Authors: Kiersten White
“You don’t know enough about him.”
“I haven’t seen anything that makes me worried.”
“You don’t see everything.”
A door slams. Judging by Sarah’s sigh, I assume Cole is gone. “What was that about?” I ask.
Sarah sounds falsely bright. “Nothing. Cole likes being independent. Lerner has always been a really loosely connected network, to keep us safer. But we’re starting to organize and get funding, and it makes him nervous. I’ll go pack your things and we’ll head out!”
“I’m already packed,” Adam says. Sarah leaves, but he stays on the couch next to me. “So much research data all around me, and I can’t do a thing to study it. I need to work before I go crazy.”
“You can’t!” I blush, embarrassed at my outburst. “I mean, you can’t keep pursuing it, right? That’s how they found you.”
how they found him, but the vision still swirls in my head, unsettling me.
He sounds thoughtful. “Sarah thinks we can manage it. And she feels like it’s really important, like it might finally give us an advantage against Keane.”
My thoughts are scattered, my nerves frayed. What if it did? What if that’s what my vision meant? That we’d find the women and then help them disappear? Maybe I’m interpreting it wrong. It wouldn’t be the first vision I was wrong about.
Probably won’t be the last, either.
The car slams to a stop, my seat belt digging into my collarbone. “What is he doing here?” Cole snaps.
“Who?” Sarah asks. “Oh. I didn’t know he was coming.”
The car eases forward and then stops again. I hear doors open, so I unbuckle my seat belt and climb out, kicking my foot to find the curb.
“Cole,” a man calls from nearby. He sounds older than Cole and Adam. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
“Nathan,” Cole says, his voice icy. “Why are you here?”
“Permanent security detail with the boss.”
“Right.” Cole’s voice is edged with tension and anger. He must have a headache all the time if he carries as much tension in his neck as he does in his voice. “The
Sarah takes my arm. “Don’t worry,” she whispers in my ear. “Cole’s just PMSing.”
I snort, instantly more at ease. I don’t think Cole will stick around any longer than he has to, which is a bit of a relief. He stresses me out.
“Come on in,” Nathan says as we walk up three steps. “And who is this?”
I don’t like the shift in tone of Nathan’s voice that indicates he’s talking about me. It’s as though he’s no longer addressing an equal but a child or a plaything.
“None of your business,” Cole snaps.
I frown in his direction. I don’t need him defending me, but I’m surprised that he’d sound so … protective on my behalf.
We walk past Nathan, who wears a spicy aftershave that clears out my sinuses. I instantly decide I don’t trust men who wear too much cologne. What is he covering up?
The air shifts as we enter the house, less heavy with humidity and cooler. “Rafael!” Sarah says, sounding happy.
“Sarah! So good to see you again. And this must be Adam, which makes you Annie.” The speaker has a soft, musical accent that makes it harder for me to get much from his tone. It also makes me wish I could see his face, because his voice is very, very hot. A cheek brushes mine and I start, surprised, as he kisses the air next to my face.
He backs away, laughing. “I hate shaking hands. Don’t look so frightened, Adam, I promise not to kiss you. Where are you from, Annie?”
I smile nervously. “Colorado, originally. Lately of Chicago. I’m dead, though. Just for the record.”
“Naturally.” Rafael sounds amused, and I want him to like me so I can hear him talk more. “So you’re Fia’s sister.”
The way he states it gives me pause. “Do you know her?”
He laughs again, a laugh that holds secrets. “We’ve met, yes.”
“Did she stab you, too?”
This time the laugh is easy and loud. “No, nothing so dramatic.”
“Good. She has a habit of doing that apparently.”
“She destroyed my knee,” Nathan grumbles from behind us. I’m not sure if I should apologize. I didn’t to Cole for his stab wound, so I opt not to.
“Any word from our charmingly violent Fia?” Rafael asks.
Sarah answers. “We have a phone she gave Annie, but there hasn’t been any contact.”
