Agatha stops talking midsentence. She goes somewhere very far away, and when she comes back, she’s looking at Lara with a terrible intensity, the kind of look that cuts through every front Lara’s ever put up, every façade she’s ever hidden behind.
“What is it?” Lara says. “What do you see?”
Agatha shakes her head. They keep running.
Lara can’t stay in D.C. No matter what happens next, her career in law enforcement is over. Maybe Wally will manage to go underground, but more than likely he’ll be caught—either by the buyers Blomfeld lined up or the cops investigating the death of a United States Senator. Whoever catches him scrubs his brain, and there’s Lara, front and center.
She has to go, and Arthur and Agatha let her come with them. Dash doesn’t even have to ask.
“I look ridiculous,” Lara says.
“You look like the rest of us,” Agatha says.
“No, I don’t,” Lara says. “Dash looks even more innocent with those circles around his eyes, and Arthur’s slashes make him look angry and dangerous.” Lara scrutinizes her face in the mirror. “I look like I’m dressing up as Akeela for Halloween.” She tamps down the grief she feels when she realizes she’ll probably never see Akeela again; they’ll all have time to mourn later when D.C. is miles and miles behind them.
“What about me?” Agatha says. “What do I look like?”
Lara gives her a once over. She looks a little like a girl Lara wanted to date in college—blonde, aloof, and utterly fucking beautiful with facial tattoos that fanned out over her temples and trailed along her jawline like vines. Agatha’s fake tattoos are less elaborate but no less striking, no less flattering.
Lara clears her throat. “Fine. You look fine.”
They can’t go back to Fiddler’s Neck. Lara made official arrests there. The pre-cogs lived there for years. It’s the first place anyone will look.
They head in the opposite direction instead and end up in the Southern Wildlands.
“This used to be a part of Georgia,” Dash says, “before the ocean swallowed everything up.”
Lara nods. “These were the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.”
“And now they’re the Wildlands,” Arthur says. “Like Fiddler’s Neck except with more distrust of outsiders and a distinct lack of farmer’s markets.”
Agatha says, “There’s no police, no cameras. Nobody knows who we are. Doesn’t matter what else this place is. It’s home now.”
“Seriously, Agatha. What do you see?” Lara says. “You keep having visions, and I think they’re about me. You have to tell me.”
Agatha continues chopping apples like Lara hasn’t even spoken, her movements quick and efficient, the knife catching light from the window and throwing it into Lara’s eyes on every stroke. “It’s lucky Arthur was wrong about those farmer’s markets,” she says.
Lara muscles into her space, plants her palms flat on the rickety table across from Agatha. “What do you see?”
Agatha slides the apple cubes into a battered metal pan and very carefully sets the knife down on the table. She says, “I don’t owe you a damn thing,” and pretends she’s alone in the room until Lara makes it true.
People in the Wildlands are more welcoming than Lara expects; she supposes it’s a holdover from the famed Southern hospitality she’s read about in history books. Agatha, Arthur and Dash fit in relatively easily; they can see random events and details that help them anticipate how to make themselves useful to the small community where they’ve decided to stay. In addition, Agatha’s good with animals, Arthur is unexpectedly knowledgeable about agriculture, and Dash is so enthusiastic about everything from weeding the flower beds in front of the abandoned shack they’re currently inhabiting to learning how to make soap from Mrs. Wilkins that they each start to form tentative friendships before long.
People warm up more slowly to Lara, and she has a harder time warming up to them. She talks like a cop; she notices things like a cop; she’s suspicious of everyone. She keeps telling herself that not everybody living at the edge of the world is running from a life of crime, but she can’t quite make herself believe that. Everybody out here must be running from something.
Not long after Larry Bellflower starts paying her in honey and cheese for helping out with his massive herd of sheep, Agatha comes home talking about Jenny Smith. Jenny is 90 years old if she’s a day, and she lives by herself in a log cabin on the outskirts of what passes for town. Everyone in the community takes turns bringing her food and doing her chores, and Agatha has volunteered them for every second Tuesday of the month even though they’re barely managing to haul in enough food to feed themselves at this point.
“You did what?” Arthur says. “This is our fifth meal of pecans and blackberries this week. We don’t have the food to spare.”
Dash says, “I hate to say this, Agatha, but Arthur’s right. We can’t afford to help others right now. We have to think of ourselves.”
Agatha turns to Lara. “And what do you think?”
Lara tries to ignore how hungry she is now and how hungry she’s going to be after they’ve taken the best of their stockpile to make a dish worth sharing. “I think helping Miss Smith is helping ourselves. This place takes care of its own, and this is one of the ways we can truly belong. Otherwise, we’re going to be in real trouble soon.”
Agatha smiles at Lara, and Lara feels something warm and dangerous curling deep in her belly. “That’s exactly what I thought,” Agatha says. “I’m helping the Bellflowers with the shearing tomorrow. Why don’t you take the first turn, Lara?”
