Page 52


“Don’t worry about it. Come on, let’s eat,” he said.


She got the food—Tori had left enough to feed a small army—while Chris dug out another plate and silverware and then set about making mugs of herbal tea. As she sliced bread, she said, “Chris?”


“Yeah?”


“Thank you for remembering me when you were out there.


I … it …” She turned around, saw from the set of his back that he was listening. “It feels nice that you remembered.” There was nothing for a moment, and then, as he turned, she


caught a fleeting scent of apples. “Actually,” he said, “you’re kind of hard to forget.”


It was déjà vu all over again.


After polishing off dinner and devouring what was left of the crumble, they sipped tea. They sat long enough that Alex heard the creaks overhead and knew that Jess had chased everyone upstairs. She and Chris didn’t talk much, which both relieved her and made her crazy. With Tom, conversation just came. Chris was so quiet. Yet this was cozy; it was intimate…. It was Tom all over again, but it wasn’t, couldn’t be. If anything, it was a pale imitation, like a faded Xerox you’d copied about a hundred million times until there was just an impression of the original. Tom was Tom, and Chris was shadows, and no amount of wishing would make Chris into Tom either. And she didn’t wish that, not for a second, not in a million years. She needed Chris, pure and simple; she wanted his trust, to make him her ally. That was why she’d invited him in, right? Right?


“Can I ask you a question?” he asked, breaking into her thoughts.


“Um … sure,” she said, pushing out of her slouch. Ghost dozed on her lap, his paws twitching. “What?”


“Why are you carrying your parents’ ashes?” When he saw her expression, he said hastily, “I mean, you don’t have to tell me if it’s too personal.”


“No, it’s okay,” she said. Yeager hadn’t even asked that, and of course, Tom hadn’t known to begin with. “They died a couple years ago, and they wanted their ashes scattered on Lake Superior, that’s all.”


And it really was all, come to think of it. No big deal. Why oh why hadn’t she told Tom when she had the chance? But of course, she knew why.


Because then I would’ve told him about the monster. Once I got started with Tom, there would’ve been no holding back, and I just didn’t want to risk it. I should’ve trusted him; I held back too long—


“Oh. Was there something special about now? I mean, you could have done it anytime, right?”


“It just seemed like the right time,” she said, and realized the truth of this. If she’d been back at Aunt Hannah’s, she would’ve been trapped in the city—and quite likely very dead by now. It was as Tom had said: the right place at exactly the right moment.


Chris might have heard something in her tone, because his eyes narrowed a bit, but his shadow-scent didn’t change and then he shrugged. “Okay. I’m sorry you didn’t get the chance, but maybe come spring, we could go up there. If you want. I mean, I would take you.”


The fact that she had no intention of being in Rule come spring didn’t make her hesitate for a second. If he thought she would be there, he and everyone else might chill out, and then she’d find her chance to get away. “Thanks. That’s really nice of you.”


She dumped Ghost from her lap, and they gathered up the dishes to wash and dry. More déjà vu. All they needed was a little kid hanging around.


“You’re lucky you’ve got something left,” Chris said. “The ashes, I mean. I don’t remember my mom at all.”


She handed him a plate. “You don’t?”


He shook his head. “She’s just this big white spot. She left when I was really little. Like only a couple months old. To hear my dad grouse about it, she would’ve booked right out of the hospital if she’d had the chance. I don’t know who she is or where she went, and my dad didn’t keep any pictures.”


“Do you know why she left?”


“My dad was a drunk.” He threw her a tentative glance to gauge her reaction. “He beat her up is what I figure.”


Well, that explained the shadows. Any man mean enough to beat his wife probably didn’t spare his fists when it came to his kid either. “Is that why you said he wanted you dead? I mean, you didn’t say it, but—”


“Yeah, I know what you mean.” He sighed. “Probably. He had a couple girlfriends. There was this one, Denise. When I was ten, she picked me up from basketball practice. I don’t remember why my dad didn’t come, but he was probably passed out or something. She was dead drunk, too. I knew as soon as I got in the backseat. We’d have had better luck if I’d been driving. About a mile from our house, she crashed the car. Slammed right into a tree. She wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Went through the windshield. Of course, that was my fault, too. I still have nightmares.”


There it was again: nightmares, like her and Tom. “That’s terrible.”