“Hmm. Here, sit, I’ll have Nathan get coffee.” Rafael takes my arm and guides me to a leather couch in a carpeted room. “You know your sister better than anyone. Do you have an idea what she might be planning?”
I shake my head, then lean back against the couch. For what feels like the millionth time I rack my brains, trying to think of anything Fia said or did, any indication she might have given me about what her plan was.
I want to be with her, to hear her. I don’t want my last memories of her to be the vision where I thought she killed me, or our tear-filled exchange under the arch.
And then I
her. It rushes in, slamming into my eyes. Fia, wearing a tank top and long, loose, patterned pants. Pajamas. The room is nearly dark, with a pool of warm yellow light drifting out from a single lamp. Fia walks toward it, then pauses, looks down.
At James. I’ve seen him before, and he hasn’t changed, though in sleep he looks far more peaceful than I could have imagined. He’s sprawled on the couch, glasses askew on his face.
She’s going to kill him, I think. I don’t want to see, don’t want to watch her do this, but I can’t avoid what the vision wants to show me.
She reaches down and gently pulls the glasses off his face, closing them and setting them on the floor. Then she leans over, brushes her lips against his forehead, and turns off the lamp.
With the sweetest, most content smile on her face I could ever have imagined.
Darkness reclaims my eyes, and for once I am grateful to be back where I belong, back where life makes sense. She smiled. Not the dead-girl, hollow smile I’d seen in visions past. She looked … whole. With
“Are you okay?” Cole asks.
“I saw her,” I whisper.
“Who?” I can feel Rafael leaning in close to me.
“Fia. She was with James.” I cover my face, sick to my stomach. Because now I finally realize, I finally get it.
Fia saved me. She set me free.
But she also abandoned me.
“Fia’s not coming.”
I WAKE UP JUST BEFORE DAWN, AND I CAN’T—I
can’t—I can’t—I can’t do this, I can’t feel this, I can’t be me right now. Clarice’s face, her ruined face, then blood on my sister’s hand. I thought I’d have the good dream tonight. Not this.
I stumble down the hall, into James’s room. Crawl into his bed. He wakes up with a start. He is not like me: his first instinct is not to fight but to pull me close. He holds me until I can breathe again.
“It’s okay.” His voice is soft and sweet with sleep as he strokes my hair. “It’s okay.” His arms keep me from shaking apart. Sleep is okay when James is anchoring me, and here, now, there are no lies between us.
Whatever else he is, James is my one safe place in the world.
“Where did you go last night?” James asks, leaning against the wall as I finish flinging clothes into my suitcase.
“You sneaked out last night. I woke up at four and you were gone again.”
“Didn’t I tell you? I’m having an affair. With an accountant. He reads tax code aloud by candlelight; it drives me wild.”
I shrug, shoving my clothes down so I can get the suitcase shut. I wonder if I should be sad to leave this city, if I’ll ever come back. I don’t care about taking anything with me. Nothing here is mine.
I remember the quilt on my bed when I was little. It was blue with white clouds, worn threadbare, warm but light enough to burrow under without feeling like I was suffocating. I remember the knotted rug by my parents’ bed, beneath a battered wood chest my mom kept our memory boxes in. (My mom, my mom, I don’t even remember what she sounded like anymore. She is a picture, a home movie clip, a ghost of a person in my memories that are so small they wouldn’t even fill the box anymore.)
“Are you going to answer me?”
I look up, startled that James is still here. No, I will not miss this city. A place is a place is a place. I don’t care. James and I together, that’s what matters. We’re on our way to destroy his father, dismantle Keane Enterprises, and then be free. I am sharp and ready. “You’re the one who told me it’s good to keep secrets.”
“Not from me.”
I grin, pointing a finger at him. “Especially from you.”
He sighs and rubs his forehead. “Anything illegal?”
“Me? Never.” I woke up and his arms weren’t around me anymore and he was asleep and so far away, and the emptiness was too big, too scary, the waiting too much, so I went running.
He walks into the room and sits on the couch, pulling me into his lap. “Just how many secrets are you keeping from me?”
