Authors: Jus Accardo
Tags: #Romance, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #teen, #young adult, #denazen, #Speculative Fiction, #ya, #Paranormal, #touch, #toxic, #jus accardo, #tremble
Ginger was kind enough to let me shower and shove a breakfast bar down my throat before practically shoving me into the elevator and out the front door. I’d been tired when Alex and I got back, but now, knowing my shot to fix things with Kale might be right around the corner, I had a renewed sense of energy.
This time I was on my way, in Ginger’s decrepit car, to see Thom Morris. His birthday was three weeks from yesterday, so I didn’t have much hope. Even if I found him alive, would what was left even be salvageable? Or would I find someone like Fin? Spouting gibberish and almost past human.
Before I left, I snagged Alex’s cell from the kitchen counter. He’d probably kill me for it later, but I didn’t want to be without a phone and I’d given mine to Aubrey last night.
I got to Thom’s house at eleven.
, Ginger had said. Well, her idea of semi-local turned out to be nearly a four-hour drive. I was betting the only reason they let me do it on virtually no sleep was the fact that she already knew I’d make it there in one piece.
I loved a road trip as much as the next person, but sitting still for that long with so many other things on my mind was agony. Add to that a broken radio, and I was ready to beat my head against the wheel ten minutes into the trip.
Thom’s mother, a worn, frail-looking woman, informed me her son had been missing for the last month. The police were still looking but they were convinced he’d run away. He could have, but I was betting he had a little help. Judging from Mrs. Morris’s swollen eyes and red-rimmed nose, I figured if there was an agent in the house, it was her husband. The woman was clearly distraught. Definitely not the behavior of someone responsible for offing her teenage son. I gave her Alex’s cell number and asked her to call should she hear from him, then trekked back to the car, which I’d parked two houses down.
I sat in the car for an hour, hoping that Kale would show. But each vehicle zoomed past, never slowing. He knew we were searching for the Supremacy kids, and Thom was one of the last locals, so it made sense that I’d be here.
I started the engine, fingers numb, and cranked the heat to full blast. It had started to snow, and as I watched the fluffy flakes fall to my window, an ache bloomed deep in my chest. We’d made so many plans, Kale and I. His first Christmas and snowfall. I’d told him all about sledding and we’d planned to hit Memorial Park at the first sign of powder. They had the best sledding hill in the county.
As I sat there rubbing my icy hands in front of the vent, Mom’s question bounced around inside my head.
What if you can’t?
Aubrey said they had done a lot of damage. If that meant Kale could never get his memories back, I’d have to start over.
Fine. Then that’s what I’d do. Jade’s appearance in September had proven Kale and I were solid as a boulder. She’d presented him with the chance to touch anyone he wanted—including her—and he’d still chosen me. His words echoed through my head.
If I had the ability to touch anyone else in this world, I still don’t believe I’d want it to be anyone but you.
I closed my eyes and let out a breath. I would never—
—give up on him. We’d missed out on a lot, but I was determined to give him his first New Year’s kiss.
A few minutes later, the door opened and a burst of cold wind followed someone inside.
“A little far from home, aren’t you?” Kale asked as the door clicked shut.
A jolt of excitement mixed with unavoidable fear filled me. I opened my eyes but kept them front and center. If I avoided looking at him it made this easier. “Could say the same thing to you.”
I didn’t hesitate or ask questions. Something like this was what I’d hoped for, right? Another chance to get him alone. If he was here, then Aubrey had done his part. Shifting into drive, I pulled away from the curb and tapped the gas. The car skipped a little on the ice, tires spinning for a second before lurching forward.
“Take a right at the end of this street, then go three blocks and pull into the parking lot.”
I did as instructed, focusing all my energy on keeping both eyes on the road. The lot was empty, so I pulled in and put the car into the spot at the very end, up against a chain-link fence. “Planning on bringing me in or offing me?”
Something slammed against the dashboard, sending me about a foot into the air. “Explain this.”
Slowly, I turned, still trying to avoid looking directly at him, and saw my cell on the dash between us. With a satisfied smile, I said, “I seem to recall going over this with you several months ago, but that’s a cell phone. You use it to call other people.”
“Pick it up,” he growled.
