Seconds Away Page 38

She just gets it. Simple as that. Here was something else remarkable about Ema: She was able, even now, to make me feel better. I flashed back to that horrible moment at the nightclub, when I was sure that Ema was going to die. There had been a knife against her throat, and I had never felt so helpless or known such fear.

Tears came to my eyes. Seeing them, Ema said, ’’It\'ll be okay. We\'ll figure something out. There has to be a way to get you back on the team ’’

Without thought, I reached out and hugged her hard. For a moment she stiffened, but then her arms slid around and she gripped me too. We just stayed that way, her head against my chest, neither of us moving, almost as though we were afraid of what would come after we let go.

’’Uh, what are you two doing?’’

It was Spoon. Ema and I quickly released each other.

’’Nothing,’’ I said.

Spoon looked at me, then at Ema, then somewhere between the two of us. ’’Studies have shown that hugging can cure depression, reduce stress, and boost the body\'s immune system.’’

Spoon spread his arms. ’’So how about a group hug?’’

’’Don\'t make me punch you,’’ Ema said.

Spoon just stayed there, arms spread. ’’This is for all our health.’’ Ema looked at me. I looked at her. We both shrugged and gave Spoon a hug at the same time. He relished it, and I wondered about how starved for physical contact we all suddenly seemed.

’’I do this with my parents all the time,’’ Spoon said. ’’It\'s great, right?’’

We all took this as a cue to let go. We sat down on a curb.

’’How come you\'re not at tryouts?’’ Spoon asked.

Ema shushed him, but I quickly explained. First I told him about the photograph of the Butcher of Lodz being Photoshopped. Spoon\'s reaction:

’’Well, duh. I mean, did we really think he was some weird Nazi who never aged?’’

Then I told him about getting thrown off the team. Spoon\'s reaction to this news was interesting. Rather than commiserating, Spoon just got red-faced angry at the injustice of it all. It was like the sweet, naïve kid was suddenly going to a dark place. Ema changed subjects.

’’So did you visit Rachel?’’ Ema asked.

’’Yes.’’

’’Is she okay?’’ Spoon asked.

’’The wounds were only superficial. She has a bandage on her head.’’

’’But not on her face?’’ Spoon looked relieved. ’’Thank goodness.’’

Ema punched him in the arm. Then we got serious. I told them all about my visit with Rachel, every detail. When I finished, Ema asked, ’’So what do you make of it?’’

’’I\'m not sure. Here her mother makes these crazy accusations against her father . . .’’

’’And she ends up dead,’’ Spoon said.

Silence.

Ema stood and started pacing. ’’You said that Rachel started to believe her mother about her father, I mean?’’

I thought about that. ’’I don\'t know if it was that strong. I think at some point Rachel decided that if she wasn\'t on her mother\'s side, who would be?’’

’’Okay, so let\'s follow that. Rachel\'s mom says the dad is a horrible man who locked her up because she knew bad stuff about him or whatever. Right?’’

’’I guess.’’

Ema kept pacing. ’’Then Rachel wants to give her mother the benefit of the doubt. So what would she naturally do?’’

’’Look into her mother\'s accusation,’’ I said.

’’How?’’

’’By looking into her father . . .’’

My voice faded. And that was when I saw it.

Both Ema and Spoon spotted the look on my face. ’’What?’’

I tried to sort through the thoughts even as I spoke. ’’Rachel had the Abeona butterfly on her hospital door,’’ I said.

’’So?’’

’’So she was working with them somehow.’’

’’Okay,’’ Ema said. ’’We sort of knew that. What\'s the big deal?’’

’’When that guy with the shaved head came by the morning after Rachel was shot, the first thing he asked me was so weird.’’

’’What was it?’’

’’He said that he knew that Rachel and I had gotten close . . .’’

Ema squirmed a little when I said that.

’’But right away, he started asking if Rachel had given me anything.’’

’’Like what?’’ Spoon said.

’’That\'s what I asked. Like what. He said like a gift or package. I mean, here Rachel has just been shot. Her mother is dead. I\'ve just finished talking to the police and the first thing Shaved Head asks about is if Rachel gave me a gift or package? Don\'t you think that\'s weird?’’

We all agreed that it was.

’’So what\'s your theory?’’ Ema asked.

’’Suppose Rachel found something,’’ I said. ’’I don\'t know what. Something that proves her mother was telling the truth. Suppose she found something bad about her father and then she wrapped it up in a package or something and maybe she was supposed to pass it on to the Abeona Shelter.’’

’’But she ends up shot before she can,’’ Ema added.

’’And her mother, the woman who first made the accusation, ends up dead,’’ Spoon finished for us.

Silence.

’’We may be reaching,’’ Ema said. ’’On one level, this all makes sense. On another, it doesn\'t. Rachel is still alive. Even if she doesn\'t still have this gift or package, I mean, she has to know what it was.’’

’’Which may mean she\'s still in danger,’’ Spoon added.

I thought about it. ’’We are missing something,’’ I said.

’’What?’’

’’I don\'t know. But something. Her father wouldn\'t shoot her. I mean, come on. He just wouldn\'t, even to protect himself.’’

We mulled that over for a few seconds.

’’Maybe it was an accident,’’ Ema said.

’’How?’’

’’Maybe he shot at the mother and accidentally hit Rachel.’’

That made more sense, I guess, but it still didn\'t feel right. We were missing something. I just couldn\'t put my finger on what. We talked some more as the skies started to darken. At some point, I realized that tryouts would be coming to an end and all the varsity guys would be walking out the door. I didn\'t want to be here for that. I suggested that we break this up for the night.

Spoon glanced at his watch. ’’My dad will be done with work in another half an hour. I think I\'ll hang with him and catch a ride.’’

Ema and I walked alone down Kasselton Avenue. Behind us, the gym\'s heavy doors slammed open as the varsity players started pouring out. They were laughing and smiling and had wet hair from showering and they walked a little stooped, happily tired from the workout. Seeing them made the pit in my stomach grow tenfold.


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