My eyes went right for the date: September 5.
They’d come for us early morning, August 29. We were meant to be going on a family vacation, the first since I’d gone to college, part of my graduation present. Mom had this thing for trying out the Greek Islands after that clusterfuck of a Mamma Mia!
movie. Dad and I agreed just for the food, ouzo, and beach hottie potential.
I winced at a sudden stab of pain. My hand went to the fading bruises at my ribs, but no, it was deeper. Inside. Like someone had cracked my ribs open and taken something out, and now everything was trying to resettle, tender innards poked and prodded by bone splinters.
The newspaper dropped, and Faulkner’s face appeared. He looked different in the sunlight, younger, even sharper.
I forced a smile, acting like I’d just been smoothing out the shirt.
“Morning.” He folded his paper and set it on top of a nearby tablet. He was dressed like he had been last night: fitted white button-down, nice tie, expensive suit. The jacket was over the back of his chair, and his sleeves were rolled up.
I finally had enough of a brain to wonder who the hell this guy was.
“Yeah, morning.” I pushed out of the doorway, then realized I didn’t know where I was going, so stopped in the middle of the kitchen. “So, thanks a lot for rescuing me and everything.”
“You’re welcome. Coffee?”
I chucked a thumb over my shoulder. “I should—”
Faulkner cut me off, completely deadpan. “Yes, I know, you should really go absolutely nowhere fast, rushing into the arms of whomever is chasing you.”
I barked out a laugh before I even knew what hit me. Like, what else could I do?
He smiled and pointed toward the kitchen island. “Help yourself to coffee, please.”
Everything was laid out, so I did, ignoring the sugar and cream. I inhaled the dark-roast scent, flushed my whole head with it. Smiled and took a sip, cooling it down without really thinking as I went.
Not a big fan of hot beverages. Make my stomach go wonky.
Faulkner crooked a finger at me.
I took my coffee to the table and sat across from him. And just as I looked up, about to ask him what, exactly, he wanted, his coffee started to steam.
Okay, maybe it had been all along. Wishful thinking, probably. Serious
wishful thinking. Especially with how fucked my head was.
God, though. It would change everything. Worth a shot. “Uh, Mr. Faulk—”
“My name is Brendan.”
“Brendan. So, just out of curiosity…”
One corner of his lips quirked upward, and I knew—I knew
—he’d done it on purpose.
“You just heated up your coffee,” I said.
He smiled and sipped at it. “I don’t know what you mean.”
I used two words no one but another awakened would recognize as special: “Hot thermal?”
A full-blown smile again. “I suspected you might be—”
“Well, fuck me sideways.”
I leaned back in my chair, heaving my biggest sigh of relief yet. This was huge, though. To tap into an awakened community I hadn’t even known how to find, right now, right here… Huge
. “Jesus, that’s— You have no idea what a relief this is. How did you…?”
“We have a talent for getting ourselves into these situations, as a people. I see a raggedy boy by the side of the road, what else would I think? Plus, you were freezing when you got into the car, which all but confirmed it. It’s a particularly mean Virginia summer out there.”
“Explains why your driver carries a ready supply of candy bars,” I said. Huge expenditures of power tended to call for a quick, handy recharge.
“Mmm-hmm.” Brendan leaned forward, both elbows on the table. “Now can you tell me what the hell is going on?”
“I shouldn’t.” I wanted to. Jesus, I wanted to so, so bad. I needed to tell someone
He waited, sipping at his coffee.
“I hate to ask for anything. But would you mind…?”
Brendan held up one long-fingered hand, elbow still propped on the kitchen table, and produced a kick-ass fireball in his palm. It burned hot enough to feel on my face, flames licking upward, but controlled, contained. The orange glow flickered in his colorless eyes. Combined with his wide cheekbones and pointed nose, he suddenly didn’t look so human anymore. No rescuing angel, either. Exactly the opposite.
Just as fast, it was gone again, and he said, “Now you show me yours.”
I lifted my hand and pulled from inside, slowing the air down at an atomic level, absorbing and releasing the energy without even thinking, until the humidity condensed into a cloud around my fingers. There was enough moisture that I even managed a few icicles from my fingernails.
It felt good, using it like that, but it was also a workout.
How the fuck had I done all that, back at the farm? They must have fed me something
to keep me alive, but—
Brendan said, “I hope you’re not some renegade vigilante.”
“No.” The opposite, to some minds, but not the sane ones. My family didn’t even use our powers in our professions. My father taught music at the university. My mother was a librarian.
—would the hunters pick us
I said, “No I—I got caught by some witch hunters. Me and my family.”
A muscle in his jaw twitched. He squared his shoulders.
Yeah. That. “They found us out and…yeah.”
He nodded to my arms. “They drugged you.”
