It’s not nice to talk about someone behind their back. That’s what they’re doing. Griffin, my mom, his parents … they’re in the other room, jotting down my straitjacket measurements between hushed words.
Swayze had a breakdown.
Swayze thinks Doug Mann killed Erica.
Swayze thinks Doug Mann killed some girl named Morgan Daisy Gallagher.
Shh … don’t speak too loud. We don’t want to wake her.
The police didn’t believe me. I know I sounded crazy, but I’m not. I can’t remember all the details, or even most of them, but he killed Daisy. And he killed Erica. Not all truths can be explained.
The door eases open.
“You’re awake.” Mom smiles the kind of smile one gives an unstable person. It’s the don’t-break-the-good-China smile.
I sit up, leaning back against the creaky headboard. Something between utter shock and complete numbness settles along my body. “I’m awake.” Glancing at the nightstand, I frown at the pill bottle. “I don’t think Dr. B would approve of you sharing your sleeping pills with me. They’re prescription.”
“Griffin didn’t want to have to call your psychiatrist yet, so we just gave you one to help you calm down. You weren’t yourself. The things you said didn’t make any sense. I think the news of Erica and seeing her body triggered something. How do you feel now?” She sits on the edge of the bed, taking a hold of my hand. Her fingers trace the diamond of my engagement ring.
Mom, I’m engaged.
Oh, Swayze! I’m so happy for you.
We can’t have that conversation now. Pain burns my eyes as the vision of Erica’s body continues to brand a permanent place in my memory. I can’t erase the picture of Doug’s bloodied face or Daisy falling. I don’t even know what universe I’m in. I feel like I know more than I should and yet nothing at all. It’s so messed-up. I’m so messed-up.
“What time is it?”
“It’s late. You should get home. I’m fine.”
“Eight-thirty in the morning, Swayze.”
My attention shifts to the windows. Light seeps in through the holes in the blinds. Bright morning light. Not the dim evening sunset.
“I’m late.” I toss back the covers. “Where’s my phone? I need to call Nate.”
“My phone …” Jerking open the door, my feet slap against the wooden hallway floor. “Where’s my purse?”
“Swayz, what’s wrong?” Griffin jumps up from the sofa.
I spot my purse on the table and retrieve my phone. There are three missed calls from Nate and two texts.
Professor: You’re late. That’s not like you. I’m worried.
Professor: Taking Morgan to work with me. Please call me as soon as you get this. I’m worried.
I yank my arm away as Griffin’s hand rests on my shoulder.
“I’m late. How could you let me oversleep?” I call Nate, taking long strides to distance myself from Griffin, his parents, and my mom without acknowledging them before locking myself in the bathroom.
“Jesus, Swayze! Are you okay?” Nate answers.
“I’m so sorry. I’ll be there in thirty minutes. Something happened yesterday and I … I … I’m sorry. I’m on my way.” Perched on the cold toilet seat, I run my fingers through my hair and close my eyes. Even darkness won’t eradicate the haunting images.
“I have to get back to my class. Morgan is in my office. My colleagues are taking turns watching her. Are you okay? You don’t sound okay.”
The door handle to the bathroom rattles. “Swayz, open the door.”
“I’m on my way.” I end the call and open the door. “You can’t just drug me. I have a job. Responsibilities.” Shouldering past Griffin, I tear through every dresser drawer, looking for my clothes. I’m still not used to where my stuff is in his house—our house.
“You’re not going to work today. Have you forgotten about yesterday?”
I shove my feet into my jeans. “In spite of your efforts to drug me, no, I haven’t forgotten about yesterday.”
“It was one pill. I thought it was a better alternative than letting you self-destruct in front of everyone. I didn’t shove it down your throat. I handed it to you with a glass of water. You willingly took it.”
I hook my bra and tug on my T-shirt. “Did you tell me what it was?”
I stop my frantic movements long enough to study him. He’s not lying. I can tell. It pisses me off that I can’t remember him handing me a sleeping pill. It pisses me off that I can’t remember what I did that warranted him feeling the need to sedate me like an out of control animal.
With the heels of my hands, I rub my eyes, shaking my head. “I’m sorry … I have to go.”
Griffin bends forward, putting us at eye level while sharing his minty breath with me. “I took the day off to be here for you. How can I do that if you’re not here?”
“I have to go.”
“Then I’m going with you.”
I laugh. “You’re coming with me to watch Morgan today?”
He nods. “You’re not driving. And if Professor Hunt knew what happened to you yesterday, he wouldn’t want you watching his daughter today.”
“I would never sacrifice Morgan’s safety.” I ball my hands in defense.
“It’s me and you today, Swayz. Deal with it.”
On a sigh, I grab my socks and shoes.
“Where are you going?” Mom asks when we make our way to the living room.
Sherri and Scott shoot Griffin concerned looks.
“I’m going with her.”
They give Griffin deliberate nods, redirecting their worried looks toward me.
“I’m fine. Really. But thank you for your concern.”
“Call me when you get home later.” Mom hugs me. “We have a lot to discuss.”
Who knows what Griffin told them. I’ll deal with it later.
“Does Erica have family around here?” Griffin asks on our way to Nate’s office.
I stare out the window, seeing everything and nothing in particular at the same time. “Yes.”
“I’ll look for something on her visitation and funeral.”
I nod. “Thanks.”
He doesn’t say anything else, and I don’t spur on the conversation. At some point we’ll discuss Daisy. How can we not? But not now. I need to let these images speak to me before I can try to make anyone else understand.
I lead the way to Nate’s office, dodging students milling around the hallways. It was dead in the building the last time I was here.
“You’re getting a lot of attention,” I say as we take the stairs to the second floor. “These girls are wondering what your major is so they can change theirs to have all the same classes.”
Griffin shakes his head, but he can’t hide his grin. A pang of jealousy slithers into my conscience. Does he like these girls looking at him? Or am I looking for anything to distract my mind from Erica, even if it’s conjuring up ridiculous reasons to blame Griffin for being—Griffin.
“This way, rock star.” I nod my head toward the door to Nate’s office.
“I only want to be your rock star.” He slides two fingers into my back pocket, giving me a playful tug as I open the door.
“I don’t want a rock star. I like my grocery store guy.” And Erica alive again. If I’m making a list of things I want, she’s at the top.
“Hi,” Donna, the blowout lady, greets us. “She’s zonked.”
I glance at a sleeping Morgan in her car seat. “Thank you for helping Nate—er … Professor Hunt out. I feel really bad for running late today.”
She stands from his desk chair, closing her laptop and hugging it to her chest. “No problem. Here are the keys to Nathaniel’s car. He said you’d swap vehicles so you would have a base for Morgan’s car seat. He’s parked on the east side. Lot C. First row on the right.” Her gaze falls over my shoulder.
“Oh … Donna, this is Griffin. Griffin, Donna.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“Keys?” I say to Griffin.
He fishes out the keys to my car. I toss them on the desk and take Nate’s keys.
“Well…” I shrug “…I’ll take it from here.”
Donna snaps out of her dreamy state. It’s the same way she gawks at Nate. “Good. Okay. Nice to see you and uh…” she serves Griffin a flirty smile “…meet you.”
After the door shuts, I turn toward Griffin. “A good ego day for you. Now you know where to come if it ever needs a boost.”
He smirks. “College. Work. Gym. Grocery store. It doesn’t really matter.”
I smile. It’s hard. With each step, the reality of what I saw yesterday sinks in a little deeper, permanently staining my memories and my conscience. The adrenaline that spurred me to get dressed and rush here has started to wear off.
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