“I’d tell you, but it’s a secret.” I lean my forehead against his, letting myself feel quiet, looking for the thing inside me that tells me what we’re doing is right. It’s been so hard to find since I gave up Annie. “This is what we’ve been waiting for. This is what everything has been for.”
“Of course. This is the biggest vote of confidence my dad has ever given me. We’re finally sliding into place.” His eyes get distant, and something nervous twists in the pit of my stomach.
“You’re having second thoughts.”
He shakes his head, focuses on me. “No. You and me, that’s the way it has to be. We do what we’re supposed to and no one will see what’s coming until it’s too late.”
I scratch a finger under his jaw, my nail catching on his stubble. “Not even us.”
“Not even us.”
“What do you mean, I can’t go in to see Mr. Keane?” I sing the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” in my head over and over again, because I can’t think about what I need to think about, which is not a what but a who. The girl behind the desk glares at me.
“He wants you to get a feel for the receptionist. She’s too good for the Feelers or other Readers to figure out,” James had said, looking past me as we rode the elevator up up up up to where he would disappear past locked doors to his father, leaving me behind.
a freaking Reader.
She pops her gum, bored. “You aren’t cleared to go back to the offices.”
, I think.
On a scale of one to ten, how fond are you of an intact spinal cord?
Her eyes widen and I laugh. “Just kidding. Probably you should stay out of my head. It’s not a friendly place.”
“Clearly.” She has short hair, bleached white, with choppy bangs hanging over her kohl-rimmed eyes. From the looks of her she’s maybe sixteen, pixie features and tiny frame; her feet hang a few inches above the floor. She’s wearing metal almost everywhere metal can go—ears, nose, fingers, wrists, even studs on her black heels. It doesn’t compensate for how small she is. Fragile. Fingers like twigs, equally snappable.
“Aren’t you a little young to be Keane’s personal assistant?” I ask, leaning against the rosewood desk she’s slouching at.
She doesn’t break eye contact. “Aren’t you a little psychotic to be Keane’s employee?”
I like her. The pixie is going to be my friend. I know it like I know I’m not going to see Mr. Keane today. I will be her friend, while plotting to either betray her if she’s untrustworthy for the company, or be betrayed by her if I slip up and she sees thoughts she shouldn’t.
“When is James getting out of his meeting?”
“Quit thinking of me as a pixie. It pisses me off.”
Magic magic pixie dust! Tinker Bell! Tiny pixies with sharp teeth, stealing children and horses!
I start humming the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” under my breath.
“You really are as obnoxious as everyone thinks you are.” She sighs heavily, slides off her chair, and walks around the desk. Even in four-inch heels she barely comes up to my chin. “Let’s go get dinner.”
I let my eyes travel down the hall behind her. Mr. Keane is there somewhere. Mr. Keane who—nope not gonna think about it, not gonna think about anything at all. I can be patient. Pixies. Pixie haircuts. Pixie sticks. Drumsticks. Music. Dancing. I want to go dancing! Ache for it.
“You know what?” she says. “I changed my mind. Go ahead and snap my neck. It’s gotta be better than listening to you free-associate to try and scramble me.”
I laugh and wrap my arm through hers, steering her past the security guard and toward the gleaming elevators. “Your mistake is in assuming my brain doesn’t work like this all the time.”
We ride down the elevator in relative silence, except when Pixie asks me to please think the lyrics to a song she wouldn’t mind having stuck in her head. I settle on Queen in my head and pizza for dinner.
“So,” I say around a thin and drooping slice. “Turns out I do miss something about Chicago. What the crap is this crust?”
“Don’t ask me. I’m a vegan.”
I reach out and tug the collar of her leather jacket. “And this cow died of natural causes?”
She shrugs defensively. “My grandma gave it to me for my thirteenth birthday. It was hers. The cows would have been dead of old age by now, anyway. Besides, eggs are disgusting, and have you ever actually thought about what dairy is? You are eating the product of liquid squirted from the
nipples of a cow