Pretend She's Here(7)

He looked inside the van. I swear he smiled right at me. Mr. Porter started to pull away.

“Hold on,” the man said.

“Yes, sir?” Mr. Porter said. Then, reading the name tag right on the tollbooth window, “Yes, Dave?”

“Patriots fan?” the toll collector asked.

“Help me help me help me,” I said. I was screaming inside, but even to my own ears the words that came out of my mouth sounded like gibberish. But I tried to lock eyes with him, signal with my expression that I was in trouble. I fought to stay conscious.

“Yeah,” Mr. Porter said. “How do you know that?”

“Sticker on the window,” the toll collector said.

I could picture it, the Patriots helmet right next to the Red Sox World Series Champions oval and the Proud Parents of a Black Hall High Honors Student emblem.

“Are we winning?” Mr. Porter asked.

“Up by ten, just got the field goal,” the toll collector said.

“Yeah, well, go, Pats,” Mr. Porter said, chuckling, driving away.

As the tollbooth disappeared behind us, Mrs. Porter leaned into my face. She looked worried. She removed the wig, dabbed at the bandage. “It’s bleeding through,” she said. “I’ll give you stitches when we get home.”

I was crying, talking, calling out for Bea, for my mother, for my family.

“No one can understand what you’re saying,” Chloe said sharply. “Will you just shut up? Just stop?”

“She will,” Mrs. Porter said, her arm around my shoulder, giving me a squeeze that was probably meant to be comforting. “She’ll be fine.”

Then, to me, her lips against my hair, “Sleep now, sweetie. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

I slept.

I woke up in Lizzie’s bedroom. This was surreal: Everything was exactly, I mean exactly, as she had left it. I lay in her four-poster bed, the maple posts topped with carved pineapples. Up above was the canopy that wasn’t supposed to be there—she and I had fashioned it from old lace curtains we’d found in her grandmother’s trunk in the attic. The quilt that covered me was purple paisley, and I recognized a faded stain from a sleepover when, laughing so hard at one of our Bad Movie Night selections, she spilled her hot chocolate.

Her desk—actually her grandparents’ old enameled kitchen table—was across the room. Lizzie had gotten it when her grandmother had broken her hip and had to move into assisted living. In fact, a lot of the things in Lizzie’s room had belonged to Mame. (I’d called her grandma that, too, just like Lizzie, Chloe, and all their cousins.) The milk glass lamps on the desk and bedside table, the Seth Thomas steeple clock on the bureau, a collection of swan figurines, had all belonged to Mame.

The bookshelves—I couldn’t believe it. Every single volume was set in the same order Lizzie had used, which was to say, no apparent order at all. Lizzie loved to read, and even though she wasn’t the tidiest person, she arranged her books according to logic that only she and I understood. Her categories were dead poets, living poets, awesome modern women writers, hot modern guy writers, non-hot modern guy writers, and British cozies. Lizzie had adopted Mame’s love of mysteries set in wartime England.

Somehow her parents, or whoever had created this room, had either figured out Lizzie’s system of shelving her books or had transported the bookshelves intact from Black Hall.

Or had we returned to her old bedroom in her old house? That thought made my heart lurch. Had we looped around, back from Maine, gone home to Connecticut? Were we in the Porters’ old house back in my hometown?

The steeple clock struck ten, and so—very distantly—did what I recognized as the grandfather clock that used to stand in their front hall. But instead of coming from downstairs, where the foyer had been in relation to Lizzie’s old room, the sound of the chiming bell echoed from up above.

Was it ten in the morning? There was a window in the alcove between Lizzie’s desk and bureau, but the familiar blue velvet curtains were drawn, and no light came through. Could it be ten at night? Was it the same day I’d been taken or the next? Or even the day after that? How much time had passed?

I noticed a plate of food on the bedside table—a cheese sandwich, an apple, and a bottle of Snapple. I was starving, but my mouth tasted terrible and I had to brush my teeth. If this was Lizzie’s room, the bathroom would be to the left, just past the closet. I tried to turn on my side, to get up. Pain shot through my left ankle. My foot felt heavy. I lifted it slightly: I had a support boot on. I kicked with my good leg, to move the covers, and realized my right foot was knotted to a long line tied loosely to the bedpost. My hands were no longer bound.

I climbed out of bed. It was hard to walk, with one foot in the boot and the other hitched to the bed, so I hopped as far as the line would let me go—luckily into the bathroom, about ten feet away. Surrealism continued to reign. Lizzie had been allowed to redecorate her own bathroom back home, and it was reproduced here, exactly: black marble counter and wash basin, black-tiled shower, a ruby-red stained glass window embedded with black-and-white lilies, black towels, Lizzie’s favorite Paris Nights soap and body wash, her purple toothbrush and—I couldn’t believe it—the pink toothbrush I had always left at her house because I slept over so often.

I started to brush my teeth, then stopped. What if the water was drugged? Or what if they had sprinkled a sedative on the toothbrush? I turned off the faucet and looked in the mirror in total shock.

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