It isn’t until I’m back in the car with Mum, driving away from the hospital, that I trust myself to think. What happened? One minute Dr Lysander wants scans, then she doesn’t.
If I’m accessing old memories, and the pathways show up on scans, she’d have no choice but to tell the board. I’d be terminated.
But if Dr Lysander realises something has gone wrong with my Slating, surely that is what she is supposed to do? I think about our conversation, what was said, and not said; her facial expressions. All I can come up with is that she is curious.
She can’t study me if I am dead. She wants to know what makes me tick.
Tick like a bomb.
* * *
Dad’s car is out front when we get home. He and Amy are arm in arm on the sofa with cups of tea when we walk in.
‘There’s my other two girls!’ he says, smiles, and holds out a hand. I walk across. ‘Give your dad a kiss on the cheek,’ he says, and with no obvious escape, I do.
He’s in a good mood today.
‘Sit down, Kyla. I’ll make us some drinks,’ Mum says, and disappears into the kitchen. No kiss on the cheek from her.
Third degree follows.
‘So, how is school?’
‘Who is this new boy I’ve been hearing about?’ he says, and winks.
I glance at Amy. Thanks a lot, I say with my eyes. But she just smiles, oblivious to the look I give her.
Amy doesn’t seem to get that some things should be said, others not. It used to be when I first got here that I was the one with that problem, when it came to her and Jazz, before they were officially allowed to see each other. But the more I understand the less I realise Amy does.
‘What new boy?’ I say.
Amy smirks. ‘Cameron, of course.’
‘He’s just a friend, no big deal. His uncle makes fantastic cakes.’
‘How about you bake us a cake now and then?’ Dad says, calling out to the kitchen. Mum doesn’t answer, but teacups clatter loud on the worktop.
‘Where’ve you been?’ I ask, before he has a chance to ask me anything else.
‘Oh, here and there. Work, you know.’ He smiles again and I can see he is very pleased, and anything that has him that pleased makes me nervous.
As Mum brings in our tea there is a knock at the door. She turns to answer it, but Dad jumps up. ‘I’ll go,’ he says.
She plonks down in an armchair, hands clenched around her cup. She is SO not happy.
Sebastian is asleep on the back of the sofa. I pick him up and put him on her lap. He protests sleepily then flops down, and her eyes meet mine. A half-smile. Cat therapy.
‘Well, look who is here.’ Dad comes back in, and following him is Cam. I groan internally. He is a master of brilliant timing.
He has a bicycle helmet dangling from his hand. ‘It’s a gorgeous day; come for a bike ride? You can use my aunt’s if you haven’t got one.’
Best to look neutral.
‘Perhaps I should stay. Dad just got back.’
‘No, no; you go on,’ Dad says. ‘Have fun.’ He smiles, and everything about him is friendly, open, caring. Is this the same Dad who threatened to return me to the Lorders when Ben disappeared?
‘You can use my bike out of the shed,’ Mum says. ‘Don’t forget to wear a helmet.’
Dad follows us to the door. ‘Can you get Kyla’s bike out?’ he says to Cam, and points out the shed to the side of the house. ‘She’ll just be a moment.’
Cam heads out the door, and Dad and I are alone in the hall. Now comes the warning?
He smiles. ‘Kyla, I think we’ve got off on the wrong foot. If I’ve seemed harsh before, it was just because I was worried about you getting into trouble. You know I’m here for you, to help you if you ever need it. Don’t you?’
‘Sure,’ I say, surprised. This is more Dad like he was at the beginning, when I first got here. Maybe he regrets over-reacting?
‘Go on. Have a good afternoon,’ he says, and holds the door open.
‘I’m not sure I know how to ride a bicycle,’ I say to Cam, but as I grip the handlebars and push it across the garden to the road, I feel that I do.
Cam puts his bike down on the grass, and holds mine upright. He has me get on and pedal slow on the pavement while he runs alongside, one hand on the handlebars. I laugh and pedal harder until he falls behind. I drop off the kerb and onto the road.
But I hold the speed in check until he catches up on his bike.
‘You learn in a hurry!’
I laugh. ‘Let’s see how fast we can go.’ And take off.
The day is crisp, clear. A cold rush of November air hits my face and body, but I’m pedalling hard enough to be warm. Freedom!
I hold back, just a little, so Cam can keep up. Eventually as we crest a hill he yells out to take a break. I coast onto a footpath on the side of the road, and stop.
He’s breathing hard when he catches up. ‘Not only are you fit, Kyla. You are also FIT!’ he gasps out.
I laugh. We lay our bikes down on the grass, and sit on a crumbling stone wall. From this high point we can see the Chiltern countryside folding out in all directions: an area of outstanding natural beauty, or so they say.