I did as I was told and reached for the phone. After I’d given it to Aubrey last night, I told him to make sure Kale saw it—particularly the pictures I kept stored. It was on, the screen opened to my picture folder. More specifically, to a picture of him and me.
Aubrey had come through for me again.
“Explain this,” he repeated. “Who is that in the picture with you?”
A sarcastic retort did its damnedest to push past my lips, but I swallowed it and sighed. “There’s nothing to explain, Kale. It’s you. And me. Our friend Dax took these pictures right before school started. Well, Ginger’s twisted idea of school.”
In the picture, Kale and I were huddled together, huge grins on our faces. We were sitting in the common room at the Sanctuary hotel—before it burned down. I remembered the whole thing like it was only yesterday. We’d talked for hours that day about Thanksgiving and Christmas and made plans to decorate our rooms with as many colored lights as we could possibly fit. Of course, that had never happened. Thanksgiving came and went. So had Christmas. For the first time in my life, I didn’t touch a string of lights or kiss someone beneath the mistletoe.
Kale ripped the phone from my hand as it started to ring. Glaring at the thing, he said, “This is a trick. You wanted me to see this.”
I tried to take it back—it was probably Mom or Ginger looking for an update on Thom—but he held it out of reach. “What I
is for you to wake the hell up.” I yanked off my seat belt and twisted to face him. “They messed up your head. Another Six did this to you. There was no
. There’s no
. And Denazen is not trying to
He returned my glare with a steely one of his own. “And why would I believe you?”
I wanted to reach across the car and shake him. All the pain and anger I’d bottled up since seeing him walk away with Dad and Kiernan churned in the pit of my stomach, ready to explode. “Look at me and tell me there’s nothing. That you
He stared at me for a long time. Something flickered in his eyes, but it was fleeting. There and gone in half a beat of my heart. “There’s… I only feel anger.”
“Good. That’s a start.” Mainly because it wasn’t just anger in his eyes. There was also confusion—and more importantly, curiosity. That’s what I’d aimed for.
He leaned against the passenger’s side door, brows askew. “It’s directed at you. You find this
be angry at me, Kale,” I said. The words came out before I could even think about them. I’d never given it much thought, but they were true. “I might not have stabbed you, or pushed you from a bridge, or
it was they said I did, but this
He didn’t say anything so I continued. “I was sick. Dying. My dad—
—had the only way to save my life. He said he would only give me the cure if one of us agreed to go with him. You went.”
The memory of that day had played in my mind ten thousand times on repeat. I couldn’t help feeling like I’d missed something. Like I could have done something more and taken control of the situation.
Like I could have prevented it.
“I should have tried harder to stop you. I should have
him take me instead.”
“You’re lying,” he said simply.
He grabbed my arm, stubby nails digging into the skin. A few moments later, a wash of cold hit me, starting in my arm where Kale’s fingers rested, then spread through my entire body. I refused to look. Keeping my eyes on him, I locked my jaw and waited for the pain.
It didn’t come. I wasn’t the only one surprised by this. Kale’s eyes widened, alternating between my face and arm. “What—”
It went against every one of those little voices in my head, but I forced myself to look down—and wished to hell I hadn’t. The skin beneath Kale’s fingers was blackened, darkest at the center, getting lighter as it fanned down my arm. Just under the surface, a mass of black twitched and churned, making it look like a swarm of
moshed to a death-metal symphony beneath my skin.
“You should be screaming,” he said matter-of-factly, and a small part of me wanted to smile. It was the kind of simple statement that my Kale would have made. Blunt and to the point.
“It’s part of the Supremacy drug’s side effects. It just means I’m going to end up like the others.” It was the first time I’d admitted it out loud. There was something freeing about it. “Crazy, then dead.”
“Why haven’t you tried to run? You wouldn’t get far, of course. The only reason you got away from me last night, and in the garage, was because I let you. Your actions are confusing. You may not be able to feel it, but you must know I can kill you. Dead is dead.” He removed his arm, the expression on his face one of genuine interest.
I watched, relieved when the black mark faded. “I’m hoping you don’t kill me.”
“But why would you risk it? Do you have a death wish?” He shook his head. “There are easier ways to die.”
“No death wish,” I said. “I guess the truth is I really don’t believe that you’ll kill me.”
