Drive, Tess. Just drive. Hands on the wheel holding on. Don’t stop, don’t think, don’t cry. Drive.
Midnight on the dashboard clock. High beams cut what can’t be seen. Trees rake branches past in periphery.
Blink against what’s blurred. Hold on, hold everything together.
Oh god there’s blood all over. Don’t look at it. Don’t look at your dress. It’s dirty, wet, ripped to rags. Your heels, they’re gone, where are they? Handbag, iPhone, missing, lost.
You can’t go back. Can’t ever go back.
There’s a light through the trees to the right of the road. A house set back in the woods, pickup parked in the front drive, living-room curtains drawn but a lamp’s on. The glow from the TV, aquamarine. Someone home, awake. Help.
Scream “Help me!” Scream it.
Drive. You haven’t gone far enough yet—you don’t know how far is far enough—so don’t slow down, don’t pull over, don’t go for help. That sound you’re making, stop it. That shivering, teeth chattering—make it stop.
Tonight will never be over.
He said, “Stupid girl,” before it happened.
I was in the trees, walking to my car. I didn’t take the well-lit path to the parking lot. I wanted to feel the last of the twilight coming down through the tops of the pines like a long-held breath exhaled. Behind me, the fundraiser gala was just transitioning to full-on party in that impossibly immense mansion and its grounds. I walked but my heels were an obstacle—yes, that’s what happened, I slipped them off and carried them in one hand like I’ve seen women do in movies, heels dangling from the fingertips at an angle like an empty glass of champagne. I was cold in the low-cut, too-short black evening dress I was wearing, but I didn’t mind, the cold was what I needed: a hit of clear-headedness that delivered me back to myself after all the troubling, unsettling things that had happened earlier. My feet pressed down on pine needles, twisted twigs, little rocks, all sharp, painful. I went slowly, moving from tree to tree, resting my weight on one trunk, then hobbling lamely to the next. I was probably not okay to drive home but I intended to sit in the car for a while and listen to music and sober up.
The man was there suddenly. He was in front of me in the near dark, standing so still—I thought it was just a stunted, misshapen tree, and then his head moved slightly and what light was left in the nightfall shivered across the circles of his glasses and died. I stumbled backward and nearly fell over, finally dropping to one knee.
“Do you need some help?” he said. His voice was loud like a shout and there was an eerie straining to it, a withheld surge, emotion forced out flat. I saw his hand move, taking something out of the pocket of his bomber jacket. He said, “It looks like you really need me right now.”
I knew what was happening. I was far enough away from the mansion, out in the trees, out in the dark, that no one there would hear me if I shouted, no one would ever know what was taking place. I couldn’t outrun this man, not without shoes, not in this ridiculous tight dress. I was alone. Helpless. I felt tears in my eyes.
He made a strange sound, a laugh that was choked back into a breathless, swallowed sob. “Here,” he said in that constricted voice, “take my hand.” He moved forward, and in his outstretched hand there was a long, black-bladed hunting knife.
Not stupid. I’m not. There’s plenty of stupid girls around, I went to high school with several hundred, I should know, and I’m not one of them. Every day of high school was an extended lesson in alienation ending with a pop quiz in apathy that I aced every time. All right I didn’t go to university or college after high school, I didn’t pursue any ambitious dreams of becoming a doctor or scientist or professor of humanities—but I had my reasons, and being stupid wasn’t one of them.
I left Park Heights for a year after graduating from high school. Then I came back. I got a job at The Green Machine, an organic grocery store right at the center of town on Beech Boulevard, next to Crazies, the town’s vegan diner. The owner of The Green Machine, Mona Wrightson, is a friend of my mother’s, so it wasn’t hard to ask her for work, I think it was always unsaid that I would have a job there if I wanted one. I had my own car, my mother’s car, the 1995 Buick Roadmaster Estate station wagon that refused to die no matter what we did to it over the years. I’ve observed more than one adolescent milestone in that car. What Mona really needed when I asked her for a job was a delivery person, since she had started offering grocery delivery service a few years before and the demand had kept growing. So...