“Yeah. I heard about it every day, dreamed about it every night. My parents are both dead now. Thing is, I’m not sorry about either of them. My dad hated me, and my mom left.” His mouth twisted in a sour grimace. “If I could wash my brain and get amnesia, I would. It would be a relief.”


“Bet not,” she said.


58


More snow fell. The weeks melted away, and then it was only two days before Christmas. Alex watched as her window of opportunity grew smaller and smaller, contracting as her vision and then her mind had when she’d almost died outside that gas station. She didn’t give up, not exactly, but with every day that passed, leaving seemed less urgent and more difficult, as if her will were being slowly suffocated under all that snow.


And really, was it so bad here? Five hundred miles was a lot of miles, especially when she didn’t know what she was looking for or who was waiting, and with the Changed and desperate people out there, too. No one was really bothering her. Where, exactly, did she think she could run to that was safer than where she was?


She hadn’t totally thrown in the towel. She’d gathered things, squirreling them in an old feed bucket that she hung from a joist in the darkest corner of the garage where she stabled Honey. Every item she added—a twist of rope, a book of matches, a jar of peanut butter, a scalpel swiped from the hospice and zipped into the lining of her jacket—felt like a triumph, but for only a moment. A flash in the pan, like the fizzle of a Roman candle. At this rate, she would be here all winter, or until the monster in her brain got tired of playing possum. Well, maybe waiting until spring was a good idea. She didn’t want to set out in all this snow, did she? That was just begging for more trouble she didn’t need.


Her life fell into a rhythm: work with Kincaid, chores at the house, rides with Chris. They were comfortable with each other. Maybe they were even friendly, though they weren’t friends. After that night at Jess’s, Chris had turtled back into himself, covering himself in shadows, as if embarrassed, afraid he’d said too much. That was all right. She had a few secrets of her own, and she didn’t really want to get to know him better. She even understood why. Tom would, too. It would be like Tom giving the enemy a face. Do that and you’d never squeeze the trigger.


But she was scared. She was starting to forget Ellie and Tom.


At night, as Sarah slept, she would lie still and try to block out the distant crack of rifles and summon up Tom’s face, his scent, a flashbulb moment … anything. Yet the harder she tried grabbing hold, the more her memories were like soap bubbles, bursting with every pop of gunfire. She’d have better luck hanging on to a handful of fog. Ellie was only a pink blur.


The attempts left her sick and weepy, gnawing the inside of her cheek until her mouth tasted of rust. There was something wrong with her that might have nothing to do with the monster. Where was the Alex who’d grabbed the ashes and run? The one who said to Barrett, I’m calling the shots now. She sure as hell didn’t know.


So, really, maybe Rule was killing her with the promise of safety. She was cowering in the corner just like a bunny rabbit, hoping that no one would notice. Or maybe she was letting Rule infect her: squash her will, who she was and had been, what she could look forward to.


She’d never have let the monster get away with that, and there were many ways to fight. So why wasn’t she?


Because something was changing. Again. Inside her. She felt it in this slow, general slide into a kind of numb acceptance.


Just like when I was diagnosed. It was that stages-of-anger thing. I was shocked and then I got pissed and then I fought like hell … and then I went numb. They called it acceptance, but it wasn’t. It’s what happens when you have only two choices: live with the monster, or kill yourself.


Only no one would let you kill yourself. It was a crime, which was stupid. Doctors couldn’t help you; they’d get thrown in jail. She knew another girl, also terminal, who’d tried suicide. Pills and Jack Daniels. After they pumped her stomach, they threw the girl in a psych ward because they decided she was depressed.


Well, duh. Try living with a monster in your brain and see if you didn’t get, oh, a little depressed.


So there was no choice, none at all. You either lived with the monster, or you did what she’d done: carpe diem and run.


She should run now. Winter or not, she should get out before it was too late. Sure, she’d probably die out there on her own, but wait too long and she’d be lulled into the belief that all this—Rule, the life they’d mapped out for her, Chris—was her best option. She’d settle for what they wanted.


Really, come to think of it, there were two monsters: the one squatting in her brain—and Rule.


Either way, she’d end up just as dead.


Run, she told herself. Run, you idiot, run.


But she didn’t. She couldn’t. She just … couldn’t.

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***