Nineteen

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Saturday. The day I either escape this place or I don't, and the moment I wake up it feels as if something awful is lurking in the pit of my stomach.

I stay paralyzed for a moment in the folds of my duvet, my eyes squeezed shut as though it might help to block out the pain. It feels as if I might never get out of this bed, as if my body is destined to be imprinted onto this mattress for the rest of my life.

No. My world might be breaking into a million pieces, but this isn't the end. Crystal may be gone, but I can't let myself suffer the same fate. I have to push down the fear, and the pain, and I have to be strong.

Valerie doesn't mention Crystal's death when she visits before opening and I doubt she is ever going to, which only further strengthens my hatred for this place and everyone inside of it, because it is clear to me now we don't mean a thing to these trainers.

Maybe we never did. 

I spend the time before opening swimming laps in the pool, almost able to taste my freedom on the tip of my tongue. I don't quite know what it will feel like or how it will be, but I can sense it lurking just within my grasp, waiting for me to reach out and take it.

Or maybe it is just wishful thinking. Maybe I am no freer than I was yesterday, or the day before that, or the day before that.

"Everything all right?" Asia asks once I break the surface, her thick eyebrows pulled together with concern.

She has always had a knack for knowing when something is wrong, but confiding in her about Crystal's death would be too cruel. I can't inflict that kind of pain–that kind of heartbreak–and then just leave her behind.

"I'm fine," I say, but the words come out breathless, causing Asia to tilt her head slightly.

"I know when you're lying, you know."

"How do you know?" I ask.

"The same way I know your favorite animal is a bird," she says with a knowing smile. "Or that you like to hum to yourself when you think no one is listening."

I take a moment to study her face, tracing her prominent cheekbones and small, curved nose with my gaze. That same cheeky smile still plays on her lips, but I don't smile back. I am too busy trying to remember her this way–warm, and loving, and alive.

Asia is all that is good in this world, how I imagine energy to look: bright, and pure, and forever shining no matter how much darkness surrounds her. She is a fighter–stronger, I think, than all of us combined.

"How do you choose between two things you need the most?" I ask quietly, acutely aware of the guests beginning to swarm the enclosure glass.

Asia tilts her head again, searching my eyes for the source of such an ambiguous question. "Well," she says after a moment's pause, "you ask yourself which one you couldn't live without."

I study her for a moment longer, my heart feeling as though it is tearing in two. Then I turn to the guests stood at the window, ready to play my part one last time.

At one pm, the girls and I line up in the main enclosure for the Dining Experience, where it dawns on me that this is where it all started. This Dining Experience. Crystal's defiance. This is the moment Crystal decided she was going to kill Jaqueline, and ever since then we've been living in a tsunami, desperately trying to keep our heads above the water or risk being lost in the waves.

I look to the spot next to Asia, where Crystal used to hover and where Muriel Two now resides. Her oval face seems to blur out of focus, her features replaced with Crystal's softer ones, causing my stomach to lurch. I want to reach out, to touch her one last time, but our trainer's voice breaks through my unspoken words, pulling the memory of Crystal away forever.

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