitor a push without thinking. Not off the desk, just into the wall. It’s unsatisfying.
Cary knew she was leaving.
Not thinking about it. I am not thinking about it. I leave the office, closing the door behind me. It clicks shut. The hall is empty, looks kind of burned out in the dark. My gaze moves from the path back to the auditorium, which I’m not ready to go back to, and the stairwell. I climb the stairs to the second floor. When I reach the top of the landing my body feels impossibly heavy like the weight of the sky is on top of me. I make it halfway down the hall before I’m sitting, resting my head against my knees because Cary knew.
This is how I imagined it over and over: it’s my eighteenth birthday. I wake up before I have to be awake. My bags are next to the door. Seeing them makes my palms tingle, I’m so nervous/excited/scared/excited/nervous/excited. I hear Lily in the hall and all I can think is how lucky I am, how she’s the best sister ever. She stayed two extra years just for me so we could leave at the same time, so I wouldn’t have to be alone with him. I wouldn’t have to be alone. You’d die without me. She said it all the time. She said it because it was true. It wasn’t a secret.
I’d die without her and she left anyway.
And Cary knew.
I never thought anything could feel like the morning I woke up and she was gone but this is what that feels like. It feels exactly like that. I stretch out on the floor and press my face against the cool tiles. I wait for my blood to turn to cement, for my heart to stop beating. I stay still until everything I’m feeling closes my eyes and the next time they’re open a hand is on my shoulder. Rhys is crouched in front of me. I sit up faster than he can stop touching me and he overbalances and nearly falls over. He recovers and then he’s looking at me, equal parts concerned and wary. I get to my feet. He does the same. He has a flashlight with him.
“Grace noticed it’s been over an hour since you left the auditorium,” he says. “I didn’t think anything bad happened to you, but…”
“The noise is less—” I gesture feebly. “Up here.”
As far as explanations go, it’s a good one, but still, he chastises me.
“We should stay close together,” he says. “You know that.”
I nod and rub my face. Brush my hair out of my eyes. I keep doing it and he just stands there and watches until I say, “You can go back. I’ll be there soon.”
“Did you completely miss the part where I said we should stay close together?”
“I know but,” I say, and I stop because I don’t know how to finish.