Josie felt hollow staring down at June as she traced the R in Ramona again and again with a steady, blood-soaked hand. After everything she had been exposed to in her childhood, Josie didn’t think there was much that could shock her, but this—this was difficult to take in.
Carefully avoiding the widening swath of blood, she circled around Sherri’s body and knelt about four feet away from the girl. June didn’t look at her as she moved on to the first A in Ramona, her palm rubbing the letter into the drywall. Her chin jutted forward—in concentration or determination, Josie couldn’t tell. Maybe both.
Josie said, “June, it’s me, Detective Quinn.”
No acknowledgement. It was as if she were the only person there— not just in the room, Josie realized, but in the entire world. Her hand reached back and scooped a fresh gob of Sherri’s blood with which she began stroking the long, straight lines of the letter M.
Josie inched forward. “June, I’m only here to talk to you. Do you think you could put down the fork?”
The fork flew across the room, clattering against the wall opposite Josie and falling to the floor. The girl had reacted with such speed and nimble assurance, Josie hardly believed her eyes. She wondered how deeply hidden was the real June?
Josie swallowed. Her face felt unusually hot. “Thank you,” she said as June swept more blood into the oval shape of the letter O in a rhythmic motion.
Josie looked at the door. The nursing staff had left the doorway, likely rounding up all the residents and sheltering them in the common area. She didn’t have much time. She scooted forward a bit more and swallowed again. “June, I need to ask you something. Who is Ramona?”
Nothing. Round and round the O she went. “June,” Josie tried again.
“Who is Ramona? I want to help you, but I can’t do that if you don’t tell me what’s happening. Do you know Ramona? Is she in trouble? June, if this Ramona is in trouble, then I need to find her as soon as possible. I can help her. Let me help her. Who is she? Where can I find her?”
Up and down, up and down her hand went, now working on the letter N.
“I saw your uncle the other day,” Josie tried. “Your uncle Dirk. Right after his accident. I was there. He said her name. He whispered it to me. He said, ‘Ramona.’ If you could just tell me who—”
The rest of the sentence lodged in Josie’s throat so hard and fast she started coughing. June’s head snapped in her direction and her amber eyes zeroed in on Josie like a predatory bird. They flashed with intelligence and awareness. For that split second, June was there. Really and truly there, in the room with Josie. Then she was gone. She turned back to the wall, and continued.
Josie recovered herself. “June, please. You can trust me. Please tell me what’s going on. Who is Ramona?”
The sound of sirens, muffled but getting closer, invaded the room. Disappointment mixed with desperation rounded Josie’s shoulders. The cavalry was arriving. June would be taken into custody, and with her any chance Josie had of discovering who the hell Ramona was and where Josie could find her.
She glanced at the empty doorway, and when she looked back at June the girl was staring at her again, the lucidity in her light-brown eyes so stark and startling that Josie’s breath caught. Panic welled inside her.
The girl leaned forward and Josie instinctively flinched, throwing a hand up—but no attack came. Craning her neck, June brought her face within inches of Josie’s, opened her mouth, and stuck her tongue out as far as she could. In the center of it was a small pink ball with a word written on it. Lizard-like, June retracted her tongue before Josie’s brain could properly process the word. Tiny, white letters. Barely readable. Princess.
“Where did you—where did you get that, June?” Josie asked.
But the moment was over. The girl retreated back into herself, her eyes as blank and empty as polished stones, her scarlet palm massaging Sherri Gosnell’s blood into the final letter.