I held her. It was the only thing I could do and it felt completely worthless.
They shot him. Him. Her father was the only conclusion I could draw.
After an eternity her ragged breathing calmed. Her rasping sobs slowed, the silent gaps growing longer. She slept, and I didn’t dare move to untangle myself from Beth for fear of waking her.
Hours later, when Emma’s own quiet sobbing died down. I managed to close my own eyes and trying to forget the pain in my legs from the awkward position. I wasn’t sure if I’d slept, but when I opened my eyes the rest had been enough to dull the edge of my fatigue. More than I’d managed in the last few nights anyway.
I watched the glint of Emma’s eyes in my peripheral vision as she herself watched me. She’d been awake for a while, but hadn’t moved or said anything.
I turned my eyes and matched her gaze. She looked away immediately, fingers twitching up to her throat.
“Sorry about that,” I said.
“Uh.” Her eyes darted around, anywhere but at me. “It’s okay.”
It wasn’t. But there’s nothing I could do. We sat there in an increasingly awkward silence until I dared break it, “What happened?”
I had a lot of questions, but I didn’t want to push her too much.
“I…” She paused. Her hands rubbed her temples. “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
She doesn’t know why things happened. She knows what. She can still tell me the events that led up to this.
Okay, from the beginning. What was she even doing near Beth? Were they in the hospital? I’d assumed Mr Spenser would have called me if she left, but maybe she’d met her after. Maybe I was wrong in my assumption he’d even think of me at all.
Emma didn’t elaborate. I was going to have to push her. “Did you visit Beth in the hospital?”
“Yes. Yeah we visited…” She trailed off again.
“I went with Haley.”
“Haley?” What the hell was she doing in all of this? I felt a surge of anger, but it had an edge of relief. I hadn’t killed her at least. As much as I wanted to hurt her, I didn’t want her dead.
“Yeah. She changed, or I thought she had.” Her eyes returned to their detailed study of the dusty floor. “Turns out not so much. She wanted to see Beth. They used to be friends you see…”
I’d managed to avoid ever picturing Beth being on speaking terms, let alone friends, with someone like Haley. But I did know. I could forgive her because I knew Haley so well. She was an expert at hiding her cruelty.
Still… Emma had seen what she was capable of.
“And?” I asked.
“Beth woke up.” Just like that. “The doctors rushed in, and there were tubes and…” She shivered.
“Then?” I urged her onwards.
“Haley freaked out, she was talking about you.” Emma threw her hands out in front of her in a frustrated shrug. “I don’t know what she was talking about, but she was angry about something to do with you and Beth. I don’t remember, there was so much happening at once. She left.”
Haley did seem to take particular affront to my existence. I’d always assumed this was because of me, something I’d done. Something about the way I was, or that I’d done wrong, that she hated.
But me and Beth?
It made no sense. Haley had targeted me long before I had even spoken to Beth at that lunch table. It had gotten worse since, but… nothing comparable to when she first started. I couldn’t see the connection.
And that didn’t tally up with turning up here. A pissed Haley wasn’t that much of a threat. I couldn’t imagine her shooting Beth’s father, and Haley most certainly wasn’t a They. There was only one They I could think of that acted outside the Island.
“I stayed a while-” A sob shook her, tears flowing down her face. “There were these men. They came, and… shooting… blood.”
I let her cry without interrupting. I could work out the rest.
Beth had come here because she had nowhere else to go. They had obviously worked out the best way to me was through Beth. If I had to guess I’d say Beth’s father didn’t let that happen. He’d have known better than to take Beth to me. He’d take her in the opposite direction. He certainly wouldn’t leave her.
I looked down at Beth in my arms. Eyes closed. Steady breathing. I was certain she was sleeping. “Dead?”
“I don’t know.” A small grain of hope, at least. “There was so much blood.”
So she came to the one place she could think might be safe, but I was far from safe. Her father was hurt, maybe killed, all because of me.
And she didn’t even know it yet.