“I’ve been told to.” He unlocked the phone and stared at the picture of us on the screen. With his index finger, he traced the outline of my head, frowning. “At first they wanted me to bring you in. Marshal was convinced you would tell them what they wanted to know about the Underground. They changed their mind, though. I was given the order this morning that you needed to be terminated immediately.”
“Why do you think that is, Kale?”
He looked up from the phone, eyes burrowing straight through me. “Stop saying my name.”
Just stop it
I held both hands up in surrender. “Okay.”
He took a deep breath, then settled back in the seat and glanced at the cell. “They think you’re going to jeopardize what they’re doing.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
The question seemed to confuse him, which in turn made him angry. “I’m not sure.”
I gripped the steering wheel tightly. The leather was peeling at the top and I picked at it with my thumbnail. “So by jeopardizing what they’re doing, you mean killing innocent kids?”
“These people are anything but innocent. Some are dangerous and lack self-control. The others will soon be the same way. They’re a menace and need to be stopped.”
“Not long ago, you lacked control,” I fired back. “They considered you a menace.”
He looked at me like I’d just recited the alphabet in Elvish. “I’ve always had control over my gift.”
If he could only see the wrongness of what he’d just said. Kale never considered his ability anything other than a curse. Something that kept him separated from the rest of the world. “The ones who have become dangerous are only that way because they’re sick. They don’t need to be killed. They need to be cured.”
“Marshal said there was only enough to cure Roz.”
More than anything, I wanted to shake him and scream that there wasn’t a Roz. She was a figment. A thing made up to blot me out. But there was no point. Not yet, at least. Nothing I said would get through the wall they’d created. “There isn’t much, but we’re sure there’s more.”
He was silent for a moment. “And what if there is? What will you do with it?”
“Cure them,” I snapped. “What else?”
“You said there wasn’t much left. How will you choose who lives and who dies? There are several left. Surely there isn’t enough for everyone.”
I didn’t know if Mom and Dax would have any luck with their names, but we hadn’t found many alive. Still, there were bound to be some. Ginger confirmed at least that much. If we didn’t find this Penny person but managed to get our hands on Dad’s reserves, there
be enough for us all.
won’t have to choose. You were told to terminate me immediately, remember? Speaking of which, why haven’t you?”
His lip twitched with the smallest hint of a smile. There and gone. Boom. “I thought you said you
have a death wish.”
“I don’t, but you said you had orders. You’ve made it clear you don’t trust me—or believe what I’ve told you. So why not just do it?”
He looked back to the phone in his hand. The picture of us on the screen was still open. Pocketing it, he said, “I need to find out what this is first. I need to be sure. Consider your sentence extended until I am.”
It wasn’t much, but it was something.
I could work with
“So, is this like a hijacking?” We had been driving for more than an hour now, and Kale still hadn’t told me exactly what we were doing—or where we were headed. The only thing he’d said was to pull out and take Interstate 90. This was exactly what I’d hoped for. The longer I kept him busy with me, the longer he’d be away from Denazen—and the brain-busting Six Aubrey mentioned. Hopefully time away would clear some of the cobwebs from his noggin. “Because if you’re holding me hostage, shouldn’t there be, I dunno, demands?”
He sighed, and from the corner of my eye, I saw him pinch the bridge of his nose just like Mom did when she was annoyed at me. “You talk a lot.”
“You like the sound of my voice. You told me so—on several occasions.”
He snorted. “Now I know you’re lying.”
I let several minutes pass before I prodded again. “So we’re going…where?”
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this. The truth.”
“And we’re going to find the truth by driving aimlessly? Because that’s a new kind of approach, and I’m not sure it’ll get us very far. Besides, the car’s almost out of gas and I’m starving.”
“Just drive. Get off at exit twelve.”
I followed his directions, and ten minutes later I pulled the car off the interstate by way of exit twelve. In his jacket pocket, my cell had gone off three separate times. If I didn’t get him to let me answer it soon, Mom might have a coronary.
Once we were off the highway, it was farmland as far as the eye could see, which reminded me of the cabin. Peaceful. None of the chaos and bright lights of the city. Until recently, I’d been a noise and chaos kind of girl. But after spending some time at the cabin, I was kind of growing to love the peace and quiet. “Okay. Now what?”
He scanned the area, and then pointed to the side of the road. There was a long white fence—and nothing else. “Pull over and get out.”
