Authors: Lauren Stewart
Not here? What the hell did that mean? She subdued the impulse to snap at him, demand he tell her what he’d meant. All she’d be asking for was another lie. She’d get more truth by interrogating the minor. Because by the time someone becomes an adult, they know how to lie and lie
. Eighteen—the legal age for impenetrable deceit.
“So, you think this is all some kind of plot to mess with you?” Justin asked.
“Something like that,” she said distractedly as she watched Carter walk outside, closing the door tightly behind him.
Justin flopped back on his bed, junk bouncing around as he landed.
She sat down in the chair he’d swept off earlier, feeling more at ease than she had since she’d woken up. With only the two of them in the room, even the
was different. An intangible force binding them, as if they already knew each other. Similar to—but not
as powerful as—the attraction she felt towards Mitch. Thankfully, the force wasn’t sexual. Because Justin was
too young for her and
too not-Mitch for her. Was that their power? Their Abnormalness being drawn to each other? Or was it Chastity’s inability to be within twenty feet of testosterone without chucking more wood on the fire?
“Okay. So here’s the low-down,” Justin said, seemingly unaware of whatever was happening between them. “My mom used to think I just had ‘anger issues’, and then she decided I was insane. So when The Clinic found me, I was living in a mental institution for underage-psychos.”
“I’m sorry.” Did all of them go through hell like that? Not being able to understand themselves, not having anyone believe in them. The Clinic had taken over the parental role in Justin’s life, and he was okay with it. Maybe because they were doing a far better job than his
parents did. A better job than Eden’s or Mitch’s did. Dang, no wonder the kid preferred it here.
“No problem. I’m over it.” He shrugged. “I mean, I had my own room, complete with padded walls, so it could’ve been worse,” he joked. “I’m just happy they found me.”
“How did they find you?”
“I’m not sure, but I think they troll the psych bins and stuff, looking for kids who have
than the usual issues.”
Was that how they’d found her? By trolling the foster care system?
“So,” she said, struggling to focus her mind on one hurdle at a time. “So, you
“Sure, it’s okay. They treat me well and don’t think I’m nuts.” He smiled. “That’s a plus.”
Time was moving forward, but she wasn’t. She stared at the boy, the man, the child, who seemed to be handling the fact that he had a Hyde slowly maturing inside of him really frigging well. How could he know what they were and not be terrified? Have the same problem as Mitch, yet none of the self-hatred or anger?
“I have a—” She swallowed and started again. “I have a friend who transforms. But he’s so different from you. He’s so…” She looked around the room, searching for the right word, but nothing appeared. “He’s just different. He thinks he’s evil. Do you think you’re evil?”
He fidgeted nervously, like he was afraid of giving the wrong response. “No. Not anymore. I
I’m different. But I
know I’m safe.”
What if they were telling the truth? Even a little bit. Maybe they really
helping people like her. Like Fields’s daughter, like Justin. Ever since she found out what they’d done to her, she hated them. Their employee had killed people. Not
, their employee.
What if all of that was true? If even
of it were true, she should do what she could to help. So that more of her kind would be safe. So that no one would have to go through what she and Mitch had.
When Justin’s eyes locked on hers, Eden felt drained, weightless, like she was falling down a deep hole of regret. Not for
, not even for herself.
For Mitch. For a lifetime of self-loathing when it could’ve been better. Maybe even happy. He could’ve loved himself. Her heart cried for him. For all the years of hate, all the times he pushed people away for their own safety. It all could’ve been…different.
If he’d known. If this place would have taken him in, been honest with him.
And now, Mitch was broken. In a way they would never be able to fix. There was no chance of him agreeing to come here, not even if they waved a white flag in front of him. All he’d see was red.
she might have a way to really help him. If he’d accept it.
She chuckled. “I’m crying right now, aren’t I?”
Justin nodded and started rummaging through the stuff on his nightstand. “I have some tissues in here somewhere.”
“It’s okay. No offense, but I think my shirt is cleaner than anything you’re going to find under all of that.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He scratched his head. “So, are you checking the place out for your friend?”
She used the bottom of her shirt to wipe her face and then stood to leave. “Maybe. I’m not sure.”
“Cool. I’ll talk to him about it if you want.”
“Thanks, but you might not like him.” How would Mitch behave around someone like Justin? Someone who still had hope and dreams and expectations out of life.
“He’s like me, right? But he thinks it’s the end of the world. Then he should come here and see that he’s going to be okay. They’re going to fix us, so it won’t happen anymore. They’re close to a cure. A cure for the whole thing.”
“I don’t…I don’t think they have it quite yet.” She played with the doorknob, not sure if she wanted to stay here and keep pretending this was no big deal, or if she wanted to grab Justin and drag him away, promising him a life that she couldn’t even promise
“Soon,” he said. “Alex told me it’ll be soon. And she always tells it like it is. She never lies to me or the other people who come in just to sleep. You can trust her.”
She wanted to leave. “Thanks for…everything, Justin. It was nice to meet you.”
He jumped off the bed as she opened the door. “Hey, how’d you find out about him? About his Hyde?”
She could’ve told him. That she was like him. Like
. But with double the bad DNA. There was so much she could have said, if she’d been able. But she wasn’t.
“He showed me.” Because he
to, when there was no other way to avoid it. To let her see into the world she was part of. A world consisting of just the two of them. Boy, had they been wrong.
“Is he, like, your boyfriend?”
She smiled as he blushed. “Sort of.”
“I’ve never shown anyone, other than my mom, but that doesn’t count ‘cause it was an accident. I’ve never wanted to show anyone or to have anyone ever know. So this guy…he must trust you a lot.”
“He used to.”
“Thank you, sir.”
For your continual demands for the impossible.
