Authors: April Henry
When he notices me checking my money, Ty's lips press together. He looks over his shoulder at the cook, a big guy wearing a too-small uniform who's busy lowering some fries in the hot oil. “I'm supposed to charge you for the cup,” he says in a low voice, “but let's pretend I forgot, okay?”
I nod. The tears, which weren't very far away, threaten to come back. “Thanks. I appreciate it. I've had a bad day.” Which is such an unbelievable understatement that I snort and start to smile.
He gives me a weird look, like
What's wrong with this crazy chick?
then comes back with my burger and fries and an empty cup. At the counter, I grab napkins and pump out four little plastic cups of ketchup and put them on my tray. Then I fill my glass halfway with rattling ice and then to the top with water. It comes out of the same dispenser as the lemonade and looks faintly yellow. Picking up my tray, I find a spot where my back is against the wall and I can watch the doors.
The food smells so good that when I open my mouth for the first bite, I have to suck back drool. And it
good. Hot and crunchy and greasy and, above all, salty. And most of it is soft enough that I don't even need to worry about avoiding my loose tooth. I know I should probably eat slowly, but after about ninety seconds, it's all gone and I'm chewing the last hard brown runt of a fry and licking the salt from my fingers. I even circle my index finger around each of the little plastic cups and suck down the last of the ketchup. When I look up, Ty is watching me, his face expressionless.
Well, maybe a few days ago I would have watched me, too. But so many terrible things have happened today that I'm not going to worry about what I look like to some cashier at McDonald's. I rest my chin on my hand, careful not to touch my bandaged fingers, and half turn in my seat so that I won't notice if he keeps watching.
Taking the pen from my pocket, I pull an unused napkin toward me and spread it out. In the middle, I write, “Who am I?” and draw a circle around it. I make another circle and write in the middle, “Is my name really Katie?” and then draw a line that connects it to the first circle. I make more circles that say, “Am I crazy?” “Was the cabin real?” “Where's my family?” “Why do people want to kill me?” and “Who pulled out my fingernails?” Some of the circles connect to others, like the ones about my fingernails and the cabin being real.
I write more and more slowly. All I can think of are questions. I don't have a single answer, and it makes me exhausted trying to think of how I'll ever be able to find out. It's warm inside the McDonald's and my stomach is full of food. Even my headache is easing.
I don't realize I've fallen asleep until Ty touches my arm. I jerk awake so hard that the back of my head slams into the wall. The echo of a sound hangs in the air. I'm pretty sure it came from me and that it was a scream. I've got my hands up in front of my face like I'm trying to stop someone from hitting me. I let them fall back onto my lap.
“Sorry, sorry!” Ty says, looking at the Band-Aids on my fingers. “It's just that we're closing now.” He's holding a wide broom with blue bristles. In front of it is a pile of dirt, torn wrappers, and bits of old food.
My face feels tight and red. “Can I just use the bathroom for a second?”
“Um, sure.” Ty looks around and I realize we are the only two people left in the restaurant. Even the guy who was cooking fries when I came in seems to have gone. How long have I been sleeping?
On my way to the restrooms, I stop to look out the window. The parking lot is mostly empty now. It's all too easy to pick out Brenner's SUV. I can't stay the night in the parking lot. But where can I go?
After I use the toilet, I splash water on my face. I want to sleep so badly, but even if I find another place to try to hide the car, I don't think I'll ever be safe enough to stop paying attention, to risk falling asleep. I take out the tiny first-aid kit and change the bandages on my poor fingers. Although they're soaked with blood, I still have to peel them off, sucking in my breath at the sharp pain. My ring finger looks the worst, raw and shiny. Swallowing down a sudden flare of nausea, I squirt the minuscule tube of yellow antibiotic goop on both fingers, then put on new Band-Aids.
I push the door open two inches and stop. Voices.
One I recognize.
“You're sure you haven't seen this girl?” a man says. “Someone thought they saw her coming in here.”
