Audrey opened her eyes to find herself in a blindingly white room. It looked like the Barn, but she was pretty sure that was destroyed. She wasn’t there when it happened, but Duke relayed all that happened the months she was gone and she was certain he mentioned the barn imploding on itself.
Much like waking up one day as Lexie, Audrey had no idea where she was. She knew Mara had…killed her somehow. Had felt the other woman waking up slowly and bidding her time until she could take over. Certainly, Mara was the other woman. She hadn’t felt like someone Audrey would ever envision being.
Audrey had tried to prevent it as long as she could but she felt the more she was around William, the less control she had as herself, as Audrey. What she hadn’t counted on was being alive again—if she even was alive and she had her doubts about that.
She sat up, shutting her eyes against the sudden onset of dizziness. It felt like someone had clobbered her in the head.
She turned at the sound of shoes squeaking on the floor.
Agent Howard came into view—as though he had materialized out of thin air—and crouched next to her on the floor.
“Hello Audrey,” he said this casually as though they were two neighbors passing by each other.
“You? I thought Nathan shot you.”
“He did, but that doesn’t last long here.”
Audrey poked him gently in the chest, but he seemed to be as real as anything, not that that was much of a comfort since Audrey believed she was real too, but it happened she was nothing but a head of blankness.
“Oh I’m real, though maybe not by your definition.”
Audrey jerked her hand back. Agent Howard smiled warmly at her and offered her his hand.
She stood up, felt woozy and like she wanted to lie back down. This place felt weird, but comforting like she had been here before, and knew it even if she didn’t remember. It was strange and indescribable.
“So, Mara’s back. And you’re here. That doesn’t bode well for Haven,” he said, leaning across the wall opposite hers.
“Now that you’re all caught up, can you tell me how I can get back? And save Haven? And possibly myself?”
“You’ve had the answer to that all along.”
Audrey tried to remember what that answer was. It was probably tied to the Barn and the meteor shower and Mara and William and that they all connected, somehow.
“You’re saying I have to kill myself in order to stop the Troubles from ever appearing again in Haven?”
Agent Howard—if that was even his real name—nodded.
“But how can I kill her—or is it me?—when I’m…where even is this?”
“A kind of transition place.”
“As in Purgatory?”
“Well, that’s one name for it.”
She got angry at him for not giving her a real answer. He knew so much more than he was letting on; knew so much right from the beginning too. But he hadn’t said anything. The more Audrey dwelled on it, the angrier she got. It wasn’t that she was angry with him for not telling her what he called this place—that was small potatoes—but she couldn’t forgive the fact that he knew the truth about who she was.
Howard searched her face, like he knew what she was thinking. She wouldn’t have put it past him not to know, honestly.
“You’re angry with me,” he stated, not sounding surprised at all.
“Yes. And of course you know why too.” It wasn’t a question.
“Of course I couldn’t tell you. I might’ve known the truth—might know is the better tense—but that doesn’t give me the right to interfere. I only had a specific job and carried out that specific job as well as I could.”
“And what was that specific job?”
“To help facilitate when you entered and exited the Barn every time. But that’s as far as my job went. I couldn’t tell you the truth for fear of you gaining your memories—your real memories—back. Or you not believing me.”
“What? I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me that I was really an evil psychotic bitch?”
“I would never call you that.”
“But that’s what I was. What I am.” It was all so confusing.
“I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. Mara had great powers; she just chose to use them for evil purposes.”
“So you’re saying she wasn’t always evil?”
Minutes ticked by, or maybe it was only seconds, but Howard became quiet.
“Whether she was or wasn’t always evil isn’t relevant so much as what she became.”
“But you said, before my memories returned and Mara came back, that I had a choice: that I could either enter the barn and lose myself, or kill the one I love. But I don’t love Mara.”
“Well, of course you don’t. That isn’t what I meant.”
“So what did you mean? That Mara had to kill William?”
“That certainly would create fewer problems, but no, that’s not quite right either.”
Before Audrey could do something she’d regret, like pull the gun on the man again—she was pretty sure that was her gun stuck to her person—she took a deep breath. Maybe it was the fact that the man was immortal or hard to kill or something that made him think being mysterious was an endearing trait or something when it clearly wasn’t, but pulling her gun on him probably wouldn’t make him give her any clearer answers.
Audrey rubbed her face tiredly. “So Mara doesn’t really love William. But she loves herself, so she has to kill herself?”
“Exactly. But Mara would never kill herself—she’s far more invested in living, hence the meteor storm every twenty-seven years and the choice.”
“I gotta tell ya both choices are pretty sucky.”
“Well no one said atonement would be easy.”
“You still haven’t answered my question though. How am I supposed to kill her when Mara’s out there in the real world and I’m in here?”
“Well the answer to that question lies in whether you think you are Mara and Mara is you or if you’d renounce her altogether.”
Of course he wouldn’t give her a straight answer. She was apparently asking for too much. It was an intriguing question but not an easy one to answer. Audrey, or whoever the hell she was, didn’t want to be Mara. She didn’t want to think she could be evil and not care about inflicting pain on people just for her own amusement. But to reject Mara was to reject a part of her own self that happened to be, well, just less desirable. Audrey was as much Mara as Mara was Audrey. They were both the one and the same; you couldn’t have one without the other.
Howard nodded. “You have your answer—you’re just as a big part of Mara as she’s a part of you. You say she’s “out there in the real world” but if she’s a part of you and you’re a part of her, wouldn’t that mean you could be “out there” as well?”
She didn’t want to think about it, but it was true. Just as Mara had snuffed her out like a candle, it couldn’t mean Audrey couldn’t try to find her way back. Mara only got rid of her in the first place because Audrey didn’t think she was strong enough to hold on with the barge of memories. The question now was just whether she wanted to or not.
She should’ve wanted to come back because of the Troubles, because the people in Haven welcomed her and because she didn’t want them to suffer. Yet there were only two reasons why she wanted to return.
Duke and Nathan.
But they were the most selfish of reasons.
Agent Howard paced around the bare room. “You could wash your hands of the Troubles; never think about them again or you could…Well, it’s your choice. No matter what you decide, it should be because your heart leads you to that direction, not because you feel obligated or guilty or because you think you are the only one who can save Haven.”
She did feel all those things, however. But they were all mixed in with her love for both Duke and Nathan. She couldn’t separate any of what she was feeling any better than she could separate herself from Mara. All she knew was that she didn’t want to say goodbye to them; she didn’t want to leave again and never come back this time. She didn’t want them to face Mara alone, she wanted to be there fighting beside them. She wanted a lot of things.
Maybe she was never meant for a normal life but they? They made her feel normal and loved and cherished and important, not in a savior-of-the-Troubles way, but that they were simply in love with her and each other and she was in love with them.
All she had to do was return to them. Somehow.
She narrowed her eyes at Howard, a sneaking suspicion that he really wasn’t there at all, really, that her mind made him up because she thought he was the only one with any answers. He smiled like she solved an extremely difficult puzzle.
“Returning will be difficult, I think you’ll find, but not impossible. I suspect you already have an inkling, so just follow your instincts.”
He disappeared just as quickly as he had come. And that was the last clue Audrey needed before she realized that Agent Howard, in fact, was not a ghost back from the dead at all. She had wanted him to disappear. She had thought that she’d actually like him to disappear right about now.
She took a deep breath and sat cross-legged on the floor. Agent Howard told her to follow her instincts and her instincts were telling her that she needed a door.
So she sat there and focused her mind on one thought.