The screaming began shortly thereafter.
“Oh my God! She’s alive!” I yelled breathlessly. “I don’t believe it!”
“Paige,” Jagger called from his perch across the room. I wasn’t sure what my intention was in pacing, hugging the bag of clothes he’d gotten me to my chest, but I was wearing a trench into the floor. My companion seemed worried, though I couldn’t fathom why. He had placed his beloved burger on the table and held the upper half of his body over the back of the couch, watching me stride across the room with over-alert eyes. I wasn’t paying attention to his interjections, as I had my eyes trained entirely on the floor.
“I’m going on trial for her murder—” I screeched.
“And she’s alive! When I get my hands on her, I’m gonna—”
“Paige!” he snarled, throwing himself over the back of the couch and grabbing my arms. Breathing heavily, I stared up at his face and tried to keep myself standing upright. “Relax. What’s going on?”
After a few more deep breaths, I spat, “Poppy’s alive. I saw her gravestone. I was arrested for her murder! I—” I stopped. He just stared at me for a while. When he finally opened his mouth, he floundered for a bit.
“What does this mean?” he stammered, gesturing toward the television.
“What do you think it means, you moron?” I demanded shoving him away from me. He stumbled backward a few steps and his face reverted back to the crazed mask I had seen in the hospital.
Suddenly regretting pushing him, I stepped away infinitesimally. He noticed and rolled his eyes with an obviously clenched jaw. “Don’t push me,” he ordered quietly. I felt like a mouse caught in the eyes of a snake, but I silently agreed with the nod of my head. “Good.” As quickly as the mask went up, it was gone, replaced by his abnormally friendly smirk. “Now, what do you intend to do?”
“The cemetery,” I babbled. “We have to go find out what’s buried there if Poppy’s alive.”
Again, we locked eyes for what felt like hours. “Let me see if I understand you correctly…” he ran a hand through his jet black hair, slicking it down so he resembled Dracula more than before. “You want me to bring you back to Margaretville, New York—”
“Yes,” I nodded, trying to keep a poker face.
“—where you will probably be recognized—”
“—so we can dig up a grave?” The expression on his face was pretty much a dead giveaway that I had no dice. My mind briefly entertained ideas of how to convince him to bring me to New York, but every successful thought came back to his favorite appendage and didn’t sound all too appetizing to me.
I nodded again. “Yes.”
He exhaled loudly. “Awesome! I’m in.” I hid my shock with an uneasy smile and hugged him tightly. Without argument, he collected his sandwich, flipped off the T.V., and started for the door. “I’ve got a car, Paige!” I only had that moment to pat myself on the back as I collected my newly acquired possessions, shoved a burger in my mouth, and disappeared out the door without a backward glance. We would be back.
“You took your time,” he accused lightly as I approached the stolen, ancient, green pick-up truck. The tailpipe coughed thick, brown smoke with each rev of the engine, but he didn’t seem to care.
I wrinkled my nose in distaste. “Jesus, Jagger. Of all the cars out there, you stole this?”
“I like it,” he argued. “It’s got character.”
I slapped away at the mosquitoes chewing at my arms. “It’s got bugs.”
“Don’t hate on my truck!” He held his chest in mock outrage.
“Your truck?” I bellowed.
“No one will notice it,” he shrugged.
“Everyone will notice it! It’s a big, green eyesore.”
He stared at me in exasperation. “Get in the car.”
Not wishing to provoke another one of his episodes, I complied.
I knew the ride back to New York would be a long one, but I hadn’t expected my mind to wander away from the overwhelming presence beside me. Jagger was obviously very ‘go with the flow’ if he could just postpone his plans to head westward in order to give me the chance to get the closure I so desperately desired. He didn’t seem to have a qualm about putting himself in harms way, but I could understand that. Someone was obviously smiling down on us if we had been able to escape the hospital and stay under the radar so far. As far as I was considered, no one who tried to stop us had a chance. Then, once the oddity of Poppy’s condition had been laid to rest, we would settle somewhere quiet but heavily populated with new names; somewhere that no one would ever think to look. And even without my friends and family, I could be genuinely happy with Jagger.
Something that Jagger had said stuck out in my mind, though. Would my former classmates and my parents’ neighbors recognize me with my new hair arrangement? What was I supposed to say to them if they did? Oh, no, no, no, I’m not Paige Taylor, you’re obviously mistaken! My name is—I wasn’t quite there, yet.
