Mind Games Page 24

’’I really am sorry about this. But a girl's gotta do...’’ I lower my head and charge into Sandy blond, catching him around the middle and knocking him to the floor with a loud oof.

Cole picks me up and throws me off Sandy blond. I roll;my face smacks into the floor, hard. It will bruise. Good. I stand, shaking off the daze.

’’I won't let you destroy this,’’ Cole says. They need him. I'm so glad he's here.

’’I'm not going to breathe a word about you.’’ I swing at his head, making my movements obvious and wide. He ducks under my fist, slams his own into my face where I already hit it on the floor. I spin, hit the wall, use it to hold myself up.

Pain, pain, pain.

’’I really am sorry.’’ I look at Sarah, who is watching all this in horror. ’’And I promise not to tell them anything. But I've got to go.’’

I run for the window, twisting out of Cole's reach, then throw the chair through the glass with a resounding crash. Duck down, fist over my head again, kick out, Cole goes down, I see a knife on his belt.

I hit him in the nose, it's probably broken, then snake my hand out and slide the knife out of the sheath.

’’Sofia, please.’’ Sarah stands, holding her hands out. ’’You don't have to do this.’’

’’No. I really do.’’

’’Then walk out the door. We'll let you.’’

I laugh. She's so sweet. ’’Oh, I know. I just need physical evidence for a good escape story. I was knocked unconscious, kept in a cell, and fought my way out without speaking to a soul. I have no idea who took me. Good luck. Take care of Adam.’’

I climb out the window, letting the jagged edges of the glass catch on my arms, cut me. Then I run down the sidewalk.

Today is the end. Today I am done reacting. All these years I've been turning myself off, letting my paths choose themselves. After today I am acting. I am choosing.

I am going to do truly terrible things. Unthinkable things. But the back of my head is buzzing with right right right. I laugh, slide the knife into my pocket, and run toward the arch.

When I am close I pull out the stolen phone.

James answers immediately. ’’Fia? You escaped!’’ He must be with others if he's lying. ’’Where are you? We'll come get you.’’

’’I want Annie underneath the arch. No one else. If anyone is with her, if anyone approaches her, I'll run and you'll never see me again.’’

’’Come on, you know-’’

’’This is my only offer, James. Annie right underneath the arch. I know you'll be watching. That's fine. But she needs to be by herself. You know I can't take her and run fast enough to get away. Tell them I'm confused and scared, and I need to see my sister, alone.’’

’’Why?’’

’’Annie under the arch. Now.’’ I put myself in the middle of a tour group, walk casually, circling closer. It's a beautiful day, clear blue sky. Warm. A day for endings and beginnings. I glance behind me. Cole is tracking me, trying to be invisible. That's fine. I look toward the arch and see a man-Darren from the hall-walk Annie to the center of the cement underneath. Then he looks all around and walks away. I watch him, trace him. No one can be too close. Annie looks so small. So alone.

Oh, Annie. Annie, Annie, Annie.

I will not cry. I will not be sorry. It has to be this way. It has to end. It's the only way to move forward.

I keep walking with the tour group. The arch park isn't crowded but it's steady with people, and that's enough. There is a man who has stopped to tie his shoelaces about twelve feet from Annie.

My phone is out again. ’’James. Tell the man tying his shoe to get away from my sister. Now.’’

He sighs. ’’Fine.’’

The man abruptly stands and walks away. I break from the group and sprint to close the distance. I know they've seen me now. I also know they'll hope that I'm going to come quietly after talking with my sister. Public disturbance is their last resort.

Annie looks so lost. I slow as I get close, walk up, drink in every detail of her. The brown hair kept simple at her shoulders. The china-doll mouth, exactly like mine. The squarer-face, delicate chin. The milky brown eyes looking out, looking out but seeing nothing.

She looks absolutely terrified.

I want to tell her it will be okay. But I can't lie, not about that. I reach out and take both her hands in mine, her soft, perfect, clean hands. She smiles, but tears are tracing out the corners of her eyes.

’’Fia,’’ she says. Her voice is strange, strained, choked. ’’I'm so sorry. For everything. But it's okay. I understand.’’

My stomach drops. She knows. She saw. Of course she saw. I wish I could tell her everything, but I can't. Not now, not ever. She saw and she still came. A sob rises in my throat, but I choke it back. This is right. I am choosing it.

’’Annie,’’ I whisper. ’’It's the only way. I can't protect you anymore, and we can never be free. Not together. I'm so sorry, but it's the only way.’’ I let go of her hands, then lean forward and kiss her forehead. I want to stay here, frozen, with my sister, for all of time.

It's not an option.

I pull out the knife, and the sun catches it at an angle to glint like a beacon. I am going to lose my Annie forever. The sob comes out, but only just. ’’I love you. I love you, but I need you to be dead. You have to be dead.’’

I close the distance between us, the knife between our bodies, my hand behind her back supporting her in the last hug I will ever give her. And then I twist my wrist, and the knife cuts, cuts deep, my hand is wet with the blood. Annie gasps. ’’Be dead,’’ I whisper so softly only her ears could ever hear it. ’’I'll miss you.’’