“I’ll let you know.” After she hung up, Alex sighed and tossed today’s notes into a file folder. He had no
what he was asking for. Eden couldn’t be treated like any of the others. Because she wasn’t
any of the others. For one, she knew better than to trust them.
“What the hell am I doing?” Until she heard the second knock, she’d thought it was her head hitting her desk. “Come in.”
“I told her about her parents,” Fields said as he closed the door behind him and sat down. “I thought she would’ve already figured it out. But she had no clue.”
“It’s fine. The more truthful we are, the more she’ll trust us. And we
her to trust us.”
“I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen. When I told her about Alicia and what she might be able to do for all of them, she didn’t believe me.” He looked tired, worn out. But he still probably looked better than Alex did. Because he didn’t have as much to feel guilty about.
In one day, everything had changed. Eden was the miracle they never saw coming, but she was also the biggest pain-in-the-ass Alex had ever met. Alex had met a number of Jekylls and a few Hydes, but none had ever been able to push her buttons so hard. Maybe it was because Eden was the most human, the one Abnormal who’d somehow figured out a way to be solely normal. And she’d done it on her own.
Alex took a deep breath, determined to fake civility until they could figure out how to get under Eden’s skin as well as she got under theirs. “Just keep her away from everyone.”
“They know better than to answer any questions.”
“No, they understand
, not manipulation. No one walks down the hall while she’s out of her room. Got it?”
He nodded. “So what’s next?”
“I sent Carter over to introduce her to Justin. Maybe that will help.”
won’t tell her anything she shouldn’t know?”
“It’ll be fine. Carter has too much to lose to say anything, and Justin doesn’t know anything.”
“Well, I hope she likes the kid. Because she needs someone to trust. And it won’t be Carter. I’ve never
anyone hate that much.” He tapped the arm of his chair. “He looks like shit, you know.”
Alex wanted to put her head back down on her desk. “I know.”
was going like it was supposed to. “But I was told not to give him any more.”
“What are we doing, Alex?” Fields leaned forward. “I mean, really? This isn’t…
. What are we doing here?”
She paused, not wanting to make another enemy, but knowing that if she let Fields start questioning things, he’d never stop. And
was dangerous for everyone.
When she spoke, she looked him directly in the eye, without weakness, hesitation, or doubt. “Our
. We are helping Alicia, Justin, and all the others. And we are doing what we’re told to do. Because that is
of our jobs. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” he said as he shook his head slowly.
Eden flinched when she saw Carter right outside Justin’s room
He was using the wall to support himself. “So, how’d it go? Do you believe me now?”
Seeing him dried up any residual tears she had. He was a walking reminder of bullshit. “That ship sailed a long time ago, Carter. In fact, it’s probably at the bottom of the ocean swarming with sharks by now. Wanna go for a swim and check?”
He ran his tongue over his teeth unconsciously. “Fine. Then do you believe
? Or do you want him to go swimming with me?”
She walked away from the door, not wanting Justin to overhear them. Not wanting to be the one to kill his dream. “All I believe is that Justin thinks you people are on his side, and that there’s some kind of miraculous solution to everything. That’s not fair. It’s not right. You can’t promise him that.”
“Where are you going?”
She looked back at him and realized that she’d been power-walking down the hallway. Back towards the room she’d talked to Alex in. “I want to see Alex. The bitch better have some excellent answers, or my next stop will be the front door.”
Carter shouted out directions from far behind her. As if there were that many choices—doors, doors aplenty and not-a-one would open. When he said something without yelling it, she almost didn’t turn around. What could he possibly have to say that she wanted to hear? But when his one-sided conversation continued, she turned and started walking backwards.
He held a phone up to his ear and was intently talking about… “show him to her. Bad idea.” Huh. What a surprise. He was talking to someone else. About
“It’s impolite to talk shit about someone when they are only thirty feet in front of you,” she called. “The
you could do is walk faster so I can hear.”
He took the phone from his ear and pressed the screen.
“Are you putting it on speaker?” She slowed down to match his tediously-slow pace.
“You’ve changed a lot,” he said, shoving the phone into his pocket.
“Our experiences make us who we are. Well,
and the enormous amount of bullshit some of us get to deal with. So, I guess I should thank you. Thank you for all that you’ve done to make me who I am today. Even more confused and screwed up than I
to be.” She didn’t stop walking, didn’t even turn back around. Not really caring if she hit a wall or tripped over something someone had left in the middle of the hallway. Not really caring much about anything right now.
Fields’s daughter, Justin—they weren’t her responsibility. She didn’t owe them anything. And Mitch? No, not even he belonged to her anymore. She had very little left to care about. And actually, none of it was
at all. Chastity had taken her soul and Mitch had taken her heart.
What do I have left?
The thought made her dizzy, and she stumbled, throwing out her arm for balance. Resting her other hand on her thigh, she kept her head down and took deep breaths.
Carter came at a limping run. “Are you alright?” He put his hand on her back.
She flipped up, knocking his hand away. “Don’t ever touch me again. Do you hear me?” she hissed. “Even if I am bleeding to death in a ditch on the side of the road, I do
want your help.”
He waited until she stood to say, “Alex’s office is the third one on the right. Her name is on it.”
“And that makes her special, doesn’t it? None of the
doors are marked, so I guess that means no one else is important.”
“I told her you were coming,” he grumbled.
She didn’t say goodbye as he walked away. She didn’t tell him she hated him or loved him or that she wished he was dead. Because all of them were true. And there’s no good way to say, ‘I hate you and love you in exactly the same amount,’ to someone. Not even to yourself.
§ § §
Alex answered two seconds after Eden’s fist hit the door. “Hi, Eden. So nice of you to drop by.” Her frustration filled the spaces between every word. “Come on in.” She indicated a chair and sat down behind her desk.