In the driver’s seat, one hand poised on the steering wheel, the other resting lazily on my knee, my cohort was as happy as always to stare out across the endless highway. My forehead had been pressed against the icy window for the last ten minutes, taking in the sight of the trees flying by at alarming speeds, but I was bored. I wasn’t sure how long this drive was supposed to take, but I wasn’t one to be known by anything synonymous to patient. Jagger didn’t speak to me, but I preferred it that way. After living so long in the solitude of my cell, I had gotten into the habit of accustoming myself to the silence.
“Hey, Jagger?” I muttered, abruptly breaking the silence.
I scowled at him darkly, but he laughed like I had just told a brilliant joke. “What’re our names?”
“Hmm,” he mused with a condescending smirk at me. I bit my lip to keep from lashing out, and for the most part it worked; a slightly smug humph growled in the back of my throat, but, thankfully, he ignored it. “Do you have any requests?”
“Uh,” I focused my eyes on the ceiling’s worn upholstery. “I want Anna. It’s short, sweet, and no one will think twice about it.”
“I like it,” he agreed.
“What about you?” I wondered aloud.
“I’ll be your absolutely gorgeous and fantastic newlywed husband, Scott Myers. We were married last month and have been looking around at real estate in the general area for the last few days so we can start our own big family. You want four kids, I want two, but we’ve compromised on three…” he rambled sentimentally.
“You’ve put an awful lot of thought into this, haven’t you?” I interjected with one cocked eyebrow.
“Of course, darling,” he countered.
I let it slide for the sake of my sanity. “I expect a ring, sir,” I mocked snootily, crossing my arms and looking away.
“You’ve already got one,” he laughed. “Just pretend it’s from me.”
I looked down at my left hand and felt sick to my stomach at the glimmer of blue and white light dancing across the cut of the jewels. I was pretending to be married to a man who wasn’t the one who had died before passing the ring on to me. I was a sick person, sick and completely twisted in the head, and I deserved to die. The thought passed as quickly as I had plagued myself with it, but the sinking feeling in my stomach stayed like I had swallowed a huge rock. I looked out the window before Jagger could catch a glimpse of the sparkling tears scattered across my eyelids.
“You okay?” he inquired; I noticed his smile fall out of the corner of my eye.
“Ya. I’m fine.”
It took an hour and a half before we finally crossed into New York. “Hey, Anna?” Jagger inquired suddenly.
“Yes, Scott?” I said in a professional tone.
“What do you want to name our first child?”
I couldn’t help the loud snort that emerged from my nose. “Getting in character?”
“Of course,” he beamed.
“I want a girl and her name will be Julianna,” I explained. “That way, it’s like I’m naming her after myself.”
“And if it’s a boy?” he asked.
“That’s up to you.”
“I’ll come up with something,” he nodded.
By the time the sign for Margaretville passed the car, I was twitching with anxiety. Any more time spent in this car would drive me out of my mind; I was already banging my head against the window. Three hours. It had been three hours since we left the sanctuary of the warehouse. I breathed a sigh of relief at the image of the sign, just passed twelve o’ clock.
“I’ve decided our son will be named James, but we’ll call him Jimmy. That way, I really will be naming him after myself,” Jagger mumbled.
“I like it.”
“Good. Now, I’m supposing that you know your way around this town better than I do, so please, educate me. Where are we going from here?”
“Well…” I thought it over quickly. “Let’s just go straight to the cemetery. Turn left up here. This way, there’s less of a risk that someone will recognize me.”
“Alright,” he chuckled. “You’re the boss.”
“I’m the boss,” I agreed pompously.
Little had changed since my occupation of this town; in fact, nothing seemed to strike me as different. The same wooden brush remained perfectly groomed on either side of the road, flattened into a long, green wall, just as it had once been. The same police cruiser sat idly against the curb beside the town’s welcome sign, lights off, watching for speeding newcomers. Life had gone on, even though my friends and I weren’t around to continue it. I warned Jagger as we neared the leisurely officer, and when no sirens followed, I assumed we were okay to continue toward the cemetery. I was wrong, but I didn’t know it yet.
“What’s your plan?” he demanded.
“Sneak into the cemetery, look through some gravestones, dig up some dirt, and get out of here,” I listed off my fingertips.
