Read Erased Online

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

Erased (8 page)

BOOK: Erased
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13

WHILE SAM, NICK, AND CAS CHECKED
the boys for tracking devices in the other motel room, I checked Dani.

I shut and locked the door. Dani stood fidgeting near the beds. “So, where do we start?”

Here, in the bright fluorescent lights, her hair almost looked fire red. Her eyes, a soft shade of green, were more vibrant.

She was real. My only sister.

But thinking it didn’t make it feel truer. There was still a huge disconnect between what I knew and what I felt. I knew I had a sister, but that didn’t mean I knew what it
felt
like to have one. I didn’t love her, not the way a little sister should, because I couldn’t remember her.

“Let’s start above the waist. Do you mind taking your shirt off?” I asked carefully.

She laughed. “No, I don’t mind. You’ve seen me naked before.”

She grasped her tank top at the hem and tugged it over her head. She was wearing a simple black racerback bra beneath. Her stomach was flat, the muscles clearly defined. Where there wasn’t muscle, there were bones jutting out beneath the skin.

She tossed me her shirt. I ran my fingers along the hems, then worked over the fabric, looking for something that felt out of place. I found nothing.

Dani lifted the straps of her bra, checking the material. “Good here.”

“Let’s look for implants, then.” I went to her side, and she turned around, baring her back. I started in her hair like Sam had instructed, feeling with two fingers for anything that shouldn’t be there beneath the skin. I tried to work quickly, feeling the onset of nervousness. Sweat was beading on my forehead.

“Sam still looks the same,” Dani said after I asked her to lift her arms.

“That’s the alterations. They age at a slower rate than everyone else.” I paused. “Your files said you were given the anti-aging drug, too. Did you know?”

“Yes. I meant… Sam hasn’t changed as a person. He still keeps his hair short. Still more comfortable in jeans and a plain jacket than anything else. No badass agent-wear for him.”

My throat tightened and my heart sped up as I thought about asking her all the things I’d wanted to ask someone when it came to Sam.

“Did he laugh back then?”

She shrugged as I ran my hands down her sides. “If you mean was he happy, no. Not really. Or if he was, he didn’t show it often. Sam’s always been very guarded.”

After she checked her chest, we moved on to her pants. When we found nothing, I started at her toes.

“You and Sam are together, aren’t you?”

I looked up at her. Sadness was pinched in the space between her eyebrows.

“What makes you say that?”

“Call it sister’s intuition. Plus…” She glanced away, and her expression softened. “He orbits you.”

I stood up. Dani had called Sam a boyfriend once. I didn’t know where that left us.

“Do you still love him?” I asked.

“Yes.”

My throat narrowed. “I didn’t know… until it was too late, that you and he had been together.”

“You don’t have to apologize.” She hung her head, and a lock of hair fell in front of her face. “I came to terms with losing him a long time ago.” She looked up and smiled. “At least I know he’s in good
hands.” She took a step toward me. “I have no intention of coming between you and Sam. I hope you know that.”

I nodded. “Thank you.”

She smiled. “Now, we should probably finish up before Sam freaks out.” She laughed, and the sound stirred something old, something forgotten.

My vision teetered.

“Anna?” Dani ducked to look at me straight on. “You okay?”

I blinked but couldn’t seem to focus on her. Everything on the edges was blurry, and everything in the center of my vision was smattered with flecks of white light.

“What’s wrong? Do you want me to get Sam?”

“No,” I said, but the word came out too breathy, too quiet.

Was it another flashback? Why here? Why now?

“I’m getting Sam,” Dani said and started for the door.

I tried to stop her but stumbled, pitching forward.

The sound of paper scraping against paper.

The sound of a voice.

“How long are you here?”

The question echoed in my head. It was my voice asking it.

“Just tonight,” Dani answered.

The flashback took hold of me, and the motel room faded away, the smell of cleaner and iron disappearing, replaced with the smell of pine and flowers and something smoky.

We were in a bedroom. Mine, I thought. From my old house. My old life.

I sat cross-legged on the bed, and Dani sat next to me.

I must have pouted, because she laughed and pushed the hair behind my ear. “Don’t be sad, bird.”

“I don’t like it when you’re gone. Dad is mean, and Mom doesn’t say or do anything. I’m so bored.”

Dani stiffened. “How is Dad mean?”

“I don’t know. He yells a lot.”

“Has he…” Her voice cracked. “Did he hit you again? I mean, when you get in trouble? Or when he yells?”

I frowned. I couldn’t remember him hitting me ever, so I said, “No. I don’t think so.”

Dani relaxed and blew out a breath. She curled her index finger and thumb, cupping my chin. “I’ll come back for you. I swear it. You just have to be patient.”

“I don’t want to be patient.”

“It won’t be much longer now. Sam’s gonna help me get you out. It’ll be an adventure.”

I brightened. “Will Nick go with us?”

Dani rolled her eyes. “Why would you ever want that crabby pants to come with us?”

“I don’t know.” I picked at the blanket spread out beneath us. “He’s nice to me. He showed me how to make these.” I held up a piece of paper that was folded into a bird. “He said his mom showed him how.”

