Kate and her aunt had gone past the overlook on the side of the road when a man came up behind them. He was running, slinking through the trees. He had the speed of a whirlwind. He hit Hannah so hard that she sank down immediately and rolled into the weeds. It happened so fast Kate didn’t understand. She hadn’t seen him yet. She wondered if there had been an earthquake or if her aunt had had a sudden heart attack. She dropped down to her knees to try to stop her aunt from drifting any farther downhill, and that was when he hit her, too. Once she was down, the stranger grabbed Kate by her hair and dragged her farther into the woods. She was on her stomach, trying to get away, clawing at the ground. There was blood running from her scalp, and she could feel its heat. He got on top of her, pushing her face into the dirt so she couldn’t move while he fucked her. He tore at her clothes so they were half off. He was strong and maddened. He told her he would kill her if she made a sound, so she did what he said, thinking he would let them live. She caught a glimpse of him. He seemed familiar but no one she knew. He was rough with her even when she promised she wouldn’t fight him. He wanted to hurt her. Then she remembered. Cal’s friend at the bar.
She let her mind leave her body. She imagined she was walking through the woods. She was far away and soon it would be over. When he was done, he didn’t keep his word. She should have expected as much. He told her she was a whore who deserved to die. He hit her again with a rock, harder. She felt a flash of white-hot pain. She went under, then came back. She decided to pretend she was gone so he would think she was dead and leave them be.
She thought he would go back to his car, make his getaway, but that was not his intention. He scrambled up to the ditch where Hannah was unconscious, limp and forsaken in the dirt. That was when Kate knew she couldn’t pretend to be dead. She pulled her clothes on and took up the bloody rock. She pounced on him while he was leaning over her aunt, talking to her even though she couldn’t hear, telling Hannah he was going to do to her what he’d done to Lucy and to Kate, but he would break her neck first so she’d continue to be quiet. Kate hit him hard. She could feel the strike through the bones of her arm. He jerked forward as if he was going to turn to her, so she hit him again. She kept hitting him. By the time she was finished he wasn’t moving anymore.
Kate sat back on her heels and tried to catch her breath. Blood flecked the ground. It pooled beneath the leaves. She pulled herself together and scurried over to her aunt. She put her ear to Hannah’s back. She thought she could hear her aunt breathing, but she wasn’t sure. She took off. Inside something cut through her like glass. Kate ran across the road and up the hill. She felt as if she was broken and if she stopped for an instant she would fall into pieces.
Matthew was there when she got to his house, stunned by her appearance. She didn’t have to say much for him to understand. He went with her back down the mountain, across the road. He knelt beside Hannah and took her pulse. He had a medical book and knew what he was supposed to do. He breathed into Hannah’s mouth and pushed on her chest. At last she took a gasping breath. He said he thought she had a concussion and maybe some broken bones. He lifted her in his arms and stood there on the side of the road.
“What are you doing?” Kate asked.
“I’ll carry her home. Then you’ll call the hospital. You’ll say someone broke in to your house and hurt you both. Then he ran away.”
“I killed him,” Kate said, astonished by her own actions.
“No,” Matthew told her. “He disappeared. He came into your house and you don’t know what happened to him. I’ll come back and get rid of him later.”
The light was fading when they reached Blackwell. They went the back way, through the orchard. No one saw them. Kate had imagined being with Matthew in town a thousand times, bringing him home, but not like this. They hurried through the yard, up the porch, into the house. Kate was sobbing, but she didn’t know it. Matthew took Hannah into her bedroom. When he came back into the parlor, Kate told him he had to leave. People would think the wrong thing if they saw him. He said he would, but he didn’t make a move to go.
Kate realized then that she felt so filthy she had to take a shower and change her clothes. She knew she wasn’t supposed to clean up before she called the police, but she couldn’t stand the stranger’s touch on her. She undressed in the kitchen, crying, and Matthew folded her ruined clothes into a paper bag. She stood in the shower and wept, her forehead against the tiles, hot water falling over her shoulders and her head.
Matthew was sitting in a chair in the parlor when she came out wearing a blue dress, her long red hair wet. He knew he had to go, yet hadn’t.