“Stokes, please don’t go all silent on me,” she pleaded softly, “I need you.”
“What the hell do you want me to say?” he asked harshly. Jamie cringed at the anger in his voice. It was so out of character for him. She couldn’t even remember the last time they’d had an argument.
But she knew why he was so afraid. It was because of the man he’d seen watching him in the halls of USL, as well as the weird atmosphere around them that seemed to be getting thicker by the hour.
Stokes was afraid that there was some truth to what Maddeline Finch had told them. He wasn’t a fool, or the type of guy to ignore what was staring him in the face.
“Partner,” he relented quietly, “I’m really scared for both of us, but mostly for you. When I saw you lying in front of that car…it was only a few hours ago, but it feels like days. I don’t want you to get hurt again.”
“I don’t want to get hurt either,” Jamie told him. The way she said it made him smile. He nodded, forcing himself to take a deep breath.
“Ok, I need to keep it together,” he admitted. Tiny beads of rainwater glistened on his dark, handsome face. He put his arm around her shoulder, and for a little while Jamie was comforted.
They hurried down Elmwood Road, through the heavy rain that turned the streets into mirrored surfaces. Parts of the grey sky were darkening to the colour of lead, and Jamie wondered if there might be a storm later tonight. Spooky weather – that was all she needed to push her over the edge.
As they approached the front of her house, Jamie sensed immediately that something was wrong. She grimaced and rubbed her forehead. Another sick feeling flooded her body, all the way to her fingers and toes. Suddenly she wanted to run away from everything and never come back. She cursed herself. Damn it, she should have known better. Something was just getting started, and it was not going to stop.
From the outside the house looked perfectly fine, but she knew it wasn’t. She grabbed her friend’s arm and they froze in the driveway. She realised her dad’s car wasn’t parked beside them. He still wasn’t back from work. The rain poured down on them from above.
“What is it?” asked Stokes. He knew that she was sensing something. They’d been friends since they were five years old. He’d grown accustomed to Jamie’s strangely accurate ‘feelings’. Despite his natural scepticism, he trusted them.
“Something’s not right,” was all she could say.
“Then to hell with this, Jamie. Let’s not go inside. Let’s go straight to the police instead. I don’t want to find somebody in there waiting to gun us down in cold blood.”
“I’m not running,” she said, trying to sound braver than she felt. She blinked the water from her eyes and stepped under the awning, out of the rain. The door was already ajar. Someone had been inside the house. Maybe Stokes was right, perhaps they were still in there. It wasn’t the wet clothes that chilled Jamie so completely.
She heard Stokes say, “Man, I’m not liking this one bit.”
Despite his concern, she pushed open the door and stepped into the house. She took a few steps and then paused, straining to hear movement from somewhere upstairs. But the place felt as still as a tomb. When they finally wandered into the lounge, Jamie realised why she’d sensed something.
The whole room had been trashed.
Someone had gone through the cabinets and had scattered papers, ripped paintings off the walls, pulled books from their shelves, and slashed the sofa cushions wide open so that white clouds of stuffing littered the floor, drifting with the slightest movement around their feet.
“Somebody went psycho on this place,” Stokes muttered.
Jamie felt sick at the violation of her home, her safe place, but she said, “I bet the whole house is like this.”
She dreaded to think what had been done to her own room and her father’s study.
“They were looking for the key,” said Stokes, “Right?”
Jamie was so cold inside now. Somehow, seeing her home gutted like this made everything seem far too real. It wasn’t a mystery anymore. It wasn’t just something she could solve like an amatuer detective. It was a genuine threat that might snatch their lives away.
Before she knew exactly what was happening, Jamie was doubled over and puking last night’s pizza all over the hardwood floor. She realised Stokes was suddenly at her side, holding her hair out of the way while her stomach clutched, heaved and rejected its contents.
When it was over she stood upright, embarrassed but relieved, holding her belly for comfort. Stokes frowned and leaned forward, wiping a trickle of vomit from her mouth with the cuff of his jacket.
“You okay, partner?”
She nodded. She couldn’t afford to break down right now. Not now, not here.
She murmured pointlessly to herself, “Why is this happening? What did I do…?”