Dani held the bird by its sharp, pointed tail. “Did he, now? Well, in that case, maybe we should bring him along. Maybe he can fold us a boat out of paper and we can sail across the ocean.”

I rolled my eyes. “That’s dumb. It would sink.”

She laughed again and smoothed down my hair. “You never know. Anything is possible, bird, if you wish for it hard enough.”

My head thunked against something solid. I opened my eyes, saw Sam peering down at me. It was his knee I’d hit. My head was cradled in his lap. “Hey,” he said.

“What happened?” I asked groggily.

“You passed out.” He looked across the room. I sat up just enough to see Dani and the others. Suspicion creased the lines around Sam’s mouth.

I shook my head, silently telling him that Dani hadn’t hurt me.

Cas sat next to me on the bed and put his hand on my leg. “I offered to give you mouth-to-mouth, but Sam vetoed. I don’t know why. I said I wouldn’t use tongue.”

I snickered. Sam frowned and pried Cas’s hand away by the fingers.
“I’m sure she appreciates your concern,” he said, “but she was breathing just fine.”

Cas shrugged. “Minor detail.”

I eyed the new boys, wondering if they saw me as weak now. I would hate it if they did. But the two assigned to Cas and Nick’s room weren’t even looking at me. They were perusing a magazine that had a race car on the cover with a barely clothed woman on the hood.

Greg was telling Dani something about his sudden craving for hamburgers.

If they thought me weak or deserving of pity, they weren’t showing it. At least not yet.

“You need anything?” Sam asked.

“I don’t know.” I rubbed at my temple. “I have a pounding headache. Maybe some—”

Nick tossed me an individual packet of painkillers. Cas brought over a glass of water.

“Thanks, you guys,” I said to both of them before ripping into the packaging. I downed both pills with one gulp of water. These things were becoming diet staples. How many painkillers could one person consume before they keeled over?

“So, did the boys check out?” I asked Sam.

“Everything looked good. No trackers, as far as we could tell.”

“You prepping them on what to do when we part ways?”

He nodded. “I’m taking Greg to the store to buy some basics.”

“Good.” I sat up, and my vision swam again. I suddenly felt like I might puke. That had been the worst flashback yet.

“So, what happened?” Sam asked, edging closer. His arm wound around my waist, his fingers hesitating at the exposed flesh of my hitched-up shirt. He checked to see if Dani was paying attention, and I realized he didn’t know yet that she was aware of our relationship.

“She knows,” I whispered. “About us.”

He looked down at me again. “You told her?”

“She already knew.”

He pursed his lips, nodded, and looked away. Sometimes it was easy to read Sam, and other times, like now, it was like there was a brick wall between us. Did he feel guilty? Had he wanted to tell Dani himself?

When he turned back to me, he asked again, “What happened?” and I realized the conversation about Dani was over.

“I don’t know.”

He narrowed his eyes, as if he suspected I was withholding something important. “You don’t remember anything?”

I wanted to share the flashback with him, but not now when we had an audience. Later, maybe, if we managed to get a free minute.

“I just got dizzy, is all.”

“Uh-huh.” He leaned in and kissed the top of my head. “Get some rest while I’m gone. And that’s not a suggestion.”

“Yes, sir.”

He gave me a look that said he was not amused with my humor. To Greg he said, “You ready? We should get going.”

Greg pushed away from the wall where he’d been chatting with Dani.

“We’ll be back in an hour,” Sam said. “No one leaves this room. Got it?”

We all murmured our assent as they left.

14

MOONLIGHT POURED THROUGH THE PARTED
curtains and pooled on the dingy gray carpet. I couldn’t sleep. Instead, I was counting the cracks in the ceiling as Sam breathed softly next to me. In the other bed, Dani faced away, toward the bathroom. Greg was sleeping on the floor. He’d insisted.

My body was a maze of sore spots. It was hard to find a comfortable position.

Sam shifted next to me. “What’s wrong?” he whispered.

“Nothing.”

“You’re lying.” He said it as a fact, not an accusation.

I sighed and rubbed my eyes. “Earlier… it wasn’t that I got dizzy. I had a flashback. A pretty intense one.”

He sat up, leaning on an elbow. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were busy and I—”

“Anna.” He stopped me. “You have to be honest about this shit, or—”

“Like
you’re
honest?” I kept my voice low, worried about waking the others. “You never tell me anything. You haven’t said a word about how you feel about Dani being back. And I know you have to
feel
something. You loved her once.”

He hung his head. “Her being here changes nothing.”

“You can’t predict the future. You have no way of knowing what memories might return or how they’ll make you feel. This could change everything.”

“It won’t.” He leaned in, his fingers threaded through my hair. He kissed me gently. Then more eagerly, a second time.

I slid closer and moved to tug his shirt off when he stopped me. That’s when I noticed the peppering of bruises all over his torso.

He was in worse shape than I was.

“I didn’t know your injuries were so bad.”

He sighed. “I’ve been shot, remember? A few bruises are nothing.”

“Except you were trying to keep it from me,” I pointed out.

“Because I knew you’d worry.”

