“You shouldn’t be here,” the prime minister says, and suddenly I know he’s not talking about the restricted area filled with pyrotechnics, not the closing ceremonies. Not even Adria. He means here. Alive.
I shouldn’t be alive.
Slowly, I start to back away. When he reaches for me, I recoil.
“You don’t trust me?” The prime minister actually laughs.
“I don’t trust anyone.”
“Smart girl,” the prime minister says. There’s a fence at my back. I can’t move any farther, and that is when the prime minister lunges for me, grabbing my arms in his massive hands, squeezing like a tourniquet.
I can’t think anymore, so I just start kicking, screaming. My training is gone, instinct and raw emotion are taking over, pounding through me. Finally there is something I can hit. There is someone I can make bleed. When my elbow makes contact with his nose, I hear a sickening snap and feel the warm gush of blood on the back of my neck. I feel somehow vindicated.
I want to do it again.
“Let her go.” The Scarred Man’s voice is cold and hard and even, and that is the only thing that stops me.
“It was supposed to be done by now!” the prime minister shouts at him. Then recognition seems to dawn. “Why isn’t it done, Dominic?”
But the Scarred Man doesn’t answer. He just stands, unwavering, holding his gun with a remarkably steady hand. For the first time, I realize it isn’t pointed at me.
“Come here, Grace,” the Scarred Man says. “Now!”
“No. I’m not going anywhere with you!” I shout.
The prime minister laughs. “It seems the lady has spoken. She’s right not to trust you, you know.”
But nothing can make the Scarred Man flinch.
“Step away from him, Grace. He can’t hurt you. He isn’t the type to get his own hands dirty. Never was.”
“Why should I?” The prime minister laughs. “That was always your specialty.” Then he’s whispering in my ear, saying, “He killed your mother, Grace,” but the words are too far away. When the fireworks sound, I shudder. The smoke is all around me. I hear someone calling my name.
“Grace! Grace, sweetheart, no!”
“Let her go, sir,” the Scarred Man shouts, ever the respectful servant.
And then my mother is on the ground in front of me. She lies at the bottom of the stairs, her body mangled, broken. I see Dominic standing on the balcony overhead. He’s actually taking a picture of her, like she is some kind of prize.
“Grace, no!” the voice comes again.
There is a bag at my feet. I see knives and gloves and gasoline. A gun. I reach down and get it.
“Get away from her,” I tell him.
“Grace, it’s okay,” the Scarred Man says. I feel his hand on my arm but I see him at the top of the stairs. Both.
“You killed my mother!” I scream.
“Grace —” the Scarred Man starts.
I feel a push, and suddenly I’m falling, landing too hard on the ground. My head swims. My eyes blur. And breath comes harder than it should.
The smoke is growing heavier. I see the fire whipping up the stairs. The crowded shelves of my mother’s shop are igniting, item by dusty item. The dominoes are falling now, sweeping through the room.
“I can’t breathe,” I say beneath the sounds of struggling and cursing and fighting.
I close my eyes and see my mother move. I watch her sit up and look at me, her face morphing from confusion to terror. Dominic is starting down the stairs toward my mother.
“Get away from her!” I yell, struggling to my feet.
“Grace, no!” the woman screams again.
I don’t know what is real and what’s remembered, what is true and what is imagined. All I know is that air is precious and fleeting. I know the all-consuming rush as it leaves my lungs and sends me crashing to the ground, clawing for oxygen and space and sanity.
I see the gun. I can feel it in my hand.
There are cries and pleas and panic. And smoke. There is so much smoke.
“Grace, run!” the woman yells, but my mother doesn’t sound like herself.
I fire the gun once. Twice. I keep shooting until the gun won’t fire anymore.
But the man doesn’t fall because my mother is standing, running toward him until she can’t run anymore. And I’m just standing there, watching my mother fall, bloody and broken, into Dominic’s arms.
The smoke is heavier now.
I see the balcony shift, fall.
Dominic should raise his hands to protect himself, but he holds my mother’s body instead, hunched over her while the balcony crashes down upon him. His right cheek presses against the top of her head — one last embrace — as fire and debris rain down on his left.
“No.” I can feel myself backing away. “No. No. No.”
I see the prime minister stumble backward, but for a moment I don’t recognize the blurry figure who stands behind him as he falls, bloody, to the ground. I just stand there, waiting for the smoke to clear.
“Grace, are you okay?” Ms. Chancellor holds the gun at the ready in case she has to fire again, but she doesn’t.
In my head I keep hearing the shots, over and over and over. In my mind, it’s another figure on the ground. And in my heart, I know I’ve always been the one to blame.
I look at where the prime minister lies, and then I see the Scarred Man. I see him as if from a very great distance. I watch him rise like a phoenix. I see him in two places at once.
There is a man in a suit in front of me, crouching in the shadows.
And there’s a man in a brown leather jacket slowly standing in a swell of smoke. Blood rains down his face. His left eye is swollen shut. And the skin on this left cheek is almost black with blood, singed skin, and a rugged cut that runs from brow to jaw.
That is going to leave a scar.
“Are you getting any sleep, Grace?” Dr. Rainier asks me. I nod. It’s not a lie. I am sleeping. I sleep all the time. It’s waking up I have a hard time bringing myself to do. Because as long as I can sleep, I can dream. And as long as I can dream, I can live in a place where that night might have a different ending.
But it never, ever does.
“How do you feel?” the doctor asks.
My clothes feel too big. I can’t remember the last time I washed my hair. My friends try to come see me, but I can’t face them. Not yet. Ms. Chancellor brings me food, and I think I eat it. But maybe not. I don’t remember, and even if I could, I wouldn’t trust my memories anyway. I don’t trust anything — anyone. Least of all myself.