I know that voice. I would know it anywhere. The man in the oxblood shoes.
The last time I heard that voice, it was saying, “Take her out back and finish her off.”
DAY 1, 9:20 P.M.
Slowly, slowly, slowly I let the restroom door inch closed, careful it doesn't clunk and give me away. There's no place I can run. This bathroom is just a tiled box, with no windows and no exits other than the door. There's no place I can hide. I could lock one of the stall doors and stand on the seat, but that wouldn't fool anyone. I imagine the man in the oxblood shoes kicking in the door and then shooting me in the chest. If he wanted me dead a few hours ago, how much more does he want it now? Now that I have killed Brenner?
But one thing is different. I have a gun.
I stand with my arms straight out in front of me, my right hand holding the gun, my left hand steadying it. Or trying to steady it. I'm shaking so hard it's a wonder I'm standing up. I can't just let him take me. I'll end up a body in the woods, the way he wanted in the first place.
The door starts to open slowly.
, I tell myself.
Am I going to shoot him or try to hold him off and get away? I don't know. Either way, I need more than just a hand.
Then a dark head begins to come through the door.
My body makes the decision.
My finger is already tightening on the trigger when I realize it's Ty.
His eyes go wide, and he flattens himself against the door. Hands raised, he slides to the floor.
I look past him into the short hall. It's empty. “Sorry! Sorry!” I drop the gun to my side.
We speak at the same time.
“Who the hell
you?” he yells.
“Is that man still out there?” I step back so that I can see more of the hall. Still empty, except for a cart with cleaning supplies.
He lets out an angry sigh and lowers his hands. “I told them you were never here and they left. But I'm not sure they believed me. That's why I brought the janitor's cart. So they would think I'm just cleaning up.”
“Them? There's more than one guy?”
“There were two.”
Two? Like the two men at the cabin? Maybe Brenner's not really dead. Maybe the person who called Dillow was lying. I feel an odd surge of relief. “Was one of them thin and about five foot nine, with blue eyes and short brown hair?”
“What? No. The guy who asked about you had silver hair, and the other guy was bald. The first guy said you just escaped from a mental hospital.” Ty looks like he thinks that's a likely possibility.
“That's not true. But I'm not sure what is. I've lost all my memory.”
I wait for Ty to say something, but he doesn't.
“I don't even know my own name,” I continue. “All I remember is coming to in a cabin a few hours ago. Not a mental hospital. A cabin. And I was on the floor, and the guy who was just talking to you was standing over me telling this other guy to kill me.”
Ty's eyes narrow. “To kill you?” he repeats in a flat voice.
“I know it sounds crazy. But I swear it's true.” Would I believe Ty if he were telling me the same story? The scary thing is I don't think I would.
“Why would two men want to kill you?”
I must sound like the kind of person who wears a tinfoil hat and carries a dirty plastic baby doll. “I don't know. All I know is that guy was angry, and he said that I didn't know anything. And then he told the other guy to kill me and he left. I didn't even see his face. Just his shoes. But I'll never forget his voice. Then I managed to get away. And I ended up here.”
I expect Ty to look even more dubious. Instead he says, “I read what you wrote on your napkin. That's why I lied to them.”
I try to remember exactly what I scribbled down. A bunch of questions with no answers.
“Do you think you hit your head?” His eyebrows draw together. “Or someone hit your head?”
“I don't think so.” I run one hand over my scalp. “I don't feel any bruises.” Gingerly, I touch my lips. “I think someone hit me in the mouth though. It's all cut up inside, and one of my teeth is loose.”
Ty starts to push himself to his feet and then stops. “Is it okay if I get up?”
He points at the gun, and it's only then that I realize I'm still holding it. At least it's not aiming at him anymore. I slide it into my coat pocket.
Ty gets to his feet, steps closer, and tilts his head to regard me. “Your pupils are the same size. Do you have a headache? Do you feel sick to your stomach or dizzy?”
“I had a headache earlier, but it's not so bad now. The food helped.” I take a deep, shaky breath. “You do believe me, don't you?”
