“You just keep missing me. I’ve been in and out early and late.” I push to my feet. “I need to run. Good seeing you.”
“Good seeing you too, Amy. Maybe I’ll catch up to you again soon.”
I step onto the street, and all I can think is what looks like a goldfish in the pond could be a shark swimming at my feet. Nothing is right and everything is wrong. I think I need to leave before I pull Liam into the quicksand that is swallowing me. But if I leave, I’m not sure he will look for me, even if it’s only out of obligation, and he will put himself at risk. I don’t know what to do. I need a plan, but my mind just keeps flashing an image of the graduation ring on Jared’s hand, blocking out everything else. The connection between him and my brother seems too coincidental. They could have been in school together. But what about the empty offices at Evernight?
The pinching sensation in my forehead begins. I speed up and head for the hotel, certain I need to get out of public and fast. I manage to get to the hotel elevator when I see a flash of my brother’s face. So clear. So perfect, when I’ve not been able to picture him for years. That’s how powerfully Jared’s ring has impacted me.
Leaning on the wall, I will away the image of my brother I’d otherwise welcome, praying I make it to the room without collapsing. My hand shakes as I swipe the key across the security panel and then shove open the door. I make a beeline to the safety of the bed and lie down. My cell phone rings but the spots are before my eyes and I see only darkness.
“Where’s your mother?”
Lying on the bed on my belly, a book in front of me, I jump at the unexpected, unfamiliar harshness of my father’s voice and find him in my doorway. “I don’t know. She left a while ago.”
“How long ago?”
“A few hours.”
“Be more specific, Amy. You know I like details.”
The sound of an engine and tires on gravel signals her arrival and he is already gone, stomping down the stairs. I rush to the window, parting the curtains to see him yank her out of the car and shove her against the door. I gasp and press my hand to my mouth. My father has never touched any of us. Their voices lift, loud enough to echo through the air, and be heard by neighbors, but I cannot understand the words no matter how hard I try.
I blink against black and white dots, and a wave of nausea overcomes me. Throwing
away the blankets, I rush to the bathroom and go down on my knees in front of the toilet. A pinching sensation pierces my head and everything goes black again.
I cough against the smoke, flames licking at my doorway, and there is nowhere to go.
“Mom! I’m in my room!”
“Stay there. We’re coming for you.”
I wait, and the sounds of the fire eating away at wood have my bones rattling. “Mom?”
She screams and I suck in smoke at the horrific, blood-curdling sound, coughing with the impact and trying to cry her name.
“Mom!” I finally manage. “Mom!”
She’s still screaming. And screaming. “Mom!”
My brother’s voice rips through the hallway and the hell I am living, bringing with it hope. “Chad! Get Mom! Help Mom!”
“Listen to me, Amy,” he shouts, but all I hear is my mother, still screaming.
“Mom! You have to help her. Chad, help her!”
“Listen the f**k up, Amy. I can’t get to you. Go to the window.”
“Mom!” I shout.
“Amy, damn it, go to the window or you are going to die.”
Die. My mother is dying. I want to go to her but the flames climb closer, inside my room.
On wobbling legs, I go to the window.
“Are you at the window?” Chad shouts.
“Open the window and jump.”
I do it. I open the window and look down into the darkness below. “It’s too high.”
“You were a gymnast for years.”
“Who quit because I was afraid of heights!”
“Jump, Amy, and make it count. Do it.”
My mother is no longer screaming. My mother is—
“No!” I shout. She can’t be dead. “I can’t jump. I can’t jump.”
“Jump, Amy. Jump now or I will come through the flames and die trying to get to you.”
I gasp. “I’ll jump. I’ll jump.” I climb out of the window and I look back toward the flames and then forward. I hold my breath and jump.
“Amy. Amy. Wake up. Please, baby. Wake up.”
I blink through a sticky sensation on my face. “Liam?”
“Yes. Thank God. You scared the hell out of me.” He grabs a towel and presses it to my head.
I focus on the red stains on his light gray t-shirt. “I’m bleeding?”
“You hit your head and cut it open. We need to get you to the ER.”
I grab his arm. “You’re here. How are you here?”
“Yeah, baby, I’m here and I shouldn’t have left you alone.”
Any reply I might have had is lost to the roll of my stomach. “Oh,” I gasp. “I’m going to be sick.” I grab for the toilet and Liam holds my hair back and manages to keep the cloth on my head as I embarrassingly throw up. “I really don’t want you to see me like this.”
“Nonsense. Can you hold the towel to your head so I can get you some clothes?”