“And where does getting a shovel fall on that long list of yours, boss?” he inquired smartly, glancing up at me from under his thick, blonde eyelashes.
“Dually noted,” I commented. “You should wear mascara when you go out in public, babe. It’ll match better with your new hair.”
“What do I get in return?”
“Another day alive.”
“And what of the shovels?”
“Shovels?” I hissed obnoxiously. “Oh no, my friend! Shovel. As in, the singular form. You will be digging. I will be watching.”
He looked genuinely offended. “Watching?”
“If it makes you feel any better, you could phrase it more like, ‘I’ll be standing guard, oh wonderful husband of mine. What have I ever done to deserve you, for not forcing your pretty little wife to handle a man’s work! Oh, I love you, I need you, take me!” I squealed, pretending to swoon.
He squeezed my knee. “Oh, you flatter me, darling,” he announced in a posh British accent. “We are very much the same, you and I. We’re so indescribably weird that we were obviously meant for each other.”
“Definitely. Where do you suppose we find a shovel?” I asked sarcastically.
“My best guess would be a Home Depot, but, given our current situation, we might be luckier if we just steal one from someone’s garage. Do you have anyone in mind?”
I wanted to groan when I told myself that the only place we could possibly go to find a shovel without causing a scene would be to go to my house. “Take another left,” I ordered through the gravel in my throat. He acquiesced without a problem, but I could feel his gaze burning a hole in my back. “Don’t ask.” He didn’t.
The small, two-story building I had once called home was ten minutes away from the city’s boundaries, and with each passing moment, my stomach twisted harder into knots. No one was home; it was a Tuesday, and everyone was either at work or at school. We were completely alone to do as we please. “Stop here,” I said. Immediately, he pulled into the closest driveway, the neighbor’s, and turned off the car. “This is my house.”
As I attempted to exit the car, he grabbed my elbow. “Anna,” he called with the same smirk he got whenever he said my fake name. “Cover yourself.” He smacked an unfamiliar, faded, once-black baseball cap on my head.
“Where’d the hat come from?” I laughed.
“I don’t know, I found it in the glove compartment,” he confessed with a guilty smile.
My eyes widened. “Eww!” I wanted to throw off what was probably a lice-infested cap, but I forced myself not to. First of all, Jagger was dangerously on edge as it was. Secondly, the hat just made it that much less likely that I would be recognized by a neighbor who had decided not to go into work that day.
“Wait! Darling!” Jagger called, running around the front of the car. He offered me his arm and I took it, like I always did now. It was becoming second nature to just trust him. After the last misconception, I think I owed it to him. What was the worst thing that could happen at this point that could be avoided without him, anyway?
“Darling, I must confess that I feel much less professional with this stupid hat on my head,” I complained, keeping the British accent.
“Ah, I see my silliness has grown on you,” he matched my voice.
“Call it what you will, Mr. Myers. I would like to take it off!” I pleaded lowly.
“Not until we return to the car, dearest. I wouldn’t want you to burn your precious face in this terrible sunlight!”
“Just show me the garage!” he whispered.
“Fine!” The white fence lining the backyard was eight feet high and smooth, but it could be easily scaled with the fifteen-foot-high tree beside it. The sneakers Jagger had gotten me made it easy, and Jagger had enough skill at hopping fences to throw himself over in two minutes time, without the assistance of me or the tree. He was standing in the backyard already when I fell on my butt in bewilderment among the lusciously green grass.
“Do you think I should have worn a suit?” he asked, gesturing towards the immaculate, white, turtleneck sweater he wore under his black, leather jacket. I looked down at myself and immediately felt like trash in my blouse, probably grass-stained jeans, and the stupid hat.
“Shut up, Jagger. Uh, Scott,” I added with a blush.
“No, really—” he protested.
“Help me up.”
When I was planted firmly on my feet, I grabbed Jagger’s hand and led him further into the yard where the grey shed was built in the corner. As we walked through the yard, with each passing step I wanted to get out more and more. I could only hope that the shed would be unlocked, or else it would be very conspicuous that we were here when the lock was broken off. My worst fears were recognized when I saw the huge, silver padlock hanging from the handle. “Shit,” I cursed, dropping his hand and grabbing the lock in both of my hands.
“Do you have a key?”
“No!” I whispered.
