Pretend She's Here(4)

“I have to pee, too,” I said. My voice sounded raspy, and my throat hurt.

I saw Mr. and Mrs. Porter look at each other, their profiles silhouetted by the bright lights of an oncoming truck. With a furious sigh, Mr. Porter yanked the wheel to the right and we bounced onto the rumble strip along the side of the highway.

“Get out,” he said. “Make it fast.”

“Where are we supposed to go?” Chloe said. We were on the edge of a forest, tall pines growing straight into the stars. “Can’t we find a rest stop?”

“This will have to do,” her father said. Doors opened, and Lizzie’s parents got out. Mrs. Porter took me gently by the arm and helped me out of the van. My head spun, and my knees buckled. She scanned the area, then led me onto a rough path into the pines. The air was cold. I could see the white clouds of my breath.

“Here?” I asked.

“Yes, sweetie.”

I tried to free my hands but I couldn’t. Mrs. Porter pulled down the zipper of my pants, and blood rushed into my face. I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t go. I just squatted down, nothing happening.

“Think of running water,” she said. “Pretend you’re hearing a waterfall.”

It worked and my bladder unlocked and hot urine poured out and splashed on my red shoes and the legs of my jeans. The sound was loud and went on forever and I was mortified knowing Chloe and Mr. Porter could hear. Then I stopped, and that was the worst part: Mrs. Porter was ready with a tissue.

My head was thick and pounding. I concentrated as hard as I could. I had no idea where we were, but all those pines and the chilly air—much colder than in Connecticut—and a distant sound of waves breaking made me think we were up north. If I ran into the woods, I could hide among the trees. My cell phone was still in my pocket; I felt its weight. If I could get away, I’d be able to call home. I’d circle back to the highway, and one of the truckers would stop and speed me away to a safe place where my parents could pick me up.

Was my family already looking for me? They had to be. They would have started as soon as I wasn’t home for dinner. Then a nasty thought filled my mind: Could my mother think I might be hiding out at some friend’s house? Because of our fight? Because I had done it once before? Because Bea would tell her I hadn’t wanted to drive home with her and Patrick? I pushed the idea away.

“Let’s go,” Mrs. Porter said, tugging on my arm. Then, as an afterthought, “Sweetie.”

“I think I’m going to throw up again,” I said, bending from the waist, crouching down.

“What’s taking so long?” Mr. Porter shouted.

“She’s about to be sick,” Mrs. Porter called back.

“I’m freezing,” Chloe said in a whining tone.

“Then wait in the car,” her father said.

I crouched, as if about to barf, then used my legs as springs and smashed into Mrs. Porter, knocking her down, making her cry out. I turned and ran as fast as I could into the trees. The smell of pine was fresh and strong, clearing my brain like an antidote to whatever had been in that juice.

There was no real path, but I ran by instinct, like on the field when I played touch football with my sisters and brothers. Patrick always gave the ball to me; in spite of the fact he teased me about being a theater geek, I was super fast. I dodged trees and boulders as if they were the other team. I heard someone behind me and wheeled straight toward the footsteps, a buttonhook move that brought me face-to-face with Mr. Porter. I caught him off guard enough that I could take that second to disappear behind a rock ledge to the left.

He was out of breath. I heard him. Mrs. Porter, too. I had speed and being fifteen-almost-sixteen on my side. The disadvantage was the drug, because even though the chilly air and my racing heart were pushing it out of my system, I still felt I was wrapped in cobwebs. I kept thinking of my phone. Where was Chloe? I strained to listen for her, too. I wanted to have everyone’s position in my mind when I made my next dash.

“Lizzie!” Mrs. Porter said.

“She’s not going to answer to that,” Mr. Porter said. Then he called, “Emily!”

My heart froze to hear my real name. I’d been half thinking they had lost their minds. It seemed beyond belief, but what other explanation could there be for taking me away from Black Hall, calling me the name of their dead daughter? But Mr. Porter had just proved he knew who I really was, and that terrified me.

“How far can she get?” Mr. Porter asked.

“The juice had too small a dose,” Mrs. Porter said. “I told you. I calculated body weight, I did everything but measure it out for you …”

“I didn’t want to kill her!” Mr. Porter said.

Their voices receded. They were walking away. I stayed still behind the boulder. I had to reach my phone. I twisted back and forth, contorting myself, trying to get my hands into my pocket, but it was physically impossible. My only choice was to stay hidden, then make a dash for it.

The sky was very clear, and pinpricks of starlight came through the pine needles. My eyes had gotten used to the dark. I wondered what time it was. My parents and siblings would definitely be worried. Thinking about shouting at my mother before school that morning, I practically lost it.

“I am going to Boston with Dan this weekend, period, end of story,” I had announced in the kitchen.

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