Chapter 15 – Sophia

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The subway car was too quiet as Sophia crouched in the  conductor’s booth, too aware of the draft. She’d left her panties on the floor under the seat in her hurry to hide from whoever she’d seen. The dress covered everything, but couldn’t hide what she’d done. 

She pulled her skirt down even though it hid her butt, and tucked it between her legs before glancing up at the empty window above her.

He just had to chase those voices, she thought, wishing Josh had stayed to hide with her until everything calmed down. Ajay and Demetri and Kieron could have been arguing about anything.

Because of the darkness outside the car and the lights inside, she wasn’t even sure she’d seen Demetri at the window or if her own guilty conscience manufactured a reason for her to get out from under Josh, rendering a beautiful experience embarrassing. She could still feel him intimately, pulsing like the silence around her.

She tightened her skirt around her legs.

Years of fantasizing and she couldn’t be cool, couldn’t keep her mind from racing, from trying to salvage things when all Josh was doing that moment was protecting her.

Leaning her head against the cool control box, she listened: listened for the argumentative voices, listened for Josh returning.

She sighed.

It seemed like they’d known each other for ages. The museum gave her no way of telling time, how many days or weeks or months had past, but she’d put in the effort with him. This wasn’t an encounter with a guy at a bar or a pressured hook-up with a date who’d spent too much money on dinner and expected a return. Sophia and Josh been kidnapped, and in working together to solve their problem, they’d gotten to know each other well in a short time.

Although, she didn’t know what his favorite TV show was.

Or how he dressed when he wasn’t performing or scrambling for clothes in a locked building.

Or if he’d ever been pressured into sex before.

Before now.

After a furtive peek out the window, Sophia got to her feet and returned to the main car to retrieve her underwear. Normally, the floor of the subway would be teaming with filth. Only dust caked the dark corners of this car, shuffled out of the way by where the cushions had been. Shuffled by their movements.

How did a conversation lead to that?

Rather than slip into the undies, she had a seat on the bench and pressed her fist against her forehead.

“A conversation like that,” she muttered.

“It feels like you’ve been with me forever, right in my ear,” she’d said, stroking the one part of his ego to work in her favor. Even if the sentiment were true, she’d known what she was doing.

He was vulnerable after telling her he’d accidentally killed his dad — not even did it himself, but set in motion the events that led to it — a story that should have sent her scrambling for space, at least until she understood what had happened a little better.

He probably wants space.

They’d have to see each other again, stuck in this place for God knew how long.

She got up and triggered the doors to open, but on her first step outside the car, narrowly avoided stepping in a small, white viscous puddle on the floor. 

Sophia’s mouth hung open in disgust, her balled up underwear held tight to her racing heart. Demetri had been there, and he’d watched. He’d watched and gotten off.

“Oh my god,” she croaked.

With quick, but silent movements, she swung her head in both directions, checking the shadowy station. He was gone, but his eyes stayed on her.

Silence, except for the too-loud flapping of her sandals persisted when she slipped into the next gallery and the next. She would have taken them off, but the floor hid too many tiny dangers. Instead, she opted to gingerly roll her feet, making as little sound as possible, ready at any moment for one of the guys to appear and accuse her of sneaking around. While the building was large and there were only five of them inhabiting it, unless she made an effort, Sophia rarely went more than a few minutes without someone joining her. But she continued to her bedroom alone, and shut the door.

After choosing a new pair of underwear from the drawer, she took the pair she’d been wearing to the ensuite sink to wash them, then peed because this was the last place she wanted to contract a UTI.

We used a condom… but Sophia couldn’t remember where she was in her cycle. At home, she had Aunt Flo’s visit marked on her calendar. It was supposed to be a few weeks out, but she’d been in the museum at least two, maybe three weeks.

She re-dressed and hurried to the dresser in the bedroom, where she pulled out every drawer in search of a few tampons.

But what if I don’t get it and I have a baby instead? Condoms don’t always work. How long does it take for them to expire?

With nothing helpful in the drawers, she returned to the bathroom and opened all the cabinets until she found a small deposit of familiar pink packages. At least she could save herself the embarrassment of bleeding in front of a bunch of men, but only for one cycle.

One thing at a time, though.

First she needed to know why everyone was quiet. They’d all been working furiously on getting the lobby door open; reasonably, that’s where they’d be. Sophia would have thought if they’d broken free, someone would have come back to find her — Josh knew exactly where she was — but maybe because she’d moved from the subway car … 

Or Demetri murdered them all with the axe.

Without worrying about her shoe sounds, she left the bedroom and headed upstairs. But where she expected to hear shouty voices and metal clanging on metal, the lobby was deathly silent.

And sunny.

Her heart dropped to her stomach when all she could focus on was the open doorway and a strong beam of sunlight slicing the dark room.

“Josh?” she called.

Wind whistled into the room. She hadn’t realized how stale the air was in the building until she inhaled the crisp, outdoor breeze. They wouldn’t have been able to help themselves from leaving, and neither could she.