“Who’s there?” another, very familiar, voice boomed from the front yard, freezing the blood in my veins.
“Shit!” I repeated under my breath. I spun on my heel, dragging Jagger around with me, and made a very feminine, “Oh!” as we faced my father. I hardly recognized him from all of the wrinkles that had sprouted up around his face, but I knew that I was most likely the cause of them. “I’m so sorry! Are you Mr. Taylor?”
“What are you doing in my backyard?” he snapped, crossing his arms over his chest as he closed the fence behind him. I had never been on the wrong end of his anger, but I knew he hated loiterers, and just all people in general.
Jagger wound an arm around my waist. “Hello, Mr. Taylor. I’m Scott Myers and this is my wife, Anna. We’re moving in down the street.”
“I didn’t know there was a house on sale down the street. Look, we don’t give tours around the house, so if you’re here to ask me about my daughter, just leave,” he growled, scowling down his nose at us.
Jagger didn’t even wince. “Absolutely not, Mr. Taylor. We’re not here to make trouble. My wife just saw your shed and wanted to know who you had to put it up?”
“I put it up myself, now leave!”
“We also wanted to know if we could borrow a shovel?” I murmured. “We were in the middle of pulling weeds out back, but ours broke.”
“Alright. Which house is yours?” he demanded, pulling the key from his pocket.
“The house that previously belonged to Ms. Irene Creek,” I smiled. She was an elderly neighbor of my parents, and she was reclusive enough that no one would be able to tell the difference for at least a week. My father’s eyes flickered wider for a split second at the smile on my face, but he shook his head slightly and unlocked the door. As he opened the door, he turned back to face me, blocking the entrance.
“What did you say your name was?” he asked.
“I’m Anna Myers,” I repeated, trying to keep my smile from waning but on the inside, I was sweating.
“You remind me of someone,” he murmured.
“She’s just got one of those faces,” Jagger intervened hastily. “That’s how we met y’know. We were both at Brown and I thought she was my childhood neighbor. I went to say hello and the rest is history!” He hugged me around the waist from behind.
My father looked nauseas. “Right. Here.”
Jagger took the shovel from his hand. “Thank you very much, sir. We’ll have it back tomorrow.”
With my hand in Jagger’s, I almost dragged him toward the driveway. I was almost recognized, and I wanted the hat off. “C’mon!” I mumbled at Jagger.
He took the hint, running forward to open the car door for me. Jagger got into the car and peeled out into the road. “Where’s the cemetery?”
“Go left!” I threw off the hat.
The town’s only cemetery was large and ancient, spanning back to the 1700s, but my friends’ gravestones were in the new wing. I held the shovel in the circle of my arms and held it tightly, counting my blessings. My own father didn’t figure it out that I was right in front of him. Almost. But, he didn’t.
“And just turn onto this road. We’ll walk the rest of the way,” I said.
We stuck to a pathway out of the way of the main road and on the way, I shoved the shovel into Jagger’s hands. “There are so many gravestones,” he complained. “How are we supposed to find this one?”
“Look for Poppy Todd. Born March 26th, 1992, died March 31st, 2010.”
The cemetery was large, incredibly large. “You take over there, I’ll take over here,” he said, walking towards the older section.
I left him to search. Since the last time I was here, there were only a few more additions made to the occupants of the graveyard. I found Joel within the first five minutes of my arrival, right beside Brianna. Clark’s grave was in the next row, and Poppy’s would be beside his. I didn’t have it in me to look back for Marshall’s grave. I didn’t even go to his funeral; I wouldn’t be able to look at it.
“Paige!” Jagger yelled. “I can’t find it!”
I rolled my eyes, knowing it was nowhere near where he was looking. I grimaced at Clark’s gravestone, remembering his last bittersweet moments, but knowing it had been for the best. Taking a deep breath, I turned to the next gravestone, ready to call Jagger back over, but the one beside it, the gravestone read a man’s name. “What?” I gasped, looking through the rest in that row. “Jagger!” I shrieked.
I couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of my mouth as I continued, “It’s not here!”
“Wha—” he began.
“Paige Taylor?” someone else asked, approaching me. Jagger was too far away, but I could see him running towards us at full speed, the crazed expression coming upon his face. “What are you doing out of the hospital?”
It was Officer Gale.
“Jagger!” I yelled, throwing myself away from the officer. “Run!”