Authors: Jennifer Rush
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Love & Romance, #Science & Technology, #Juvenile Fiction / Action & Adventure - General, #Juvenile Fiction / Love & Romance, #Juvenile Fiction / Science & Technology
WE RAN FOR FIVE MILES. STRAIGHT.
To say that I felt like dying at the end would be an understatement. Nick didn’t even seem winded. Since our car was all the way in the other direction and stealing another car would take time out in the open that we didn’t have, we hid in a nondescript diner, waiting for things to cool off.
Nick held his coffee between both hands as he watched the door and the front windows warily.
On our five-mile jog, Nick had worn the agent’s earpiece so he could track the Branch’s movements. When they’d located their downed agent at West Fifty-Fifth Street, they’d followed our footprints in the snow to Lucgrove Avenue, where we’d essentially disappeared into a brick wall.
That was thanks to Nick, who devised a plan to use empty milk crates to climb onto the roof of a sandwich shop. He’d knocked the crates over as he hung from the roof’s ledge to cover what we’d done. The Branch was probably savvy enough to figure it out, but we weren’t leaving any clues if we could help it.
From there, we covered the span of an entire block by rooftop, the city spread out around us. Hastings wasn’t a large metropolitan area, but I could make out a few skyscrapers in the distance and the streets below us were busy with foot traffic despite the January weather. When Nick and I finally climbed down a fire escape, our footsteps were easily lost in the hundreds already pressed into the snow.
That was forty-five minutes ago, and Nick hadn’t spoken since we’d ordered our coffee.
When his phone rang in his pocket, he nearly lurched out of his chair.
“You okay?” I asked.
He checked the phone’s display, ignoring the question. “It’s for you.”
The screen read Sam’s number. “Hey,” I said when I answered, trying to act casual when I was anything but.
“Where are you?” Sam said, his tone not at all conversational. If anything, it was suspicious.
I looked at Nick. He raised a brow.
“In a diner.”
I winced. How did he figure these things out so quickly?
“I traced the phone,” he answered, sensing my unspoken question. “You’re two hundred miles north of where you’re supposed to be. Did Nick talk you into something?”
“No.” If anything, it was me who talked
“Where are you going, Anna?”
I sighed. “I want to dig into my family’s past. I want to know more.” That was a close truth.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to Port Cadia.”
“Okay. I won’t.”
“What else am I doing right now, Sam?”
He let out a breath. “Please don’t go to Port Cadia without me.”
I closed my eyes. I was so tired. I was tired of arguing. Tired of being treated like I was somehow more fragile than the boys. I might be a girl, but that didn’t mean I needed to be coddled. I contemplated confessing that we’d encountered agents, that we’d seen Riley, that we’d had to fight for our lives and won. But he was already annoyed, and telling him all that would only make it worse.
“We’re already halfway there,” I answered. “I’m not turning back.”
If Uncle Will could give us anything, anything at all, it was worth meeting him. Plus I wanted to see him in person. See one more member of my forgotten family.
“Goddamn it.” There was a long pause before he spoke again. “Be safe. Stay alert like I taught you.”
Nick reached across the table and snatched the phone from my ear. To Sam, he said, “Have you had any flashbacks about that night five years ago?”
I guessed Sam needed no clarification for what night Nick was referring to—the night my parents died, the night Sam and the others had supposedly been caught by the Branch.
Nick scanned the diner while he listened to whatever Sam’s response was. “If you remember anything, call me.” A pause. “Because something isn’t right about it, but I don’t know what yet.” Another pause. A grumble. “I will.”
He tapped the phone off with a finger and went back to analyzing every single person who entered the diner.
“What made you question Sam about that night?” I said gently.
“If I knew, I wouldn’t have had to ask the question.”
I slumped in the chair, stretching my legs out. He was so difficult sometimes.
I didn’t expect him to elaborate, not after that comment. But maybe there was something in the coffee that loosened him up, because he added, “I don’t trust your sister.”
I frowned. “Why?”
“I don’t know. The fact that she’s been gone five years, that we found her in the same lab as those brainwashed kids. Or how about the fact that she seems perfectly okay with you and Sam being together? Like she already knew.”
“How was she supposed to take it? Bitterly? For one, she has been gone for five years. She moved on. And two, I’m her sister.”
He screwed up his face. “So because you share blood, stealing her boyfriend is okay?”
I cocked my head to the side. “I did not steal Sam.”
