“You’d been crying when you got to class,” Collin said quietly when we sat down at dinner.
I looked at him. “Rough morning with Cici.”
He sighed, and when he spoke, his voice was even lower. “How is she doing?”
“Not good,” I admitted, unsure of what else to say. I wouldn’t lie to him—it wasn’t fair to tell him she was doing great when she wasn’t—but I wouldn’t betray her trust either. She’d asked me not to tell the others just how bad she was, so I wouldn’t.
He sighed again and ran a hand through his now-shaggy black hair. “Drake is gonna freak out if she dies.”
I felt my brows furrow. “What do you mean?”
“He’d just… yeah, it wouldn’t be good.”
“They won’t know,” I replied under my breath. God, it was like he knew what she’d asked me to keep secret. “Leah and Drake, I mean. They won’t know until somebody tells them.” I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Collin looked at me for a second. At first his mouth hung open like he wanted to say something but wasn’t sure what. “They’ll know,” he finally said.
I felt my brows quirk. “How?”
“It’s hard to explain,” he replied. “But they’ll know. I promise.” He threw a glance around the table before going on, apparently satisfied that everyone was too busy chatting amongst themselves to care about our conversation. “Hey, have you… I don’t know, gotten to think about…things?”
“Oh, uh,” he caught me off guard a little. My thoughts had been with Cecelia since yesterday morning. “Yeah, actually. Um…” I glanced around the table, now, wishing we could have a second alone but knowing that wasn’t liable to happen.
“Okay look,” Collin said, turning more fully toward me before I could go on. “I said I’d support you with whatever you decide—and I do—but—“
Collin’s and my attention snapped to John, who was looking past us with a questioning expression on his face. We followed his gaze to find Teresa standing across the sea of cafeteria tables on the far side of the room. A guard was holding her by the arm. He said something to her, and she nodded while we looked on. When the guard on her arm ticked his head, another guard started to make his way over to our table.
Around us, dinner had ground to a halt. Everyone had stopped eating in lieu of watching whatever was happening.
“John King?” The guard’s voice was low and commanding.
John nodded. “Yeah, that’s me. What’s going on?”
“Come with us.” They took John by the arm and pulled him so he stood in front of them. Then they turned him around, wrenched his wrists behind his back and cuffed him.
“What’s up?” Collin asked of the guards. “What’s going on?”
When Collin stood I found my hand reaching for his of its own volition but the guard slapped my hand away before I could make contact.
“Keep your hands to yourself, bitch.”
A lot of things happened at once:
Collin spun, pulling his hands out of the grasp of the officer and stepping in front of me in one set of fast movements. “Watch your mouth, and leave her alone.”
But in the next second, the officer grabbed him by the shoulder, stepped around him, hooked a foot between his ankles and flattened Collin to the table beside me. winced as the officer pressed his forearm across the back of his neck.
Collin winced as the officer pressed his forearm across the back of his neck.
The guard dipped his face down growled into Collin’s ear: “I’ll say whatever the fuck I want to your little girlfriend, you filthy mimic.”
Then he pushed himself up, giving Collin a final shove into the table top as he did it. “Now get the hell up.” He motioned at another guard that was standing watch, then ticked his head at me. “Get her too.”
The concussive force of the officer’s hand on my shoulder shocked a gasp out of me. He pulled me up with a hard hand on the top of my arm, then wrenched my wrists behind my back.
“Jesus,” Collin barked. “We aren’t putting up a fight. You don’t have to be so rough with her.”
“I’m fine,” I said as the officer walked me forward with a hand on my shoulder, but I only said it to make Collin stop talking. Whatever the hell was going on, instinct told me that we should keep our mouths shut. Giving them as little fodder as possible to hurt us with seemed like the right way to go. So while my shoulder ached where the officer had grabbed me, I wasn’t about to say anything about it. And as we were walked down the hall, I didn’t say a word. Neither did John or Collin, in front of me, as though they silently agreed.
The guard that was leading the way opened a door and stepped aside, letting us, each with a guard attached to our left arm, go in ahead of him. Then he stepped in behind us and closed the door tight, throwing the room into darkness. My heart hammered away behind my ribs and cold sweat broke out on my palms as John, Collin and I were positioned to stand in a line, shoulder to shoulder. The only light came from a window that looked into another room. It was empty except for a table and two chairs sitting in it. They’d arranged us so we were looking through the window, so we were looking into that other room. But why?
Where was Teresa?
I felt a guard step up behind me, then felt Collin stiffen as another stepped up behind him. I flattened my hands, still cuffed behind me, to the small of my back so my fingertips wouldn’t brush the officer’s uniform; Collin and I exchanged a look.
Our heads snapped back to face the window in an instant. My eyes stung with unbidden tears.
What had we done? My mind raced over the last days, going over every last thing, trying to figure out what we’d done to make them single us out. Was it because the nurse had undone my handcuffs while I visited Cecelia? Was it because I was visiting Cecelia to begin with? Was it something I’d said to the doctor? I tried to remember every word of the conversation, running it back through my mind on fast forward.
