“My mother doesn’t trust you, Em,” he says, raising his voice so it can compete with the helicopter. “I’m not sure I do, either.”
I get louder, too. “I swear to you, I didn’t hurt those girls.”
“How can you be so sure? You were so messed up last night that I doubt you’d remember it if you did.”
The helicopter retreats from the area, zooming out over the lake. Its departure leaves the cabin draped in silence. Lingering in the newfound quiet are Theo’s words—and the accusation coiled within them.
“What are you talking about?”
“Flynn talked to the other instructors,” Theo says. “All of them. Casey said she saw you by the latrine last night. She said you seemed drunk. When we talked to Becca, she admitted the two of you shared a bottle of whiskey while the rest of us were at the campfire.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, my voice so incredibly meek I’m surprised Theo can even hear it.
“So you were drinking last night?”
“Jesus, Emma. One of the campers could have seen you.”
“I’m sorry,” I say again. “It was stupid and wrong and completely unlike me. But it doesn’t mean I did something to those girls. You saw the camera footage. You saw I went looking for them.”
“Or followed them. There’s no way of knowing with any certainty.”
“There is,” I tell him. “Because you know me. And you know I wouldn’t hurt those girls.”
He has no good reason to believe me. Not after all the lies I’ve told. One word from Theo to the police could thrust me into the same situation I had put him in fifteen years earlier. The fact that our roles are reversed isn’t lost on me.
I tilt my head and stare into his brown eyes, willing him to look back. I want him to see me. Truly see me. If he does, maybe he’ll recognize the girl I used to be. Not the damaged twenty-eight-year-old who is very likely losing her grip on sanity but the thirteen-year-old who adored him.
“Please believe me,” I whisper.
A moment passes. A quivering period of time that lasts only a second but feels like minutes. During it, I can almost feel my fate hanging in the balance. Then Theo whispers back.
I nod, overwhelmingly grateful. I resist the urge to cry with relief.
Then I kiss him.
It’s a surprise to both of us. Just like the last time I kissed him, only more forceful. This time, it’s not boldness that makes me do it. It’s desperation. The girls’ disappearance has me feeling so utterly helpless that I now crave the distraction I avoided the other day. I need something to momentarily take my mind off what’s happening. I ache for it.
Theo stays completely still, not reacting as I continue to press my lips to his. But soon he’s kissing me back, upping the intensity.
I press against him, my palms on his chest. Not hitting this time. Caressing. Theo’s arms snake around me, holding me tight, pulling me even closer. I know the deal. I’m as much a distraction for him as he is for me. I don’t care. Not when his lips are on my neck and his hand is sliding under my shirt.
More thudding sounds erupt from outside the window. Another helicopter approaching. Or maybe it’s the same one, making another pass. It swoops directly over Dogwood, so loud I can’t hear anything but the thrum of its rotors. The window rattles.
Caught in that noise, Theo lifts me, carries me to my bunk, lowering me into it. He takes off his shirt, revealing more scars. A dozen at least. They crisscross his skin from shoulder to navel, looking like claw marks. I think of his accident—twisted metal, shattered glass, shards breaking skin and glancing off bone.
I caused those scars.
Every single one.
Now Theo’s on top of me, heavy and safe and warm. But I can’t let this go any further, distraction be damned.
He pulls away from me, confusion skidding through his eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t do this.” I slide out from under him and move to the other side of the cabin, where I’m less likely to reach out and touch his scars, my fingers tracing the length of each one. “Not until I tell you something.”
Although the helicopter has moved on, I can still hear it thudding over the lake. I wait until the sound subsides before saying, “I know, Theo. About you and Vivian.”
“There was no me and Vivian.”
“You don’t need to lie about it. Not anymore.”
“I’m not lying. What are you talking about?”
“I saw you, Theo. You and Vivian. In the shower. I saw, and it broke my heart.”
“When was this?” Theo says.
“The night they vanished.”
I don’t need to say anything else. Theo understands the rest. Why I accused him. How that accusation has followed him since. He sits up and rubs his jaw, his fingers cutting through the salt-and-pepper stubble.
I had always thought having the truth exposed would make me feel better. That relief would flood my body from my head to the tips of my toes. Instead, I only feel guilty. And petty. And unbearably sad.
“I’m so, so sorry,” I say. “I was young and stupid and worried about the girls and heartbroken because of you. So when that state trooper asked me if any of them had a boyfriend no one knew about, I told her that you were secretly seeing Vivian.”