We locked eyes in the semidarkness. A smiled edged onto my lips. “Yes. You’re probably right. I would worry. But that’s because I love you. I get to worry.”

He reached over and pushed a lock of hair away from my face, fingers trailing along my temple. I closed my eyes. I liked it when he
touched me. It didn’t even have to be intimate. It was like my nerve endings weren’t truly functioning until they were beneath Sam’s fingers.

“I love you, too,” he said. “Now try to get some sleep. If you’re having flashbacks, you’ll need it.”

We curled up together, my back pressed against his chest, his arm around my waist. I slid my fingers into his and squeezed.

I fell asleep quickly.

The next morning, just after sunrise, we stood in a loose circle in the middle of a park. Everything was covered with a fresh layer of snow and glittered in the early sunlight.

The new boys had their packs slung over their shoulders. Sam had also bought them each a winter jacket.

“Thanks for this, man,” Greg said to Sam, and shook his hand. “We got any way of calling you in the future? In case something comes back? Or if we need your help?”

Sam nodded. “I programmed a number into your prepaids.”

“Thanks,” they murmured.

“And thanks again for busting us out,” Greg added.

Cas shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “I’m going to miss you guys.”

“You hardly know them,” I said.

“I know them enough to know I’ll miss them.” He went over and gave each boy a half hug, half handshake before saluting them. “Till we meet again, gentlemen.”

The boys laughed and saluted him in return.

Dani went over and hugged each one, too. “I didn’t know you all very long, but I can tell you’re the good guys. Be vigilant, all right?”

Greg grinned. “We w—” His expression changed instantly. The grin disappeared from his face. He dropped his pack on the ground. Matt and Jimmy did, too.

“Greg?” Dani said. “Something—”

He punched her. A powerful shot to the cheek. She flew backward.

“What the hell?” Cas shouted as Jimmy charged straight for him.

“Shit,” Nick said just before Greg threw a punch in his direction. Nick ducked, and Sam stepped in, landing a solid blow to Greg’s chest. He staggered back, gasping for air.

I hurried to Dani’s side. “Are you okay?” I rolled her over, and she spat blood in the snow.

“What is happening?” she said.

I looked up. The boys were in an all-out brawl with the others. And it didn’t look good.

Greg had Cas pinned facedown in the snow until Nick kicked Greg in the back. Matt and Sam were circling each other. Jimmy leapt onto Nick’s back and wound him tight in a headlock.

“We should go,” Dani said in a rush. She grabbed my hand and pulled me in the opposite direction. “Before it gets worse. Sam would want you safe until it’s over, right?”

I shook my head. “I’m not leaving them.”

“Anna!” Dani pulled harder. “They’ll kill us.”

“No, they won’t. I won’t let them. Stay here.” I started into the fray.

Jimmy swung Cas around, slamming him into a tree. Cas grunted, eyes squeezed shut for a fraction of a second. Just long enough for Jimmy to punch Cas in the side. Cas’s knees buckled. Jimmy grabbed a hunk of his hair and dragged him up.

I had a clear shot at Jimmy’s back.

I ran at him. But less than a foot away, he dropped Cas and swung at me with a backhanded punch. I ducked. He kicked me in the shin. I staggered away, the dull throb of the hit vibrating clear up to my thigh.

He threw another punch that I managed to deflect, then another that caught me across the top of the head. I tried to ignore the throbbing in my skull as he wound back for another blow, exposing his right side. I thrust upward with a jab, landing it in his ribs.

He paused through the pain, giving me the opening I needed.

I kicked him once in the knee, then again in the kidney.

He dropped to one knee, and I punched him in the temple, knocking him unconscious.

I turned to the others. Sam had Matt on the ground on his stomach.
He took Matt’s head in his hands and slammed it to the ground. Blood poured from Matt’s nose, and he stopped moving.

Sam stood up. Cas sidled in next to me. Nick wiped blood from his face as Greg stared at him.

“The only one remaining,” Nick said to Greg. “You think you can take all of us?”

Greg didn’t answer. His eyes were blank as he looked us over, like he was calculating the odds in his head.

He turned around and ran.

Nick started after him, but Sam called out, “Let him go.”

Nick scowled. “He just attacked us! And we almost lost.”

Sam watched Greg disappear around a street corner. “I don’t think he knew what he was doing. You see the looks on their faces? Like nobody was home.” He ran the sleeve of his jacket over his mouth, wiping away the blood. “Something wasn’t right.”

Dani staggered to her feet. “It was like they were brainwashed.” She winced and gently fingered her now doubly swollen jaw.

“Anyone see them on a cell phone before this?” Sam asked. We all shook our heads.

“We should get out of here,” Nick said, “in case there are agents in the area.”

“What about them?” Cas asked, nudging Jimmy with the toe of his boot.

Sam looked around the park. There were no witnesses. No cameras. “Leave them here.”

“Poor bastards,” Cas added before slinging an arm around my shoulders. “Help me to the car, Banana? I need some assistance.”

I snorted. “I’m sure you do.”

Together, we hobbled away but kept our eyes on the surrounding area just in case. If the Branch could control people remotely now, there was no telling what else they were capable of.

BOOK: Erased
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