Jay felt his blood turn to ice; he felt freezing fingers grip his heart with chilling dread. “You left her there? Alone?”
Chelsea shrugged, glancing rudely at a couple beside them who were staring now. They looked away, embarrassed to be caught in Chelsea’s cutting gaze. “So what?” She turned back to Jay. “She’ll be right back. Go get some punch, or maybe something stronger if it’ll calm you down.”
Jay searched the room, spotting one of the uniformed officers stationed near the entrance. His irritation with Chelsea turned to insistence, as he barked orders at her. “Go tell that cop to get help. Tell him where Violet is, and tell him to call her uncle!”
Chelsea was confused, but something in Jay’s cryptic demands broke through to her, making her feel panicked without even knowing why. She didn’t question him again; she just ignored her date, who was still standing there stunned by the conversation he’d just witnessed, and she raced toward the doors—toward the officer standing there—to get help for her friend.
Jay was already running the other way.
The giant man in front of her reached out and captured a stray tendril of Violet’s hair, rubbing it between his thumb and forefingers thoughtfully, and then he looked up as if he were genuinely sorry. “I’d love to sit here and chat with you, and believe me, I am enjoying myself. But we have to go.” He spoke somberly, sadly. “It’s time.”
Violet shook her head. “I’ll scream,” she insisted, not sure what she really hoped to accomplish with the empty threat.
He seemed authentically disappointed. “I would snap your neck before anyone even had a chance to respond. Besides, Violet”—hearing her name on his vile lips made her visibly recoil again—“no one can hear you. And even if they did, I have a gun.” He glanced down at his weapon. “I have to get rid of you or I lose everything. It’s too late to go back now, right?”
Violet thought about her classmates…her friends…Jay. How could she allow any of them to be hurt by drawing attention to her…unfortunate predicament? She wanted to scream, to cry for help, but she couldn’t. She wouldn’t.
She stood up and reached for her crutches, feeling dead already. She had no other choice.
He led the way, holding the door open for her while she awkwardly shimmied through. He was sickeningly polite…and calm. He wasn’t the hunter now, just the nameless executioner leading his prisoner to the gallows. There was no chase, no thrill in capturing her, at least not this time. She had made it far too simple for him.
VIOLET’S ARMS WERE ACHING FROM TRYING TO keep up with him, but she refused to complain or even to slow down. His strong, calloused hand was wrapped tightly around the back of her neck, a warning to her of how fragile she was, how easily he could end her life should she try to get away from him at any point. She had a hard time imagining just how he thought she might escape, given the fact that she could barely walk, let alone outmaneuver him. But she kept her opinions to herself.
They were alone out here, in the long deserted hallway, heading toward the doors that led to the faculty parking lot. She could still hear the distant music, seemingly farther now and fading fast, in the background of her distressed thoughts.
She was worried, not about if she would die, as it seemed a certainty at this point. And although Violet had never been particularly afraid of death itself, she was worried about how it was going to happen. She prayed he would do it quickly, without making her suffer too much.
The other thought that haunted her in these last moments of her life, the one that bothered her even more than dying, was the idea that this monster, this madman, would wear her imprint on him for the rest of his life. Maybe longer.
The very idea made her feel physically ill, as she imagined sharing any part of her life’s essence with him.
At first she thought she’d imagined it, the voice she heard coming from the other end of the hallway, from behind them. But it was too real, too perfectly beautiful, to be imagined. The moment her name was spoken, and she recognized who it was, her eyes began to tear up painfully.
It can’t be him! Violet thought. Anyone but him!
“Violet?” His familiar voice was filled with confusion as he called out to her.
The hand around her neck tightened, and Violet followed the tactile cue and stopped. The grip was a threat in itself. They turned around in unison, the unbearably strong fingers never leaving the tender, already bruised flesh around her neck.
Facing Jay in person was nearly too much for Violet right now. She felt her frail heart splintering into a million lifeless shards.
He said her name again. “Vi?” He glanced up curiously at the man escorting her, and he visibly relaxed a little. “What’s going on? I was so worried…. I thought something might have happened to you.” He waited for one of them to speak, and then he asked the obvious. “Where are you going?”
Silence ensued—the kind of void-filling silence that yawns endlessly until it becomes virtually impenetrable.
Violet wanted to build a bridge across the quiet chasm, but she couldn’t find the words. They felt lodged behind the aching lump in her throat. She struggled with herself not to cry.
Suddenly the presence of the cop was not enough to make Jay feel secure. His posture stiffened, and he took a threatening step forward, his mouth set in a determined line. “What’s going on?” he demanded this time.
Violet felt the iron grip squeezing forcefully, and she knew what was expected of her. Her mind raced, as she tried to think of something—anything—that would make Jay leave now.