A door in the other room opened, stealing my attention. I watched as a guard stepped through, then Teresa was escorted into the room after him by another officer, holding her cuffed hands in place. On her face was a determined, blank expression.
My heart stopped beating. I heard Collin draw a breath.
“Sit,” said the officer who had led Teresa into the room. We could hear his voice as though he were in the room with us—like it was coming through a speaker.
The picture came together, reality clicking into place in my mind: we were looking through a two-way mirror.
“What the hell…” Collin breathed. I could swear I felt the way his heartbeat climbed with tension through the heat, like he was just putting the pieces together at the same time I was.
The officer holding her cuffed wrists sat her down in the chair that faced out window-mirror. Did she know we were there?
The guard approached her, his shoulders back and his gate self-sure. He grabbed the back of her chair and turned her toward him sharply. Then he bent down so he was in her face. “Now that you’re sure we know who your family is, I’m going to ask you this again: One. More. time.”
When Teresa lifted her chin and looked up at him defiantly, the beginning of a bruise could be seen on her cheekbone, the skin shiny and pink. Her hazel eyes burned.
Beside me, Collin had all but stopped breathing.
I wanted to pound on the glass, to make sure she knew we were watching, that we were there. I wanted to make them stop this—to stop whatever show it was they had in store for us. Because that’s what this was, wasn’t it? They had us here because they wanted us to see whatever was going to happen next.
“I won’t do it,” Teresa said simply.
The officer pushed himself up to standing and paced the room with his hands on his hips.
“You’re asking me to sell out my family,” Teresa went on, her voice having lost some of its defiance, and gained an ounce of pleading. “To lie about the people I love—more than that, about an entire race of people. This isn’t right. I don’t think you’d do it if you were in my position.”
The officer glanced at the window we were standing behind and ticked his head.
Our room was suddenly illuminated with overhead fluorescents, sending me blinking in the brightness. But even as my eyes adjusted, Teresa’s expression was clear: all defiance wiped away, replaced by fear and comprehension.
“Why are they here?” she asked. “You want me to do this–they have nothing to do with it.”
“They have everything to do with it!” the officer barked at her in response, making us all jump.
He ticked his head toward the window again and before I could blink, one of the officers had slammed John face-first against the glass.
But when Collin took a step, the guard behind him grabbed him by the arms and held him in place.
John struggled for a moment, but when the officer made moving impossible with an elbow between John’s shoulder blades and a hand on the back of his head, he went still, his breath making a lopsided circle of fog on the glass.
Through the window, Teresa looked on, sheer terror on her face. Tears welled, but her eyes never left John as the officer stepped behind her, crouching so he could talk in a low, menacing growl.
“You’re worried about the wrong things,” he said, his mouth near her ear. “Don’t worry about selling them out—because if you don’t do what we want, you won’t have a family to sell out at all. Got it?”
I felt Collin bite down on his reaction, his breath shaking as he fought not to explode and level the room with his furry. The officer pulled John away from the glass, dragging him back until he was standing, shoulder to shoulder with Collin again. His hard breath was as sharp in my ears as his heat was sharp against my skin with the anger he was trying so desperately to hold in check.
“So, what do you have to say now?” the officer said to Teresa, his tone all put-on easy and friendliness. “Or should we show you what we have planned for your son and his girlfriend?”
“Please, don’t do this,” Teresa pleaded. But it was Collin’s voice, a low, wordless growl, more feral than human, that reverberated through the tiny room overshadowing Teresa’s response.
I looked at him from the corner of my eyes, seeing only as much of him as I could without turning my head. But even that narrow, peripheral view was enough to know he was furious—and barely holding it together. As if the growling hadn’t been signal enough.
“We don’t have to do anything to them if you cooperate,” the officer went on. “If not…well, we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.”
When Teresa looked up at him there was such hatred in her eyes, such ire in the set of her jaw, but utter defeat and resignation in her posture. She sighed, and sadness replaced her determined anger. “Fine,” she said. “Just don’t hurt them. Please.”
“Good girl.” Then the guard wrenched her to her feet with a rough hand on her up upper arm.
She stumbled, but righted herself as they pulled her through the door, out of sight.
In a blink, the still and quiet room erupted in movement and commotion. Collin struggled against his cuffs, wrenching his body this way and that, getting free for split seconds at a time before the officer would grab him again, struggling to hold him in place.
Instinct said to step back, my heart told me to step into the fray—to help. The guard held me in place so both ideas were moot.
I was stuck as Collin raged.
“Get the fuck off me!” His yell was laced with a carnal growling that was unmistakably inhuman. “I’ll tear you apart—“
A guard materialized; he stepped in front of Collin and clocked him hard across the face.
Collin went down, crumpling onto his knees.
I knew I’d never forget that sight. Even as tears and anger blurred my vision so I couldn’t see clearly, I knew I’d remember every detail of the way Collin’s head whipped back, then fell forward; the way the guards held his arms when he fell so when he hit his knees his arms were wrenched up behind him.
I wasn’t even trying to stop my sobs; they poured out of me, loud and ugly and keening. The tears were hot against my shock-chilled skin.
They dragged him from the room.