But she came here. She turned to him.
“John?” A man’s voice called from inside. “You’re going to be late for class—”
Priyanka’s distraction was over. I pushed up out of the chair, torn between running back for the pathway and gripping Clancy’s shirt, shaking him until he gave me that number.
“Ah, sorry,” Clancy said, rising quickly. “What’s your number? I’ll text you the one she left with me.”
Shit. I didn’t want to give him the number to our only burner, but it would be easy enough to replace. After I rattled it off, Clancy repeated it back to me. “Got it.”
“John!” the man called again, his voice closer. Roman was already at the path, motioning me to follow. Clancy grabbed my arm before I could. It wasn’t a rough touch, but the press of his fingers against my skin made me feel like I was being injected with poison. He stared at me, cocking his head to the side, as if picking up on the scream echoing inside of my head.
“I can’t believe I got to meet you,” he said, with a smile. “You’re famous. It must be difficult, though, to speak on behalf of all Psi. To ask the world to believe things you might not totally believe yourself.”
I stared at him, fighting the need to pull away. The silver thread in my mind coiled. A spark burned across my tongue.
“Do you enjoy the touring?” he asked. “I don’t think I would, were I in your position.”
In my…The words trailed off, replaced by stray memories. Years ago, sitting in the mess of Caledonia at my room’s assigned table, just below the glossy portraits of Clancy and his father high up on the wall. His voice slithering out of the speakers as they played a message from him that served as our “orientation.” My name is Clancy Gray, and I used to be like you….
After he’d manipulated his way out of Thurmond, Clancy’s father had used him as a roving mouthpiece, selling desperate parents on the dream of a future cure at the camps. He was living proof that we could change. That we could be fixed.
The nausea grew so acute, I lifted both hands and crossed my arms over my chest.
That’s not me. That’s not what I do.
“Ah, my summons.” Clancy turned back toward the house. “Good luck. It’s always nice to meet another friend of Ruby’s.”
He left the plates, cups, and food on the table as he stood to go inside. Clancy had always had a habit of making everyone else do the dirty work for him.
I sprinted for the pathway, forcing Roman to match my pace. That’s not me. I got three steps into the protective cover of the hedges before my legs turned to sand beneath me. That’s not what I do.
Roman caught me by the arms, holding me upright. “What’s wrong? Are you all right?”
I shook my head, letting him guide us forward, step by step, moving too quickly for my numb feet. There was a suffocating pressure in my chest as panic stole up on me. I shook hard enough that my teeth chattered. The street blurred in my vision, smearing like wet oil paint.
“Are you all right?” Roman asked, sounding frightened. “Did he do something to you?”
You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re supposed to be okay—
“No,” I whispered. “He didn’t do anything. He didn’t do anything.”
We stepped into the street and out of the house’s shadow. And as soft and easy as a sigh, the crush of feelings pulled back, and I broke free. Tears flooded my eyes. I couldn’t have stopped them, even if I had wanted to.
“He didn’t do anything,” I said again.
That hadn’t been Clancy. It hadn’t been the monster that had hurt my friends. But he’d still managed to find my softest parts and sink his teeth into them all the same.
“He’s a prick,” Roman said, with as much anger as I’d heard from him. “He was doing everything he could to make you feel bad—”
“No,” I whispered. “I think, for once, he was telling the truth. I think she left us.”
WE DROVE IN SILENCE, ROMAN behind the wheel, Priyanka in the front passenger seat.
Me, once again, in the back.
I leaned my head against the glass, trying to will myself to sleep.
Clancy’s voice had wormed deep into my thoughts, burrowing through every plan I tried to make about what we should do next. In the end, I gave up trying and let the others choose. I didn’t trust myself to make any kind of decision.
It wasn’t just that she had gone to see Clancy, knowing the risks, knowing who he was and what he had done. It was that she had chosen to confide in him. Anyone could lie about another person’s exact words, but he had seen something that Ruby never let slip. When I’d first met her, she hadn’t even wanted to be touched, she was so locked inside her own fear. And while she’d learned control and had become stronger, those darker storms moving beneath her skin hadn’t left, they’d only morphed.
Trapped by people’s expectations and needs, alone in what she’d seen and what she could do. Lonely.
I was here, I thought. I was here the whole time.
I couldn’t keep from wondering if I had done this somehow. By working with the government, by not going to live with them at Haven—did that lock the door on our friendship? I’d only been trying to help her live a better life. I wanted that for all Psi. She could have used our contact procedure to get in touch with me. I would have come to her. Instead, I waited for a call that never came.
I should have made the call.
Still, there was a small part of me that clung to the belief that Ruby wouldn’t just walk away. From Liam. From the kids at Haven. From her friends. From her family. From the world. The more I tried to picture it, the harder it became. The only times Ruby had willingly distanced herself, it had been to protect us.
But things were different now, and all of us were, too. So much could have happened between when I’d last seen her and the time she’d vanished. She could have been swallowed by her old, familiar darkness and left us for good.
I leaned between the seats and turned on the radio, just to see what terrifying crime I’d been accused of that day.
When the familiar voice came over the speakers, I thought my exhausted mind had spun it out of
“—out there, if you’re listening, turn yourself in. Please, Suzume. Turn yourself in.”
“Who’s this chump?” Priyanka asked as Roman pulled into an empty rest station parking lot. He turned the engine off, but none of us moved.
“You’re a delegate in the Virginia state House, are you not?”
I closed my eyes. Of course. Of course he’d gone on Truth Talk Radio.
“I am. I’ve had thoughts about resigning, but staying and fighting for the American way is the only thing I can think to do to counteract the evil Suzume has injected into our fragile world.”
“Okay, no, seriously, who is this asshole?”
I cracked an eye open. Priyanka looked ready to jump through the sound system and strangle someone. Roman had gone stiff, his hands still gripping the wheel. An orange glow from the rest station’s lights filtered through the windshield.
“My father,” I said dryly. “Can’t you tell by the love and warmth in his voice?”
“Her mother, Akari, and I wanted her home—we wanted to work with her and to try to reform her ourselves—but she refused, and she has gone out of her way to hurt us and others ever since. And, of course, Interim President Cruz interfered and made an exception for her. I could not believe my eyes when I saw her speaking on the government’s behalf. If that’s not reason enough for people to vote for Joseph Moore, I don’t know what is.”
Priyanka looked at me. “I’m going to need a meat cleaver and your home address.”
Even Jim Johnson was intrigued by this statement. “Can we consider this your official endorsement of Joseph Moore, Delegate Kimura? Isn’t that the same man who, citing the ineffectiveness of Cruz, has been using his own money to fund a search for your daughter to bring her to justice?”
“Yes,” he said. “In fact, I would like to say this to Mr. Moore—”