My mom always came back to me in flashes. Sometimes I’d hear her voice, just a word or two. Other times, I’d have a memory so real it was like reliving the moment altogether. And now, as I kept at it, all I could think of was that conversation we’d had about this very thing, and her smile as she repeated over and over again, “Maybe when you’re thirteen.”
Eventually, I washed the razor off and threw it in the direction of my bag. I didn’t think anyone else would want to use it now. With blood running down my legs, I turned my attention to the nest on my head. My hair was still too tangled for me to run my hands through it. I had to work through it knot by knot, using more of the shampoo than I had ever meant to, and by the time I was finished, I was crying.
I don’t know what brought it out. One minute I was fine, and the next it felt like my chest had collapsed in on itself. I tried to take in a deep breath, but the air was too hot. My hands found the wall’s white tile first, a second before the rest of my body collapsed against it. I sat down on the rough, fake stone floor of the shower, and pressed my hands to my chest, grateful for the noise of the running water and overhead vent, which hid the sound of me breaking into pieces. I didn’t want them to hear me like this, especially not Zu.
It was stupid, so stupid. I was sixteen—so what? So what, I hadn’t seen my parents in six years? So what, I might never see them again? It’s not like they remembered me anyway.
I should have been happy that it was over, that I was out of that place. But inside or out, I was alone, and I was beginning to wonder if I always had been, if I always would be. The water pressure wavered, its temperature spiking as someone in the next room over flushed the toilet. It didn’t matter. I could barely feel it blasting against my back. My fingers went to my bleeding knees and pressed down, but I couldn’t feel that, either.
Cate had told me that I needed to divide my life into three acts and close the first two behind me—but how did someone do that? How were you just supposed to forget?
There was a knock on the door. Faint, almost tentative at first, but more insistent when I didn’t answer right away.
“Ruby?” I heard Liam’s voice call. “You okay?”
I took a deep breath and reached back, hand feeling through the air for the faucet. The water overhead faded to a mere drizzle, and then a drip, and then nothing at all.
“Can you—uh—open the door? Just for a sec?” He sounded nervous enough to make me nervous. For one terrifying split second I thought something had happened. I reached for the towel and wrapped it around myself. My fingers flicked the lock over and were turning the doorknob before my brain caught up.
A blast of icy air was the first thing to hit me. Liam’s wide eyes were the second. The pair of big white socks in his hand, the third.
He glanced around the bathroom over my shoulder, his mouth pressed in a grim line. The motel room was darker than it had been when I first walked in; we must have been well into night now. So I couldn’t be sure, not in any real way, but I thought I caught a hint of color flooding the tips of his ears.
“Is everything all right?” I whispered. He stared at me, letting the warm fog from the bathroom wash over him. “Liam?”
The socks were thrust in my direction. I looked down at them and then up at him, hoping I didn’t look as flabbergasted as I felt.
“Just wanted to…give you these,” he said, giving them a little shake. He thrust them again in my direction. “You know, for you.”
“Don’t you need them?” I asked.
“I have a couple extra pairs, and you have none, right?” He looked like he was in some kind of pain now. “Seriously. Please. Just take them. Chubs says your extremities or whatever are the first things to get cold, so you need them, and—”
“Oh my God, Green,” I heard Chubs say from somewhere in the room. “Just take the damn socks and put the kid out of his misery.”
Liam didn’t wait for me to hold out a hand. He reached past me and deposited them on the counter, right next to the sink.
“Um…thanks?” I said.
“Great—I mean, no problem,” Liam turned to walk away, only to turn back again, as if thinking of something else. “Okay. Great. Cool—well, so you—”
“Use your words, Lee,” Chubs called. “Some of us are trying to get some sleep.”
“Oh, right. Sleep.” Liam made a vague motion toward the room’s bed. “You and Zu are going to share. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course not,” I said.
“Okay, great!” He put an abnormally bright smile on his face. I wondered what he was waiting for me to do or say—if this was one of those moments that being trapped in a cabin with dozens of girls for six years had failed to prepare me for. It was like we were speaking in two different languages.
“Yeah, um, great,” I repeated, more confused now than ever. That seemed to do the trick, though. Liam turned and walked away without another word.
I picked up my new socks from the counter, examining them. Just before I shut the door, I heard Chubs’s voice, tinged with his usual told-you-so.
“—hope you’re pleased with yourself,” he was saying. “You should have just left her alone. She was fine.”
But I hadn’t been, and somehow Liam had known.
It took me several long moments to realize it was Zu’s dream.
She and I were on the room’s queen-sized bed, huddled together for warmth. The boys were on the floor with the blankets, using extra towels stolen from a cleaning cart as pillows. The collective brain trust of Chubs and Liam hadn’t been able to figure out how to turn down the air-conditioning unit, which insisted on spitting out its frosty breath every time the room so much as dared to spike to sixty degrees.
I had been hovering around the sweet, milky edges of sleep for hours when I felt the itch at the back of my mind. There was a part of me that had been expecting it; even though my body had settled onto the bed like a slab of concrete, my brain was still buzzing around in circles, processing what had happened with the PSFs, wondering if I could do what I had done to that man again, when Zu’s bare feet brushed against mine, and that was all it took. I was pulled into her dream headfirst.
I was Zu and Zu was in a small bed, staring up at the underbelly of a brown mattress. Darkness blurred around us until finally some recognizable shapes emerged. Stacks of bunk beds, a chalkboard, bright blue cabinets that stretched from floor to ceiling, large windows boarded up with plywood, and strange square discolorations on the wall, where posters must have once hung.