The front door opened, and Nick’s attention flicked to it briefly before settling back on me. “Call it whatever you want. But if you ask me, she came to terms with it a little too quickly.”
I shook my head. “She’s my sister. I trust her.”
“You don’t even know her.”
Nick tightened his hold on his coffee cup. “Family means nothing. Your own blood can do fucked-up things to you.”
I stared at him. Did he know about his dad? That he used to abuse Nick?
I reached across the table. “Nick, I—”
He shrank away. “Are you ready to get out of here?”
I pulled my hand back.
He tossed a twenty on the table and walked toward the door, shoulders hunched.
Months ago, Nick had told me he thought it was better for him if he didn’t remember his past. His exact words were “I might not remember who I was before all this, but I can bet it wasn’t all sunshine and fucking roses.”
I still sometimes wondered if that was true, if knowing would
somehow make everything worse. Eventually Nick would have to talk about his past, wouldn’t he? It seemed like out of all of us, not talking about his issues or memories would damage him the most. Maybe that’s why he’d ended up with the Branch in the first place, because he hadn’t worked through the things his dad had done to him. But for me, it was different. There was a voice in the back of my head that said I would never feel complete if I didn’t fill in the missing pieces.
I wanted to know about my family, my past, who I was and why I was here, what had sent me on this path.
I only hoped Uncle Will could help.
OLD-FASHIONED LAMPPOSTS ON THE SIDEWALK
had flicked on since we’d been inside the diner and now illuminated the street in a golden glow. The temperature had dropped, too, if that was even possible. It just went from cold to colder.
We walked a mile or so before Nick stole another car, thank God. As soon as the engine was warm enough, I blasted the heat. Feeling returned to my toes and fingers. I curled up against the passenger-side door and closed my eyes, feeling the heaviness of sleep creeping in.
White light flashed behind my lids.
I saw Dani through a crack in a doorway.
“We had a deal,” she said.
“And I stuck to that deal,” a man answered.
“He’s relapsed, though. He’s not better, and Anna isn’t safe here.”
“What do you want me to do? Would you like me to take her in? Start her out young?”
Dani scowled. “No. I don’t want her having any part of this.”
“Then quit asking me to make exceptions.”
“I’m not. I’m just asking you to care for once.”
“Oh, Dani,” he said with an edge of laughter. “I care. That’s exactly why we’re here now, having this conversation. I care too goddamn much.”
A phone rang somewhere in the distance.
I jolted awake.
“It’s for you,” Nick said, handing me the prepaid.
I blinked the sleep out of my eyes and took the phone, reading the screen before I answered. It was Sam’s number again.
“Hey.” But it wasn’t Sam. It was Dani. “I got a meeting set up with Uncle Will.”
I straightened in the bucket seat. “You did. Where?”
“There’s a bar in Port Cadia. Molly’s, it’s called. He’ll be there tonight. Eight
“All right. Thank you for doing this.”
“No problem.” She paused. “Is Nick being nice to you?”
“As nice as he can be.”
Dani laughed. “That’s all you can ask for.”
“So…” I turned to the window, away from Nick, as if that would afford any privacy. “How’s Sam? Is he… okay?”
“Sam is fine,” Dani said. “You don’t have to worry.”
“Cas is Cas.”
She paused, then, “I should go. Be careful, bird.”
After promising her I would, we hung up.
“So?” Nick said.
“My uncle should be at a bar tonight.”
“So what do we do before then?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. But I wouldn’t mind taking a nap in a proper bed.”
Nick veered to the right, to the next freeway exit. “How about breakfast, and then we find somewhere to crash?”
I nodded. “Yes, please. I could go for a gigantic pile of pancakes right about now.”
“With brown sugar,” Nick said in a voice so low I barely heard him.
His jaw tensed. “Just… try it with brown sugar. And syrup. And butter.”
“All right,” I said, slightly suspicious.
It was the best combination of sweet and buttery I’d ever tasted. I covered the stack of pancakes with butter, drizzled it with pure maple syrup, and then sprinkled brown sugar on top.
It was like heaven.
“Have you had it this way?” I asked Nick once I’d sopped up the last of the syrup. He shook his head. “Then how did you know I’d like it?”
He emptied his cup of coffee. “I just did.”
I tilted my head to the side. “Come on.”
Our waitress, an older woman with a long braid of gray-brown hair, swooped in, clearing our plates. “Room for dessert?” she asked.