“The road to revelation is a picket fence? Who’da thunk it…” I opened the door and swung out a leg. A burst of icy air kicked in, sending tremors up and down my spine. “Where are we?”
I closed the door. It creaked in protest, and I was sure if I got in and out too many more times it would simply fall off. I leaned against the fence and peered out into the field. Six fat brown cows grazed in the distance. “Cow tipping doesn’t really seem like a productive use of our time right now.”
He turned to me, eyebrows high. “
“Really?” I tapped the side of my head, frowning. “You’d think if they were going to swirl things up in there, they would have added some reality along with the bullshit.”
Kale rolled his eyes and stepped to the fence. “More talking. Don’t you ever get tired?” Hefting himself up, he threw a leg over and propelled his body to the other side in true ninja fashion. At least that hadn’t changed. “Follow me.”
Although the barking-orders thing was getting old pretty damn fast.
We trekked through an open field—around the cows and without tipping any—until we came to the edge of a steep cliff. A narrow wooden bridge that hung over a raging river about twenty feet below connected our side to the other.
“This is it,” he said, sounding surprised. He spun slowly in a circle, taking in every inch of the area. “This is where it happened.”
A sign posted on a short wooden stake said,
do not cross
. Kale either hadn’t seen it or didn’t care, because he stomped out onto the middle of the bridge and leaned over the edge. I followed him, trying hard to ignore the not-so-subtle creaking the wood made with each step and the extra breeze as the planks swung from side to side. Stopping beside him, I watched tiny bits of pebble and dirt loosen, break away, and plunge into the water below. Wonderful. One wrong move and that would be us plunging to our deaths. “Where what happened?”
“This is where you pushed me over the edge.” He spoke the words, but they didn’t sound right. It was almost as if he were asking a question, not making a statement. At his sides, his fingers started to tap again. One. Two. Three. I’d noticed it at Ashley’s.
“I’ve never been here before. You have to believe me.” I backed away from the edge and the boards underfoot creaked loudly.
He whirled and pinned me with a look that, while deadly, was full of sadness. “Believe you? I
believe you. I don’t believe them. I don’t believe her.” He brought both hands up to tug at his roots, backing away from the edge. “I don’t believe
This entire time, I’d kept going over how hard this was for me. How much
missed him. How much
wanted him back. Sure, I’d thought about the long-term impact this whole situation might have on him, but I’d never stopped to think what it might be like for him now—especially with me trying to shake things up. “We can figure this out, Kale. I promise.”
He froze, hands falling slack at his sides. A second later, he was on me. “You did this to me.”
“Me? I swear I’ve never been—”
Bending me back against the rickety wooden railing, he pinned me tight with his body, face hovering inches above mine. More cracking. I didn’t know how much more this bridge could take before we both plunged into the river. “That drug gave you an ability they don’t know about—didn’t it? You did something when you kissed me last night. Confused me!”
“No,” I promised, unable to hold it together any longer. The tears fell and for the first time since we’d met, I was truly afraid of him. Aubrey was right. There were parts Kale kept on a short leash in order to conquer the darkest parts of himself. All the anger over his past and the dark emotions that went with it. Denazen shook it all loose. “Please, Kale. Stop and listen—”
“Stop!” he screamed. “Stop talking. Stop trying to confuse me.” His weight pressed harder, and I was sure we’d both end up going over the edge. The old railing whined in protest, and it moved behind me. Flexing and ready to give.
“Calm down,” I said. “I have an idea. A way to fix the mess in your head.”
He eased off a little and the creaking stopped, allowing my heartbeat to return to some small level of normalcy. “I’m listening.”
“One of the Supremacy kids. Ben Simmons. I think he can help you.”
He pushed back again, eyes darkening. “You’re lying. There is no Ben Simmons on the list.”
I pushed against him, trying with no luck to slide out from under his weight. “Yes, there is—but it’s not surprising that you don’t know about him.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m willing to bet all my fingers and toes that Dad isn’t planning to let you within a million miles of the guy. His ability has something to do with messing with memories.”
“So now you’re telling me it was a Supremacy subject that did”—he tapped the side of his head—“this to me?”
“No, but it was definitely another Six—a Denazen Six—with the ability to mess around up there.”
“And you want me to believe there are
Sixes out there who can do the same thing—a thing that conveniently suits my situation?”
