The Drafter Page 116

Peri wouldn’t take it until he put it down and her reality and her imagination became one. The garish thing felt dead when she picked it up. “This isn’t mine,” she said as she set it on the empty shelf. “I’d never pick something so gaudy as a talisman.”

On sudden impulse, she pulled the picture of her and Jack out from inside her bra, unfolding it and propping it up against the shell. A slow smile crossed her face, and Jack put his hands into his pants pockets, rocking from heel to toe in satisfaction as they looked at it together. It felt right, but her smile faded as she recalled Howard and … Taf, was it? She hadn’t remembered them, though it was obvious they remembered her. Taf, especially, seemed hurt that she’d forgotten them.

“It’s okay, babe,” Jack said as he shifted the picture so the crease down the middle wasn’t so obvious. “You’re too tense to remember what day it is. I used to have to wait almost twelve hours after you drafted before I could bring anything back. This is normal.”

He wasn’t really there, but it was comforting anyway. Maybe all it took was time.

“That looks like a real talisman,” he added, his hands on his hips as he looked at the bent picture. “Too bad Silas folded it. You want me to fix it?”

“You can do that?” she said, and he ran a finger down the picture, making it whole and unblemished in her mind.

Wow, she thought, an odd feeling spiraling up through her. Breath held, she picked it up, her mind having erased the fold to leave a pristine image. Her trembling finger traced her contented smile, and as she wished for that same peace to find her now, a memory of Jack and herself unfolded itself in her mind like a rose opening to the rain.

“Peri!” Jack exclaimed as she shuddered. The heat of a thousand summers slammed into her. Her heart pounded, and she heard the chanting of ancient words, felt the haze of raw alcohol fermented from the roots of plants she’d never seen before, smiled up at Jack in the contented lassitude of knowing that they were touching the ages, part of an endless circle.

It was a memory, a real memory, and she clutched the picture to herself. “Oh, Jack,” she whispered, not wanting to open her eyes and see the cruel travesty that Silas had cursed her with. Jack was dead. She didn’t remember how, or when, but she knew that she had loved him and he had been her anchor.

Allen was the imposter. Silas was telling the truth. It had to have been a memory knot, but instead of fear, it filled her with hope. Silas was right.

Jack …

Peri’s eyes opened, and she sobbed once—only once—at the hallucination, his head bowed as if he was feeling the same pain. She’d killed him after finding out he’d lied to her for three entire years. It hurt looking at him—even if it really wasn’thim. “You once loved me,” he said softly as she propped the photo up with the reverence she reserved for her talismans.

Blinking fast, she nudged the photo straight. Allen was lying to her. Bill was lying to her. She wanted Silas to be telling her the truth, but that memories could not only be destroyed but created from nothing was almost too scary to think about. They could make her whatever they wanted. She had to get out of here before they made her into something she wasn’t.

Suddenly she had to find out. “I have to get out of here,” she whispered.

“How?” Jack sat down, dejected, feet spread wide. “Silas said you were tagged. If you leave, they’ll just track you down.”

Peri ran her fingers in a quick staccato across the shelf. “Time to do a scar tally,” she said, pace fast as she strode to the bathroom.

Heart pounding, she waited for the light to flicker on. In a sudden flurry, Peri stripped down to her bra and panties, feet appreciating the heated tiles. The shoulder burn was the newest. That she had no memory of it was disturbing, especially when Silas claimed they’d burned her apartment. The scar on her knee was from learning how to ride a unicycle when she was twelve. The one on her forehead just below her hairline was from running into a door. The jagged punctures on her arm were from a guard dog. A long one on her thigh was a knife wound. Jennifer had been her anchor at the time and she’d been livid. But for the others, she didn’t have a clue.

Fingers sliding from her skin, Peri’s smile faded. There was a lump on her elbow that might or might not be a scar, and a tiny line on her shoulder, out of sight unless she used a mirror. “Well?” she asked the hallucination now standing dead center in the open doorway. The line on her shoulder was almost nonexistent, but it looked fairly new, and if they did it right, it wouldn’t leave any scar worth seeing.

“I think me being dead is a real shame, babe.”

Peri’s eyes met his in the mirror. “Stop it. Is this it?”

He shook his head. “No. There’s a newer one on your ass.”

“No way!” Peri spun in a circle trying to see it. “How do you know?”

“You felt it in the tub,” he said, and she thought back, remembering noticing a tiny bump the size of a rice grain the last time she took a soak.

“Are you kidding me?” she muttered, fingers palpating the smooth skin to find a hard knot. How was she going to get that out? She couldn’t even see it.

“You could ask Silas….”

Frustrated, she set the mirror down, yanked her panties back up, and grabbed Allen’s robe hanging on a hook.

“Oh, babe,” Jack protested as she tied it closed.

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