Later that night, after everything. After what took place in the mansion with the woman in white. After what took place with Will. r.
After the woods.r.
I drove in the rain as far as I could go.r.
I called Zach. He came, he found me. I was wrapped in his jacket. I was in the passenger seat of his car.r.
That was when I said, “I have to go back to Nightfall.”r.
Zach nodded slowly. “Okay,” he said. “Okay,” turning the steering wheel, pulling out of the gas station onto the highway, turning toward Park Heights. r.
I glanced back. It looked like my station wagon had been abandoned there at the pumps for decades, not minutes, a heap of junk rusting fast-forward in the aftermath of the rain.r.
“What is that, anyway?” Zach said. “Nightfall. It sounds like some sort of vampire crap.”r.
“No, it’s the theme of the fundraiser. At Arcyn.”r.
“You were there tonight, at this fundraiser?”r.
“And then you just left? On your own? Before it was over?”r.
“I got away.”r.
“You got away from what?”r.
I felt my heart pounding. I said, “I want to tell you, Zach. I’m going to tell you. I am. You have to give me some time.”r.
He looked at me quickly and then looked away, as if it hurt him to see me. He accelerated out of a bend in the highway and the car’s high beams swept across a wall of pine trees, branches slicing the light. r.
I had decided to go back to Arcyn. I knew that I had to, but now I felt it again, that panic. It was rushing into me just like before. I was afraid. My thoughts all scattered. No breath in the lungs to breathe.r.
Zach said, “You’ve got all the time you need, Tess. You know that. I’m not pressuring you.” He paused. “But I have to ask this much: How did you get way out here at this gas station in the middle of nowhere?”r.
“I drove.” r.
Don’t stop, don’t think, don’t cry. Drive.r.
When I tried to remember coming out of the woods between Arcyn and my car in the parking lot, at first there was nothing, and then there was this: Looking down from above, you can see a girl sprinting out from between the trees. Stumbling right down, staggering back up. Her dress is torn into pieces and there is blood all over her: blood in her hair, blood on her face, blood smeared across her mouth like lipstick. You can see her running barefoot into the parking lot, and there’s no sound because she’s holding back the sound of her screams. There’s only one hired valet at this time, sitting on the grass—he’s on his phone and doesn’t see her; no one sees her. She doesn’t have a handbag anymore but she never locks the station wagon because no one would steal it, and the keys are hooked onto the sun visor so that they drop into her shaking hands when she folds it down. She starts the car. She drives.r.
That girl is me. A few hours ago, that was me.r.
Zach said, “You left Arcyn in your station wagon. And you drove out here until you ran out of gas.”r.
“Yes,” I said. “I drove until I was out of gas.” He waited for me to tell him more. “I think I was in shock. After what happened.” A shiver went through me from fingertips to toes. “I think I’m still in shock.”r.
“Is this something that happened at the fundraiser?” Zach asked.r.
“Remember a few seconds ago when you said I had all the time I need?”r.
“I meant it, Tess, I did.”r.
“But you want to know.”r.
“I have to know.”r.
Don’t go back, Tess. Make him stop the car. Don’t go back to Arcyn. Turn around before it’s too late.r.
I said, “There was a man.”r.
“Stupid girl,” he said.r.
Zach became still. “What do you mean?”r.
“In the woods. It was after I came out of the mansion. I just wanted to get out of there, I wanted so much just to leave and go back to my life.” Now I was telling it. “And I knew there was a shortcut through the woods to my car.”r.
“Right,” Zach said. “Between the parking lot by the front gate and that tacky fountain.”r.
I’d forgotten that Zach had spent time there with the Severands. That he’d loved Linna, or thought he’d loved her.r.
“I went into the trees,” I said, “because the air was cool and there was light left to see. I was alone, and I thought I was free of them. That’s all I wanted, just to be free of them!”r.