“I think that’s why my head’s killing me, yeah.” Not that I’d ever been in withdrawal before, but it was supposed to feel skin-crawly and headachey, right?
“I was planning to get you a doctor anyhow. I’ll speed things up.”
The idea made me feel even sicker. “I’m good. Couple of bruises, some track marks, nothing major.”
“Dr. Andersen does house calls. You’ll like him. He’s cold too.” Brendan waved me off, then fixed me with that serious look. “Where did they find you?”
I shifted in my seat. He knew where he’d picked me up, which wasn’t far off. I wanted to trust the guy. We took care of our own. That was the one thing all awakened shared, in our far-flung communities. We cleaned up the messes after the idiots, good intentioned and bad. We helped our normal people just trying to live their lives. The way he’d been so cool about things last night made good sense, if he’d suspected all along.
But, “I’d rather not say right now. Just, I mean, you understand.”
I didn’t think he would, actually. I wasn’t even sure I did.
But he said, “Yes.”
“So, you see why I have to get out of here,” I said.
“They know who you are?”
“They have my wallet. They have everything from my house. My whole life.” Money in the bank. Leftovers in the fridge. Baby pictures in the closet. Dresses in the luggage. Diplomas and wills and trophies and our whole. Fucking. Life.
God, it hurt. Like my ribcage was trying to yawn
“Do you have a plan to get your life back
?” he asked.
I swallowed, realizing that I’d put my hand over my heart. I pretended again that I was smoothing out the undershirt. “Not yet. Just thought I’d get away first.”
“Of course. Where were you planning on taking that bus, last night?”
“You called me out on that. Hadn’t really gotten that far with it.” I paused for a sip of coffee, wondering if it was fair to withhold so much when he was being so cool. Needed to think it through, myself. Needed to get my head straight. “When you picked me up, I’d just squeezed out a tiny-ass window and booked it across that field. Had no idea how long I was in there until I saw your paper just now.”
He gave me that searching look again, but this time less kid at the zoo, more concerned awakened brotherhood. Same as his smile last night, it made me feel both pitiful and grateful. I shifted in my chair, avoiding his eyes.
“How long?” he finally asked.
“’Bout a week.”
Another long pause. “That’s all you want to say about it?”
“That’s more than I want to say about it. Just now.”
“It’ll keep for the moment. But you know as well as I do that these types don’t quit. How long do you think you can hide?”
“I don’t want
to hide at all. But I guess I have to. For now.”
Wasn’t sure if he caught my drift or not, but he grabbed a tablet from the table and started tapping at it. “Obviously, we can’t try and link you into your old community without endangering them, but I can at least get them a warning through my own channels. In the meantime, there’s a large awakened community here. Extremely well connected. Let me talk to some people.”
I sighed. “I didn’t mean to crash your life.”
“I’m an excellent multitasker.” As if to prove it, his gaze never left the tablet, and his fingers never stopped punching it. “Make yourself at home today, but don’t leave.”
It was my turn to raise my eyebrows. I mean, I was very aware that I owed the man big time. But, Jesus, bossy much?
He glanced up. “Please. For your own sake.” Then looked back down and started punching again. “Let me make sure the area’s clear before you start frolicking in the pool.”
“I’m not much of a frolicker.”
“Shame.” Again, he was so straight-faced I laughed before I even knew it. He smiled, still typing, and went on, “You know where I keep the liquor, beer in the fridge, plenty of food, eight million channels. Smithy’s a sleeper, but she knows about us, so—”
“And security. I Metro to the office, so she’ll be here during the day. Alice and Garth are awakened, so feel free to be yourself. You should lie low. Is there someone I should contact, if only to let them know you’re still alive?”
I swallowed hard. If knowledge was power—another favorite awakened axiom, and our excuse for being so secretive—then it was also danger. We weren’t even supposed to be back from Greece yet. Considering the police clusterfuck back home, I doubted very much that Dad’s murder had made its way into the news. The timing, the motherfucking timing
—how had they known?
He glanced up again when I didn’t reply, paused with his mouth open, like he was about to ask another question.
I braced myself for it. Wondered what I’d tell him. How I’d tell him.
I couldn’t mention Grandpa Soto or Aunt Adriana. They were all I had left, but God, I felt like my sternum would snap, just thinking about them finding out. What was
that, in there?
He didn’t push it, though. “I just need one thing from you.”
“I owe you more than one, so ask away.”
“Tell me you won’t leave the house.”
I stared, surprised for all kinds of reasons. The only one I could articulate was “You’ll believe me?”
“I’ll know if you’re lying.”
“What, you’re psychic, too?”
“No, Just Jody, I told you: you’re an awful liar.”
Oh, right. That.
“I won’t leave. No idea where I’d go, anyhow.”