I stop when I notice a girl standing just outside the latrine. Her stillness catches my attention. That and her white dress aglow in the moonlight.
She stands in the woods that encroach upon the camp, just a few feet from the line where the trees end and the grass begins. She says nothing. She only stares.
I’m not surprised to see her. Not after the day I’ve had. In fact, I’ve been expecting it. I don’t even reach for the bracelet that’s no longer there.
This meeting was inevitable.
Rather than speak, Vivian merely turns and walks deeper into the forest, the hem of her white dress scraping the underbrush.
I start walking, too. Not away from the woods but toward it. Pulled along against my will by Vivian’s reemergence. I cross the threshold separating camp from forest. The point of no return. Under my feet, leaves crunch and sticks snap. A twig from a nearby tree, as slim and gnarled as a witch’s finger, grasps a lock of my hair and gives it a yank. Pain pricks my scalp. Yet I keep walking, telling myself it’s what I need to do. That it’s perfectly normal.
“I’m not going crazy,” I whisper. “I’m not going crazy.”
Oh, but I am.
Of course I am.
I follow Vivian to the sculpture garden, where she sits in the same chair Franny occupied days earlier. The statues around us watch with their blank eyes.
“Long time, no see, Em,” Vivian says as I cautiously step between two of the statues. “Miss me?”
I find my voice. It’s small and meek and skitters like a mouse across the clearing.
“You’re not real. You have no power over me.”
Vivian leans back in her chair and crosses her legs, her hands primly folded on her knee. Such a strangely ladylike gesture, especially coming from her. “Then why are you here? I didn’t ask you to follow me. You’re still trailing after me like a lost puppy.”
“Why did you come back?” I say. “I was doing fine without you. For years.”
“Oh, you mean painting us then covering us up? Is that the fine you’re talking about? If so, I hate to break it to you, girlfriend, but that’s not fine. I mean, honestly, vanishing once should have been enough for you. But, no, you had to make us do it over and over.”
“I don’t do that anymore. I’ve stopped.”
“You’ve paused,” Vivian says. “There’s a difference.”
“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Because I stopped painting you.”
It’s how I have kept her at bay all these years. Painting her. Covering her up. Doing it again. Then again. Now that I’ve vowed not to do it anymore, she’s returned, demanding my attention.
“This has nothing to do with me,” Vivian says. “It’s all you, sweetheart.”
“Then why am I only seeing you and not—”
“Natalie and Allison?” Vivian lets out a knowing chuckle. “Come on, Em. We both know you don’t really care about them.”
“That’s not true.”
“You barely knew them.”
Vivian stands, and for a quick, heart-halting moment, I think she’s going to reach out and grab me. Instead, she begins to wind her way around the statues, caressing them like lovers. Fingers trickling up arms. Palms gliding across throats.
“I knew them as well as I knew you,” I tell her.
“Really? Did you ever have a conversation with either of them? One on one?”
I did. I know I did. But when I scan my memory, no such recollections appear.
“Now that I think about it, I’m not sure you even talked to them when I wasn’t around,” Vivian says. “At least not about something other than me.”
She’s right. It’s true.
“That’s not my fault,” I say. “You made sure it was that way.”
Vivian never wasn’t around. She ruled the cabin the same way a queen bee ruled the hive. The rest of us were just drones, buzzing around her, catering to her needs, her whims, her interests.
“That’s why you’re not seeing Natalie and Allison right now,” Vivian says. “I’m the puzzle you’re still trying to figure out.”
“Will you go away if I do?”
Vivian pauses before a sculpture of a woman carrying a jug on her shoulder, her toga slanted across her chest. “That depends. Do you want me to go away?”
Yes. And I hope you never come back.
I don’t say it. I can’t. Not that. So I think it. A mental whisper that floats across the clearing, wispy as fog. But Vivian hears it. I know by the way her lips curl upward in cruel amusement.
“Now that brings back old times,” she says. “You certainly got your wish, didn’t you?”
I want to run away, but guilt holds me in place. It’s a numbing sensation. A flash freeze. By now, I’m used to it. I’ve been feeling it on and off for the past fifteen years.
“I’m sorry for saying that.”
Vivian shrugs. “Sure. Whatever. It still doesn’t change things between us.”
“I want to make it right.”
“Oh, I know. That’s why you came back here, right? Trying to find out what happened. Snooping around just like I did. As a result, look what happened to your new best friends.”