“I’ve learned that when it comes to Sixes, there are a lotta different shades of the same color out there. The Six who did this to you has a similar ability to Ben Simmons, but not the exact same, I’d guess. I’m betting having been given the Supremacy drug makes Ben Simmons way more powerful—at least until he dies.”
“You’re lying,” he repeated, but with slightly less conviction. “There’s no Simmons.”
“But what if I’m not?” I could see the crack in his armor. It was small, but if I could slip in a sheet of doubt, I might have a chance. He wanted so badly to make me pay for what they’d told him I did, but more than that, he wanted his life back. If I could keep him away from them a little longer, I might be able to give it to him. “If he can mess with the inside of a person’s head, with the help of the Supremacy drug, maybe he can fix what someone else messed up.”
Kale didn’t answer.
“You said you wanted your life back, right?” The desire for truth reflected so plainly in his eyes. This could work. I could find Ben Simmons before Denazen, and at the same time, keep Kale away from the Resident sludging things up inside his head. If that didn’t work, maybe Simmons really could use his ability to help things along. “Well, I’m offering you a way to get it. Ben Simmons
on the list of Supremacy subjects—and that means your boss and his daughter have been keeping things from you. You may not remember much about your life before this all happened, but you must know that secrets never end in happy.”
He backed away another step but still didn’t look convinced.
That’s when I remembered the picture I’d taken of the sheet with Ben Simmons’s name and picture. I’d e-mailed it to myself! “I can prove it!”
“Fine. Prove it.”
I held out my hand. “I’ll need my phone.”
He hesitated, then pulled it from his jacket pocket. I reached for it, but when my fingers closed around it, his didn’t let go. Eyes on mine, he said, “Don’t try anything.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” I forced a smile and unlocked the cell. Thankfully, even though we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, I had enough of a signal to pull up Gmail. “Here. See this? I took a picture of this yesterday. Ben Simmons’s file.”
He squinted, holding the cell close, then turned it sideways in examination. “This could be fake.”
“It could,” I agreed. “But it isn’t.”
Kale stared at the screen, and when he handed the cell back to me, I was sure he didn’t buy it. But instead of coming at me again, he said, “Where is he?”
I breathed an internal sigh of relief. “Connecticut. It’s not
far from here.” When Kale didn’t say anything, I got nervous and pushed it. “What’s the worst that could happen? I’m lying—which I’m not—and you can exact your devious revenge later, rather than now. You’ve got nothing to lose. Not like I can take you or anything.”
He snorted, lips curling into a familiar smile. “Of course you can’t.”
I held my breath. This was a goose-crapping-golden-eggs kind of opportunity.
He nodded. “Fine. Let’s go.”
I threw my hands up as he reached for my arm. “Whoa, boy. We can’t just go storming the castle. We need to agree on a few things first.”
An amused expression slipped across his lips. “Oh? And what
would that be?”
“Well, for starters, like I said earlier, the car is almost out of gas. I have no money. Do you?”
“I have plenty of money,” he said with a sneer. “But even if I didn’t, you could simply make some. Roz told me about your ability. All we need is paper.” He gestured for me to walk ahead. Eager to get off the bridge, I complied. He stayed right on my heels, never letting me get more than a foot ahead.
“That’s true, but it’s not the only problem,” I said once we’d reached blissfully solid ground again. “I’m supposed to be back by now—with that rust bucket on wheels. You heard the phone. They’ve already tried calling to see where I am. If I don’t answer or show up soon, they’ll come looking for me. You need to let me call home.”
He nodded to the cell. “Fine. Then call them—but be careful what you say.”
“Careful? What do you think I’m going to say? That you and I are taking a nice little romantic trip?”
“Don’t give away our location.”
“No plans to.” I stretched to get the kink out of my lower back. The railing had done a number on it. Our location was the last thing I’d give away. Mom and Ginger would never agree with my plan. In fact, there was a good chance they’d chain me to the furniture in my room for the next fifteen years if they found out. “I’ll call them and then we’ll go find Ben Simmons—but we have to get some food first or I ain’t going anywhere.”
“Agreed. But only because I’m hungry. And I’m going to check this guy out because I’m curious. You’re going because I’m not giving you a choice. I’m in control. Remember that.”