I was stuffed. Maybe more stuffed than I needed to be. Sam had told me overeating was one of the biggest mistakes we could make. We could never know when Riley or the Branch would swoop in, and having a full stomach made you lethargic and slow. “Only eat for fuel,” he’d said. And I’d definitely just eaten for pleasure.
“No, thank you,” I answered. Nick shook his head.
“I’ll have your bill ready for you in just a minute.” She hurried off.
I turned back to Nick. “So?”
He shrugged again. “I just knew, all right?”
I narrowed my eyes. “You remembered, didn’t you? I used to like brown sugar on my pancakes when I was a kid?” Nick just stared at me, which was answer enough. “How do you know all these things about me?”
Another shrug. He avoided looking at me.
I smiled. “Maybe you didn’t hate me so much back then.”
He snorted. “Doubtful.”
I ticked off the things I knew about our past. In a flashback, he was with me while Dani and Sam fought. He’d shown me how to make a paper crane. He knew how I liked my pancakes. And in my drawing, the one where he was pushing me inside the closet, I had to wonder if he wasn’t pushing me inside to be mean, but instead to hide me from something.
And if so, what?
After we ate, we drove around for another hour. We didn’t have much money left, not enough to rent a room somewhere, and it was far too cold to nap in the vehicle. Besides, the heat had started malfunctioning, so it hovered between blowing out cold air and blowing out air that smelled like a basement.
Nick drove to a nicer part of town, where quaint cottages were stuck between mammoth houses, and all of them surrounded a lake. The road narrowed the farther north we went.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“We’re looking for a place to crash, remember?”
I sat forward, the seat belt tightening across me. “In someone else’s house? What if they come home while we’re there?”
“Shh. Just wait a damn second.”
I grumbled but sat back.
Finally he slowed and pointed at a one-story gray brick cottage. “Look, the driveway hasn’t been shoveled. There aren’t any tracks in the snow, in the driveway, or on the front path up to the door.” He nodded at the houses farther up the street. “See the icicles hanging off the roof?”
“It means the heat’s running. Now look at this place. See any icicles?”
I scanned the roof’s edge. “No, not really.”
“Means the heat is turned down so they can conserve it to keep the utilities low. It’s probably a summer place.”
“So no one will find us.”
Nick nodded. “Exactly.”
He pulled in the driveway and up on the side of the garage, partially hiding the car beneath a canopy of thick pines. We walked around to the back of the cottage. There was a small porch there, and a back door with an old aluminum screen on the outside. I held it open while Nick worked at the lock on the inner door.
I bounced on my feet, trying to ward off the numbness spreading through my toes. The temps were colder here, and the wind coming in off the lake was nearly icy.
Hurry up, Nick
, I thought.
The lock clicked open, and Nick pushed the door in. I barged past him into a mudroom. Water shoes and sandals were lined up on
a black mat. Raincoats hung from hooks on the wall. Beach toys were stacked in crates in the corner. I relaxed. This was definitely a summer home.
I followed Nick through a small galley kitchen to the living room. There was a sectional couch covered in white sheets. Nick tugged them off with one pull. Dust swirled in the air.
“It’s nice being out of the wind,” I said, rubbing my arms, “but it’s still freezing in here.” I could see my breath.
“We’ll only be here a few hours. I’ll turn the heat up.”
He located the thermostat in the makeshift dining room tucked in the back of the living room. “Seventy okay?” he asked and I nodded. He turned the dial, and the furnace ticked on a few seconds later. “Give it ten minutes, and it should warm up.”
“Thank you. Really.”
He looked at me, his expression hovering between his default scowl and something softer, more sympathetic. He didn’t say anything in reply, so to combat the sudden, awkward silence, I started searching for a linen closet or a blanket hutch, for something to keep me warm while the house heated up.
I found an old fleece blanket in a bag under one of the beds. After giving it a good shake, I wrapped it around my shoulders and plopped onto the couch.
It took all of one minute for my eyes to grow heavy and my head to droop.
“You can take a nap,” Nick said. “I’ll keep watch.”
“You don’t mind?”
He shook his head. “That’s what we’re here for anyway.”
“What about you?”
He pulled a chair up to the front window and parted the curtains just enough to see out. “I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure? Because I could take the first—”
“Anna.” He silenced me with a look. “Go to sleep.”
“All right,” I said, because I was exhausted. I lay down, curling onto my side, the blanket tucked around me.
It didn’t take long for me to pass out.