“Or someone wiped their records,” Miguel said. “What’s their deal? How did you even link up with them?”
I gave them the details as quickly and matter-of-factly as I could, along with my theory that they might have been targeting Haven or Ruby and Liam all along. Another thought occurred to me. “You don’t have anyone here by the name of Lana, do you?”
The boys looked to Lisa.
“No,” she said. “I’ve been monitoring the tip lines these past few weeks and I haven’t seen that name come up at all. Do you know what she looks like? What ability she might have?”
I shook my head. “All I have is the name. They were talking about her in a way…their tone wasn’t malicious. If anything, they were both emotional about it. It didn’t seem like they were tracking her on behalf of someone else, either.”
“The mystery deepens,” Miguel said, glancing back at the screen. “Haven’s not a total secret to Psi. Word has been spreading a bit more recently. Maybe they just wanted to find a safe place for themselves?”
A thread of frustration wove through me. “Then why not tell me that from the start?”
Jacob shifted uncomfortably, silently communicating something to Miguel with a look. The boy read it and nodded.
“What?” I pressed.
“Think about it…” he said, not unkindly. “You work for the government. They could have been worried that, instead of telling them how to get here, you’d turn them over to the FBI or the Defenders for trying to dodge their monitoring system.”
I felt nauseous at the thought. “I wouldn’t do that. If they wanted to come here…”
You’d help them break the law?
It wasn’t…it wasn’t as simple as that. Nothing about our situation had ever been black-and-white; our lives were painted in shades of gray. I believed in giving kids choices, and in trying to protect them in whatever ways I could.
“Or,” Jacob added quickly, “it could be that they just didn’t think you’d believe them. Or that you’d shut down and refuse to say anything if they straight-up asked you. So maybe they came to the speech to try to ask you about it, and then they just got caught up in everything and figured you’d find your way here eventually?”
Lisa shook her head. “I don’t know….They repeatedly blocked her from going on her own.”
I took a deep breath. We needed to put this aside and move on. Not knowing what was going on with Ruby and Liam had created a pressure cooker inside my mind, and it was about to explode. “Are they okay to stay in there for a little while longer?”
“Yeah,” Lisa said. “I’ll send some food and water down for them.”
“And blankets,” I said. “In case…It gets cold at night, doesn’t it?”
The girl gave me a faint smile, nodding. She disappeared through the door, returning a few moments later.
“All right,” I said. “Now, who’s going to tell me what happened to Liam and Ruby?”
LISA SAT ON THE EDGE of the desk, crossing her arms over her chest. “I’m not even sure where to start. There wasn’t any indication something was wrong when they left. Liam seemed sort of upset, but I figured it must have something to do with the kid he was going to pick up—”
“Wait, they were both gone from Haven at the same time?” I interrupted. “When did they change that policy?” As far as I remembered, they’d decided early on that one of them would always stay at Haven so the kids would have at least one constant in their lives.
“Miguel, Jacob, and I can take care of things here,” Lisa said. “We fill in when the situation calls for it.”
Miguel leaned back in his chair, swiveling more fully toward the rest of us. “It’s a recent thing, in any case. I don’t think either of them liked it, but splitting up let them cover more ground and rescue more kids.”
“They didn’t leave together?”
The three of them exchanged looks that made the hair rise on the back of my neck.
“Tell her,” Jacob said, finally. “Neither of them would feel like it’s betraying their trust. It’s Zu.”
Lisa didn’t look entirely convinced. That sharp pang hit me again.
I don’t belong here. I’m not one of them.
Ruby and Liam were no longer mine, not the way they had been before. I’d hurt them, the way they’d hurt me, and while these three had been welcoming, it didn’t mean my last visit wasn’t on their minds, too.
“Listen,” she said finally. “You know how they are. The main reason they started traveling separately is because their network has grown and they started getting more tips about kids. I didn’t really think anything of it. It brought some new stress—”
“They’ve been fighting,” Jacob said, finally getting to the point.
Miguel nodded, adding, “We have no idea what about.”
“It’s been in that Mom-and-Dad-are-whisper-fighting-because-they-think-we-can’t-hear-them kind of way,” Lisa said.
“You’re joking,” I managed to get out. Ruby and Liam didn’t fight.
“Nope,” Jacob said. “In the meantime, Ruby’s been leaving on her own more and more. All of us worry when she goes, but it puts Lee in a real funk. He goes and mopes in the woodworking shed, and everyone ends up with some kind of deformed carved animal they have to pretend to love to make him feel better.”
I blew a strand of hair out of my face. “That sounds about right.”
“Here’s the thing, though,” Lisa said. “Her trips were becoming longer and longer, but she stopped bringing kids in. Ruby’s always been quiet, but lately it’s like…she’s gone.”
Ruby had this way about her; she could slip so deeply into her own mind that sometimes it felt like she was vanishing in front of your eyes. But she loved these kids and she loved this place. After everything she’d been through, Ruby must have relished the quiet of the land and the cozy madness of the house in equal measure. Whatever was bothering her had to be big to disturb the tranquillity she’d found here.
“What happened with this recent trip?” I asked. “I saw Liam’s truck, and I was so sure he’d be the one rowing across the lake.”
“Miguel was using Lee’s truck to pick up supplies from the drop site,” Lisa explained. “That’s why he didn’t take it. Ruby left, and then, maybe a day or two later, we got a tip through the network about a Blue kid living rough near Missouri, so Liam felt like he had to go check it out.”
“And neither of them have made contact since then?” I asked.
“Liam has,” Jacob said.
I straightened. “He did? Why did you make it sound like he’d gone missing?”
“Because we haven’t heard from him in over a week,” Miguel said. “
He called in to say the tip was bogus and we told him that Ruby had gone off the grid. Her cell phone tracker had been switched off completely. He went to look for her himself. Then we lost his phone signal, too, and only got a text message via an unknown number saying his phone was busted and he was still looking for her. He hasn’t responded to any of our messages since. As far as I’m concerned, he’s missing, too.”
“Our theory is that he might have thought he was being followed and didn’t want his phone calls traced back here,” Jacob said.
“He wouldn’t want to worry you,” I agreed. “The idiot. Do you have Ruby’s last known location?”
“We do,” Miguel said. “The estimated address is 1020–1024 Cypress Street in Jackson, Mississippi. It’s basically in the middle of a field.”
“Does that mean anything to you?” Lisa asked.
I shook my head. Not at all. “It’s really nothing but a field?”
“There was no satellite footage of her there,” Jacob said. “So either it’s a mistake, or…she’s not somewhere that we can see.”
The edges of my vision went blurry as his words sank in.
“She’s not dead,” I told them, my voice sharp. Final. “She’s not. If anything, she might have ditched her phone there to throw someone off.”
Lisa’s face crumpled. She pressed a hand to her forehead, looking exhausted. They’d been here for two weeks, obviously pretending with the other kids that everything was fine, when, privately, they’d clearly assumed the worst.
“I don’t know what to think,” Jacob said. “There’s that bounty out on her. She could have been taken or turned over to the government. Some criminal group might have grabbed her. Any number of foreign actors could have been looking for someone with her ability. Or…she decided to leave. On her own.”
All the muscles in my body seemed to tense at once. When she and Liam had left, I’d felt…