“I believe that you
you're telling the truth.” Ty's voice trails off.
“But it's a crazy story,” I fill in for him.
“Yeah. Except I saw the bandages on your fingers. And on the napkin you wrote that someone pulled out your fingernails. Did that really happen?” I'm guessing we're about the same age, but for a second, Ty looks really young.
“When I came to, I saw a chair with ropes.” A shudder races over my skin. “And on the table were a pair of bloody pliers and two fingernails. My fingernails.” He grimaces. “So, yeah. It really happened. Maybe it's a good thing I don't remember it.”
Gently, Ty lifts my wrist and looks at my damaged hand. Only now do I notice the brownish bruises, shaped like fingerprints, circling my wrist. “There's a first-aid kit in the back,” he says. “Should I get it?”
“No thanks. I just put on new Band-Aids. My fingers look gross, but at least they're not bleeding anymore. They told this security guy who tried to help me that I pulled my fingernails out by myself.”
He shakes his head and lets go of my wrist. “It's hard to believe anyone could do that once. Let alone twice. And anyway, you've got that.” With his chin, he indicates the pocket with the gun. “That doesn't seem to fit in with what they were saying. I mean, if you broke out of a mental hospital, where would you get a gun? I don't think they arm the guards at a place like that.”
Now I wish I had stayed at the restroom door and eavesdropped on every word. “What else did they say besides Sagebrush? Did they tell you my name?”
“Katie. Like you wrote on your napkin.”
“Did they tell you my last name?” It seems like something I could hold on to. Another piece of the puzzle that is me.
“If they did, I don't remember it. I was busy trying to decide if I was going to tell them about you. They did have a photo of you.”
“A photo? What did it look like?” I think of my family. “Did it show anybody else?”
“It was kind of grainy. Like it was printed from online or something.” Ty raises his arms over his head, fists clenched, and pastes on a grin. “It looked like this. Like you were celebrating a big win.”
I want so badly to be that girl again. The girl I used to be. The girl I don't remember. The girl who smiled and had something to celebrate.
My breath is coming a little easier now, but I still feel like a rat in a trap. “Can you do me a favor? There's a dark blue Honda SUV out in the parking lot, like, five rows back and 45 degrees to the left. Can you see if it's still there? And then I'll leave. I promise.”
Ty pushes open the door. In a minute, he's back, shaking his head. “It's there. But it won't do you any good. Three guys are going through itâthe two who asked about you and another one.”
I want to just sit down on the floor and give up. “Then they know I've got to be in one of these stores. Except most of them are probably closed now. They won't stop looking for me. And they're going to find me.”
“There's still other places here you could be.” He looks up at the ceiling, thinking. “There's something like eight movies showing at the theater complex, and the Ben and Jerry's is still open. And there's a brewpub on the other side that doesn't close until twelve. But yeah, it's not that many places.”
“I don't know what to do.” I rub my temples. The headache's back, and the food, which tasted so good going down, now threatens to come back up. “The minute I leave this bathroom, they'll see me. Out there in the restaurant it's nothing but windows.”
Ty tilts his head, thinking, and then nods. “I have an idea.”
DAY 1, 9:36 P.M.
“You really think you can get me out of here without those men noticing?” I ask Ty. “Out of McDonald's or out of the shopping mall?”
His dark eyes look directly into mine. “Both.”
I look away. “I don't know.” What am I doing dragging the guy who closes McDonald's into my problems? Even with the gun, the chance that I'm going to end up dead must be close to a hundred percent. “It's probably not safe for you to help me. I mean, those menâthey really want to kill me. If you get mixed up in this, you could get hurt. Maybe even killed.”
Ty hears me say the words, but I can tell he doesn't really believe them. Maybe I wouldn't either if some guy hadn't dragged me out into the woods. He starts speaking as soon as I stop talking.
“Look, the reality is that you need to let me help you. Or you might as well just walk out that door with your hands up.”