Sophia ran toward the opening, but stopped short at Kieron lying unconscious on the floor just out of the sunlight. Debris from the broken door lay around him.

The axe was nowhere to be seen.

Though there wasn’t any blood, a huge purple knot formed on his temple.

Sophia stared a moment, watching for any movements of breath, listening for anyone who might be waiting for her.

Kieron was argumentative, for sure, but he wasn’t violent — 

He had me by the throat, and killed that doctor!

She hadn’t seen the commotion Josh had left her to check on. For all she knew, self defense put Kieron on the floor while the others escaped. Otherwise, they would have carried him with them.

Sophia crept forward, torn between slipping upstairs and checking if he was okay.

His hands around her throat.

No one else hung around to check on him.

He was breathing, stirring.

She took the first two steps upstairs.

“Soph —” he whispered.

Kieron pressed his hand over the welt and propped himself up on his elbow.

Sophia took another few frantic steps when he grabbed her ankle. Kieron shook his head furiously as he took her arm.

“Hey!” she screamed.

His hand pressed her mouth shut as he yanked her off the staircase.

Sophia thrashed, but his arms coiled around her expertly, dragging her away from the opening.

“Be quiet, goddamnit,” he whispered in her ear.

Trying her best to scream through his gag, he adjusted his hand over her nose as well as he pulled her behind a barrier and held her in a full body block.

“Shut,” he hissed in her ear, “the fuck up.”

She was too tired to keep struggling, but her heart hammered.

Kieron kept his head cocked as though listening to the silent room, still intent on keeping her still and quiet, but let up on her nose so she could breathe.

“You don’t want to cross Demetri right now,” he whispered. “I don’t know where everyone is, but this doesn’t look good.” He loosened his grip; when she struggled again to free herself, he clamped down. “I’ll let you go only if you promise to keep quiet and don’t run. I swear to God I’ll put you into the floor if he comes back down here because of you.”

Sophia nodded.

Kieron stood and offered her his hand to help her up. She refused.

“So,” Sophia started, keeping her voice down and adjusting her skirt, “Demetri attacked you?”

Dust particles floated in the sun streak.

“And the others —?”

Kieron nodded.

“Why now, though?” she asked.

He eyed her. “Don’t pretend you’re innocent.”

“What are you talking about?”

A camera in the corner caught her attention, sending a cascade of cold through her body.

“Ajay and I were in the control room when we caught your little show.”

Her cheeks flared hot.

“And lucky we were,” he continued, “because Demetri was watching it live, trying to pry the doors open. As much as I wanted to enjoy the view, I had a feeling things with him were gonna turn ugly. So me and Ajay ran through to stop him, and we flushed him out this way. I wasn’t looking forward to finding out what he’d do when he actually saw you two again …” His hand went to his forehead. “From what I remember, it’s as bad as I thought.”

“So, Josh was here?” After carefully hiding her feelings for him for so long, it felt weird asking after him, confirming the accusation. She’d have a chance to be mortified at being watched in action later.

“He was here, all right, railing about how me and Ajay rescuing you from that homicidal maniac was a violation of his privacy. And like you, when he saw sunlight coming through that opening, he bolted. Demetri went after him with the ax and …”

“And?”

“The guy is freakishly strong,” Kieron said. “Myself and Ajay both were trying to pull him off Josh, but when we finally did, Josh dropped like a rag doll, and Demetri rang my bell so hard, I don’t remember anything after that.”

“But no one’s here. They would have gone outside.”

“Yeah, I guess.” 

“And you’re not curious to find out if they’re okay or … where we are?” She gestured to the opening. “There might be help right outside and we’re just sitting here!”

His eyes grew serious. “Your voice is rising.”

“Sorry,” she intoned, quietly as possible. “But this is ridiculous. I’m not staying in here another minute while that door’s wide open. We can’t call for help in here, we know that, and if he’s gonna kill us outside, he can damn well come back in here and do it.”

Kieron frowned, but shrugged in resignation. “It’s your fucking funeral.”

Sophia watched him carefully as she approached the stairs, waiting for him to subdue her again. But Kieron stood  with his arms crossed, leaning against the ticket counter, not angry, just disappointed, like every authority figure.

She took the stairs slowly, careful of the jagged metal opening at the top, and pulled herself onto a grass-covered subway gate.

The familiar green paint on the railing was weatherworn; years of rain, dirt and sun left the sign indicating M, S, and E lines to Museum St partially obscured. Instead of street noise, birdsong and the sounds of wind rustling the surrounding forest pressed from all sides.

No pavement. 

No people.

No tops of skyscrapers behind the trees to indicate she might be in a section of Central Park she’d never seen before.

The cool breeze brought goosebumps all over her body.

A tree root had snaked through the bars of the railing and grew over the grassy door in the ground.

Sophia rose to her feet, holding her hair away from her face as it blew in the wind. 

Trees towered overhead, marginal sunlight filtering through — much less than the patch on the lobby floor suggested. Dirty solar panels stood on poles amongst the towering trees, clueing the museum’s spotty electricity.

Chiefly absent: Demetri, Ajay, and Josh.

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