“Call me Jenny, dear. We don’t stand on ceremony out here.”
Lara sets the bowl of stew that contains the last of their protein in the middle of Jenny’s table. “You have a lovely home, Jenny,” she says, and Jenny does. Her wooden furniture is exquisitely crafted; the upper-crust of D.C. would pay a pretty penny for Jenny’s kitchen table, her armoire, her writing desk.
“Thank you. I can’t take all the credit for it, mind. Lot of different people put a lot of love into this house.” Jenny puts two bowls on the table and pulls out the bench. “Sit and eat with me.” Lara starts to protest, but Jenny cuts her off. “The four of y’all are near skin and bones. I ought to be bringing a casserole to you instead of the other way around.”
So Lara eats greedy mouthfuls of stew and learns everything she can from Jenny about the people in the village. “Where are you from originally?” she eventually asks.
Jenny laughs. “Right here. My family has always lived in these mountains. Not all of us are escaped convicts, you know.”
And then someone kicks in Jenny’s beautiful door, splinters of wood flying as far as the kitchen. Lara yanks Jenny down off the bench and turns the table on its side as a shield. “You should know I’m armed,” she yells into the sudden silence, and she is. Lara traded her police-issued and easily traceable sidearm and lenses in D.C. for a Glock and a sawed off shotgun, and she keeps the Glock on her at all times.
Lara risks a peek around the side of the table, Glock drawn. One perp, no visible weapon. Jenny is crouched down beside her, one hand pressed to her mouth. Her shoulders are shaking. “Sir,” Lara says. “I need to you put your hands on your head, now.”
The man laughs. “Oh, I don’t think so, little girl.”
Lara hears the snick of a safety being released and without letting herself think too much about what she’s risking, she rises up on her knees and fires her weapon—two bullets to the torso. The man gets a shot off as he falls. It passes through the tabletop before burying itself in the log wall, grazing Lara’s hip along the way. She hisses and presses her fingers into the gash; they come away wet with blood.
“Oh, my god,” Jenny says. “Are you alright?”
“It’s just a graze. I’ll be fine. Stay behind the table, Jenny.” She walks over to the man sprawled on Jenny’s floor. He’s clearly dead, but she kicks the gun away from him anyway, checks for his nonexistent pulse. He might not be alone, so Lara heads for the door to case the yard just in time to narrowly avoid shooting Arthur and Dash as they come barreling up the porch steps.
“Are you okay?” Dash says. “Are you okay?” He drags Lara into a hug that helps to calm her racing heart. “I saw the bullet hit you, saw you bleeding.”
“I’m fine. Cross my heart.”
“You seem to be bleeding way too much for fine,” Arthur says. “Come on. Let’s slap a bandage on that flesh wound.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Dash says.
“Go. I’m fine. I promise. See, I’m even laying down.” Lara curls up on her sleeping bag and lets Dash cover her up with the shirt he’s not wearing. “Seriously, Dash. I’m okay. You’re more help out there than in here.”
Arthur pops his head in the door. “Jenny is with her cousin Raylean. Raylean’s sons are gathering everybody who can to search the woods and make sure that asshole was working alone. Come on, Dash. Let’s go.”
Lara would rather be searching the woods with the others, but her hip is starting to hurt pretty badly now that the adrenaline is wearing off. She waves Dash off and burrows up under his shirt to wait for Agatha to show.
Agatha throws open the door of their shack. Her hair has mostly slipped from her ponytail, and her cheeks are pink. She looks frightened, wild.
Lara sits up stiffly. “You knew,” she says, her voice trembling. “You knew this would happen. You sent me to Jenny’s on purpose because you knew I would save her and everyone would have to accept us then. You’ve known since D.C. This is what you’ve been seeing all this time.” Lara shakes her head. “I suppose it was too much to ask for you to let me in on the secret, for you to trust me.”
Agatha shakes her head. “I didn’t see this at all, not until I was falling on the ground and feeling a bullet tear through me, through you. I would never use you like that,” she says and tears start pooling in her eyes. “I would never.”
Lara doesn’t understand. “Then what did you see?”
Agatha kneels down next to Lara’s sleeping bag. “Flashes of things. Your hair, longer than it is now, spread out over a pillow. You backlit in the sunshine, laughing. My hands . . .” Agatha stops, her voice the one trembling now. “My hands on your shoulders, on the small of your back.” She closes her eyes. “I see us, the life we could have together.”
Lara reaches out for Agatha. They can talk about what she’s so afraid of, why she fought so hard against this possibility, later. For now, Lara takes Agatha’s hand and threads their fingers together. She pulls her in for a kiss, soft and sweet and full of promises, and then she tumbles Agatha back on the sleeping bag despite the sharp pain in her hip. Agatha laughs, her eyes still wet with tears. In that moment, she’s the most beautiful thing Lara has ever seen.
Lara leans in for another kiss. “Bet you didn’t see this,” she says.