A MACHINE BEEPED TO THE LEFT OF MY father’s hospital bed as another on his right hissed. He’d been joking an hour ago, but the pain medication had put him back to sleep. My mother, Daniel, Joseph, and Noah were all huddled around the bed.
I hung back. There was no room for me.
I had never been there to witness it before, that exquisite moment when my thoughts became action. Just yesterday, I surveyed the chaos—the chaos I wanted—and stood there helpless as my father’s blood flooded over the white marble stairs. A grieving mother was arrested, taken from her broken family to be locked away. But she was a danger to no one.
I was a danger to everyone.
A doctor poked his head into the room. “Mrs. Dyer? Can I speak with you for a moment?”
My mother stood up and tucked her hair behind her ear. She had spent the night at the hospital but looked like she’d been here for a thousand years. She made her way over to the door where I stood, and slipped around behind me, her hand brushing mine. I winced.
The doctor’s words trailed through the open door. I listened.
“I have to tell you, Mrs. Dyer, your husband is one lucky man.”
“So he’s going to be okay?” My mother’s voice was stretched to the breaking point. Tears welled in my eyes.
“He’s going to be fine. It’s a miracle he didn’t bleed to death on the way here,” the doctor said.
I heard a sob escape my mother’s throat.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years of practice.”
My gaze flicked to Noah. He sat next to Joseph and stared at my father, his eyes shadowed and dark. They didn’t meet mine.
“When can he come home?” my mother asked.
“A few days. He’s recovering from the bullet wound beautifully, and we’re really just keeping him here for observation. To make sure he doesn’t get an infection and that the healing continues. Like I said, he’s one lucky man.”
“And Mr. Lassiter?”
The doctor’s voice lowered. “He’s still unconscious, but there will probably be significant brain damage. He might not wake up.”
“Thank you so much, Dr. Tasker.” My mother ducked back into the room and headed over to my father’s bedside. I watched her as she fit seamlessly into the little tableau, where she belonged.
I took one more look at my family. I knew every laugh line on my mother’s face, every smile that Joseph had, and every shift of expression in Daniel’s eyes. And I looked at my father, too—at the face that taught me how to ride a bicycle, that caught me when I was too scared to jump into the deep end of the pool. The face that I loved. The face I’d let down.
And then there was Noah. The boy who fixed my father but couldn’t fix me. He had tried, though. I knew that now. Noah was the one I never knew I’d been waiting for, but I chose to let him go. And I chose wrong.
All of my choices had been wrong. Everything I touched I would destroy. If I stayed, it could be Joseph or Daniel or my mother or Noah, next. But I couldn’t just disappear; with my parents’ resources, I’d be found in hours.
My mother sniffed then, stealing my attention. And I realized—I could tell her. I could tell her the truth about what I’d done, with Mabel’s owner and Morales and in the Everglades. She would surely have me committed.
But was a mental hospital where I belonged? I knew my parents—they’d make sure I went somewhere where there would be art therapy and yoga and endless discussions about my feelings. And the truth was that I wasn’t crazy. I was a criminal.
All of a sudden, I knew where I needed to go.
I looked at each of them once more. I said a silent good-bye.
I slipped out of my father’s hospital room just as Noah’s head turned in my direction. I wove through the hallways, cutting a path through the nurses and orderlies as I went. Past the waiting room, still peppered with a few reporters from the day before. I walked past everyone, straight to Daniel’s car, parked under a murder of crows that had alighted on a cluster of trees by the parking lot. I got into the car and turned the key in the ignition. I drove until I reached the Thirteenth Precinct of the Metro Dade Police. I got out of my car, closed the door behind me, and walked up the stairs so that I could confess.
Detective Gadsen had been suspicious the last time we spoke, and I would simply confirm what he might already guess to be true. I would tell him that I had crushed Mabel’s owner’s skull. That I stole Morales’s EpiPen, and released fire ants inside her desk. I was too young to be sent to prison, but there was a solid chance I’d end up in the juvenile detention center. The plan wasn’t perfect, but it was the most self-destructive thing I could think of, and I so badly needed to self-destruct.
I could hear nothing but the throb of my heartbeat as my feet hit the concrete. The sound of my breathing as I took what I hoped would be my last free steps. I walked into the building and up to the front desk and told the officer I needed Detective Gadsen.
I didn’t notice the person behind me, not until I heard his voice.
“Can you tell me where I can report a missing person? I think I’m lost.”
My legs filled with lead. I turned.
He looked at me from under the brim of that Patriots cap he always wore and smiled. A silver Rolex glinted on his wrist.
It was Jude.
In the police station. In Miami.
Five feet away.
I closed my eyes. He couldn’t be real. He wasn’t real. I was hallucinating, just—
“Through those doors and down that hallway,” the cop said.
My eyes flew open, and I watched the officer point behind me.
“First door on the left,” he said to Jude.
I looked slowly from the officer to Jude as my veins flooded with fear and my mind flooded with memories. The first day at school, hearing Jude’s laugh and then seeing him forty feet away. The restaurant in Little Havana, watching him appear after Noah left and before that boy Alain sat in his seat.
The night of the costume party? The open door to our house?
Another memory flickered in my mind. “Investigators are having trouble recovering the remains of eighteen-year-old Jude Lowe due to the wings of the landmark that are still standing, but could collapse at any moment.”
It was impossible. Impossible.
Jude raised his hand to wave at the officer; he caught my eye and his watch caught the light.
My mouth formed Jude’s name, but no sound came out.
Detective Gasden appeared then and said something, but his voice was muffled and I didn’t hear it. I barely felt the pressure of his hand on my arm as he tried to lead me away.
“Jude,” I whispered, because he was all I saw.
He walked toward me and his arm brushed mine lightly, so lightly, as he passed.
I felt myself fracture.
He pushed open the doors. He didn’t turn around.
I tried to reach him as the doors swung shut, but I found that I couldn’t even stand. “Jude!” I screamed. Strong hands held me up, held me back, but it didn’t matter. Because no matter how I looked then, broken and wild on the floor, for the first time since that night at the asylum, my biggest problem wasn’t that I was losing my mind. Or even that I was a murderer.
It was that Jude was still alive.