Then I step back and after a few seconds (please, please, Annie, understand, you have to understand what I'm doing) Annie puts her hands over her stomach and drops to the ground, unmoving. I hold the knife out to the side, the red red knife, and a drop falls to the ground from it.

And while anyone watching will be watching that hand, my other slips into my pocket, pulls out the tiny phone, and drops it onto Annie's hand, which quickly closes over it and then she doesn't move, not a hint of movement, good girl.

I smile, so proud of her, and say, ’’Good-bye, Annie. I love you.’’

Then I turn and walk away, toward where I know James will be waiting. After a dozen steps someone falls into place next to me, but I don't look at him. He doesn't matter. Someone else falls into step on my other side. I look back and see Cole running, dropping to Annie's side, putting a finger under her chin to look for a pulse.

We keep walking. I pass a trash can and drop the knife inside. No blood evidence for Keane. James takes the place of one of the men next to me, and whispers harshly, ’’Fia, what is wrong with you?’’

I look at him and grin. ’’Absolutely nothing. The man by her body is from the group that kidnapped me. It was his knife. They'll clean up the mess. I'm free now to choose. And I choose Keane.’’

He's looking at me with horror-he has never looked at me this way-but then his eyes that pick up everything notice a deep gash across my stomach, the black T-shirt sliced open but hiding the blood. ’’What happened?’’ he asks, and I can see things falling into place behind his beautiful brown eyes. The angles. The showmanship of it all. The way Annie covered her stomach before falling.

’’Had to jump out a window to get here. See?’’ I hold up my arms with their small cuts.

And then he smiles, and I know he knows what I did, and I know the secret will forever be safe with him because we will do this together. We will be inside Keane, farther inside than anyone else could ever get. And we will destroy his father and his webs of power and we will end this completely. I am giving up a life of freedom, I am giving up my sister, I am giving up who I could have been. But it's the right choice, because together James and I will do what no one else can. We will do what is right, however long and however much wrong it takes us to get there.

’’I see.’’ James laughs. ’’My clever girl.’’

Next to a van two men are holding Eden's arms, restraining her.

She shakes her head, tears spilling out of her eyes. ’’You're a monster. Annie never did anything to you, she loved you, and you...and you're happy and hopeful. James, you can't be okay with this.’’ She looks at him for support, but he shrugs. She's shaking now, whether with tears or rage I couldn't say. ’’I can't-I'll be in the other car.’’ She jerks her arms away from the men and walks quickly to the black sedan a few parking spots over, her gait stiff and unnatural.

I smile and James takes my hand that isn't covered in blood in his own. ’’Thank you,’’ he whispers.

’’It was the only way.’’ I don't look back. I can't and I won't. I hope hope hope Annie and Adam will take care of each other. She'll figure out a way for all those women to be safe without Adam dying. I think that's what she was supposed to do all along.

And I think that this, here, with James, will always be wrong but it will always be the right sort of wrong, because if we don't do this, no one will. We are a matched set of perfect liars, perfectly destroyed people, perfect for destruction. James rubs his thumb down my own and my hand doesn't seem like it belongs on someone else anymore.

Annie is safe. And because she is, no one who hurt us will ever be safe again. I smile, and it is not a lie. It is a promise. I am ready.

Chapter Twenty-Four

ANNIE

Ten Years Ago

I'M NEARLY ASLEEP WHEN I FEEL THE BOTTOM OF MY bed move.

’’Fia?’’

I can hear her breathing;it's fast and ragged and peppered with sniffles. ’’Please?’’

I sigh and scoot over to the wall, holding the covers open. Her little body snuggles in next to me. ’’Ouch!’’ I hiss as she knees me in the stomach.

’’Sorry.’’

’’You know you aren't allowed to do this.’’

’’Please don't tell.’’

I smile. I won't. Because she'll get in trouble, but also because even though I pretend like I don't, I love it when Fia has nightmares and comes into my room. It makes me proud that she chooses me over our parents. ’’Okay,’’ I say, patting her head and stroking her hair like Mom does to make me feel better.

’’I wish night wasn't so long.’’

’’Why?’’

’’It's scary. I can't see anything. What if there's something hiding in the dark in my room?’’

’’Silly. Dark isn't scary. Dark is safe.’’

’’Why?’’

’’I live in the dark all the time. But when it's dark outside everyone has to be there, too. And if you can't see someone, they can't see you, either.’’

She sniffles a few times. ’’So, it's like I'm hiding in the dark?’’

’’Yes. You're the secret when it's dark. Dark is safe.’’

’’Dark is safe,’’ she whispers, snuggling into me and throwing one of her bony arms over my stomach. ’’But only with you here, too.’’

’’Safe together.’’ I smile and brush her hair away from where it's tickling my nose. Sometimes I am the one who takes care of Fia. It makes me happy. ’’I'll take care of you,’’ I say, but she is already asleep. I breathe in the sweet shampoo scent of her and fall asleep, too.


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