Pretend She's Here(3)

Perfect, I thought—Lizzie’s number one choice. I slugged some down. A few drops spilled on the beige seats. I wiped them up with the sleeve of my green army jacket.

“How was school?” Mr. Porter asked, the first thing he’d said.

“Pretty good,” I said. “I have an English test tomorrow. Lots of homework …” At that second, I realized that in the excitement of seeing Chloe, I’d left my backpack next to the stone wall. “Oh, could we go back a sec, actually, I forgot …” I started to say.

“Lizzie, English was always your best subject,” Mrs. Porter said. “You’ll have nothing to worry about. A poet, that’s what I always said of you. My girl, the poet.”

“Um,” I said. “You mean Emily.”

Lizzie wrote poems; I write plays. I couldn’t really blame Mrs. Porter for the slipup, though.

“It’s better we start right now, sweetie,” Mrs. Porter said. “No going back, no being stuck in old ways. It’s better just to move on from the start. You’ll get used to it. We already have, haven’t we, Chloe?”

“Yeah,” Chloe said, looking away from me, out the window.

“Used to what?” I asked. I felt a tiny bit sick to my stomach—not the most unusual thing in the world. I was known to get carsick, but not usually right here on the sleepy country lanes of my hometown.

“Tell her, Chloe,” Mrs. Porter said.

“You’re my sister,” Chloe said.

“True, we’re just like sisters,” I said. I looked across the seat at her, but she was still staring out the window. That’s when I noticed we had driven past the cemetery. We were at the stop sign, about to turn onto Shore Road.

“Not ‘like,’” Mr. Porter said.

Nausea bubbled up in me. I was going to be sick. “Please, could you pull over?” I asked.

No one replied. Mr. Porter just drove faster, past the gold-green salt marsh where I’d spied Mrs. Porter in August. We passed the fish shack. There were Patrick and Bea getting out of our old orange car. When I started to wave, Chloe caught my arm to keep my hand down. I noticed all three Porters avert their faces, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that they didn’t want to be seen by my brother and sister.

“Stop,” I said, feeling dizzy.

Mr. Porter didn’t, though, and no one spoke. I saw the traffic light looming—once we went through we’d be on I-95, the interstate heading to wherever—and my head spun with the fact that these were people I loved, trusted as much as anyone, but who were acting so bizarrely. This couldn’t be happening—I didn’t even know what “this” was, but my gut was telling me it was now or never. This was my chance.

We stopped at the red light. I grabbed the handle and pulled, trying to yank open the door. Nothing happened.

Childproof locks, but I was nearly sixteen.

I tugged harder. The door stayed shut. My hand dove into my jacket pocket, closed around my cell phone. I fumbled, starting to pull it out, but my fingers felt clumsy. I was getting really tired.

“It’s better you relax,” Mrs. Porter said. “We have a long ride ahead of us, Elizabeth.”

“Chloe, say your sister’s name,” Mr. Porter said.

“Lizzie,” Chloe whispered. And I felt her hand—cold and sweaty—close around mine and squeeze four times, just as my eyelids fluttered shut and I forgot every single thing in the world.

It was dark.

My mouth felt dry, the way it did after I’d been home from school throwing up from the flu. Now I had a streak of dry vomit on my cheek that made me realize I’d gotten sick.

We were still in a minivan, but now the seats were black instead of beige. The familiarity smashed into me—this was the original Porter-mobile, the one Lizzie had known, which I’d gotten a million rides in. Somehow the Porters had ditched the white van while I was passed out. Switching vehicles was some kind of terrible sign. We sped along a highway without much traffic. Then an eighteen-wheeler passed us, so close it made the van shake.

My stomach heaved, and I retched.

“Oh God, she’s going to do it again,” Chloe said in a high, thin voice.

Mrs. Porter turned around and jammed a bucket into my chest. I tried to reach for it and realized I couldn’t move my hands. They were bound behind me with something so hard and tight it cut into my wrists. She held the bucket while I threw up until there was nothing left in my stomach.

“Gross,” Chloe said.

My head lolled. I was so tired, and I wanted to fall back to sleep, but I forced myself to take some deep breaths of stale minivan air and try to clear my head. I was having a nightmare. That was all this was. It was just because I’d been thinking of Lizzie so strongly. I had conjured her family. An evil version of the Porters, but that’s a nightmare for you: scary and horrible, nothing like real life.

Then Chloe said, “Yuck, it stinks,” and opened her window. A blast of cold air knifed in, and I knew for sure I was awake and this was reality, not a bad dream.

“How much farther?” Chloe asked.

“Shush,” Mrs. Porter said.

“I have to pee,” Chloe said.

“If I have to tell you one more time to sit still and not think about it, you’ll be sorry,” Mr. Porter said.

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