I started stretching my fingers, alternately making fists and spreading my hand. A nervous habit I hadn’t even noticed picking up. I was restless. My back ached, I couldn’t even feel my legs.
As gently as I could manage, I lifted Beth’s head from my lap. She moaned, shuffling in her sleep and giving me an opportunity to slide my legs out from under her and rest her head on a bundle of my old t-shirts.
My legs obviously had not woken up with the rest of me. I’d disturbed their position enough to let a blood flow through my veins. I was rewarded with a fire of pins and needles. I held back a gasp at the onslaught of sensation. It hurt at first, but ultimately it died down into a pleasant warmth.
I threw my arms out and arched my back, stretching sore muscles over the bones of my shoulders. My joints snapped, disturbed by their sudden activity.
Turns out sitting in a tangled mess on a hard floor wasn’t a good idea for extended period of time. My attempt to stand failed dismally. I could hardly move my legs, let alone walk.
Not a good idea at all. I’d effectively incapacitated myself.
It took a few minutes of rough massage before I felt like they’d support my weight. I checked the knife was secure in its sheath, a reflex, and cast my eye around the dim garage.
It seemed small with three people. Crowded.
It seemed small compared to Mike’s place.
But it was mine. I’d only spent two months here, if that. Even with its lack of hot water, showers, and having to get dressed and put a coat on before going to communal toilets… it was mine. The only place I’d been able to come back to and relax.
I’d never had somewhere I could go and just be before. Exist as myself. No mother to pander to, tiptoe around. No bullies to avoid. No people at all.
Except Beth. When she’d stayed and I could still be me. I glanced over at her sleeping form, her eyes twitching under their lids.
She needed rest. Somewhere warm, with better facilities than a sink, a shower at least. A bed.
Mike’s place. There was no other option. I couldn’t care for her here. Could I trust Mike? Could I trust Danni? Jack?
Jack knew about here anyway. Mike knew the building, if not the garage specifically. It wouldn’t take much to betray me.
She might be more of a problem. I turned to catch her eyes dart away, inconspicuously not watching me again. She was a quiet, innocent girl. She was in danger. I owed her honesty at least.
“Emma. I’m sorry you got dragged into this. Those people who…” I glanced back at Beth, paranoid that she’d wake. “Those people who came after Beth. They’re trying to get to me. I don’t know why, I really don’t. But whatever their reason they want to find me. And now you’ve got dragged into this…”
I wasn’t sure how to continue. She just gave me a blank look.
“Listen,” I said. “I’m sure you noticed they’re dangerous. If you want… you can stay here. Not here, but close. I know somewhere better than this, with friends. We could protect you.”
“Here?” She frowned, but at least it was a response. “This place is awful! Someone attacked us just walking here last night. Beth- she shot someone. Just… just shot them. Yesterday!”
She pushed off the wall to her feet, her voice shrill in the bare room. I got the impression she had the urge to storm off, but one look at the door and she changed her mind. With little place to go, she walked to the furthest wall, facing it, back to myself.
“This is crazy,” she said. “This whole thing is totally freaking crazy. I can’t believe last night even happened and now what, you’re saying I have to stay here?”
“If you don’t, they’re going to connect you to this and I have no idea what they’d do.”
“So I’m supposed to hide, never see my parents again. What about school? What about my life? Can’t we just go to the police? I’m sure they can sort out some witness protection thing for you if you’re in trouble!”
“Emma,” I rubbed my eyes. Okay, I hadn’t really considered how much she’d be giving up. “They are the police.”
Silence as that sunk in.
“What did you do?”
Why does everyone assume I’ve committed some kind of crime? Every god damn time.
“I don’t know! Nothing! And you don’t have to.” I forced myself to keep my down, not to match her volume. Beth.
“But if I decide I don’t want to… what then?”
“They’ll probably ask you questions. And if you don’t give them answers…” Torture? What would they be willing to do?
“And if I do give them answers?”