Lucy went missing from the Lake District: there would have been mountains where she lived, not just hills. Once, not paying much attention to what I was doing, I drew a picture of her with mountains behind. But if I try to think of them deliberately, there is nothing. Is this another memory trapped inside me?
‘Everything all right?’ Cam asks, looking at me curiously, and I wonder how long I’ve been staring off into space.
‘Sorry. Yes, I’m fine.’
I look back at him, and realise a few things. He is staring into my eyes; he is sitting very close. And I like it. And then, all at once, I don’t.
I shift, move away a little. Look back over the hills.
‘Listen, Kyla. I think we need to have a talk.’
His name tears a hole inside. ‘What do you know?’
‘That he disappeared. And I heard a few rumours, that you were involved somehow. What happened? You can tell me. No one can hear us here.’
I close my eyes tight. There is a part of me that longs to talk about it, tell him everything. He’ll understand. His dad got taken by Lorders, didn’t he?
There is another part – Rain’s – that says no. Don’t trust. Never trust.
I shake my head, and look back at Cam. His eyes are disappointed. ‘Well, if you ever want to talk, I’m here. And I understand something else.’
‘We’re friends, that’s all. Don’t worry on that score. It’s obvious you are still hurting over this other guy. I’m not trying anything on. All right?’
I look at him again, and all I see is friendly concern.
But I’ll take him at face value. For now. ‘Friends, then?’ I say, smile, and hold out my hand.
Late that night, the house is quiet. Dad is gone. He stayed for dinner, then after Amy and I went up for the night, he and Mum argued in the kitchen. Voices kept down but you couldn’t mistake the tone. After that the phone rang, and he left.
The compulsion to draw is on me: the hospital, the towers, the new security at the gates all begin to take shape on paper. I wonder about the hard-wired computers and phones. Mum said her mobile phone wouldn’t work there today, and when I asked she said it usually does.
My Levo has its own secrets: would this com have worked there if I tried? I spin it around, and feel nothing. Dead as it has been since my memories came back.
Some of my memories, that is. Though I remembered the birthday kitten. I couldn’t if Lucy was truly gone like Nico said, could I? I stare at my left hand, move the fingers, the ones that were broken like I was, inside. A hand is one thing; what would have been enough to split a person in two? I flinch at a vision of a brick and hold my fingers tight together.
Maybe if I hadn’t seen Lucy on MIA, her memories would have stayed hidden. Nico must know more, but something inside says don’t ask. He was a bit weird when I asked him about Lucy – some mix of surprised that I knew who she was, and something else.
He said he did it all to protect me, because I was special: he was harsh to be kind. But why am I special? Why did he track me down to this new life? I can’t imagine anything I could do for Free UK that would be worth that effort. It must be something else. I have to know.
I hesitate. Why not? I slip out of bed and close my bedroom door. Hit the button under my Levo. Seconds pass.
There is a tiny click. ‘Yes?’ he answers.
A thrill rushes through me with his voice as he tells me where to meet him tomorrow. I’m excited to see him, ridiculously so. He isn’t angry with me about dumping Tori on him any more, I can tell. He sounds happy, chilled, and I’m so relieved. Then I hear Tori’s laughter in the background.
* * *
‘Sure you don’t mind?’ Mum hesitates at the door, umbrella in hand. It is chucking it down.
‘I’m sure. Go.’
Mum is off to Aunt Stacey’s for a long Sunday lunch: collected by another friend, wine in hand. She won’t be back any time soon. And Amy is off with Jazz’s family for the day. An empty house, and no need to sneak out.
I consider calling Nico and getting him to pick me up closer, then dismiss it. It is just a little rain, and he is unlikely to be sympathetic.
I’m upstairs looking for waterproofs when there is a knock at the front door.
Standing out of sight at the side of the window, I peek down. I can just work out that it is Cam under that umbrella.
He might be hard to get rid of, and the house is dark and quiet. Let him think I’m not here. I wait silently; eventually he gives up, and goes back across the road.
I fold up the drawings I made last night for Nico, plans of the hospital. Wrap them in plastic against the wet and tuck them in an inner pocket.
After chewing on a pen a moment, I leave a short note: ‘Went for a walk’. Just in case Mum or Amy get home early, so they don’t panic or create a fuss.
I realise I’d best go out the back way, in case Cam is watching and demands to know why I didn’t answer the door. The back way is not appealing in this weather. I sigh. Outside I march across our long muddy back garden in the deluge, then push through the scraggy hedge and fight my way through brambles to get to a path that will take me round to the bottom of our road.
‘You’re soaked,’ Nico says and makes me wait to get out of the rain while he pulls a towel from the back and puts it over the passenger seat.
We drive on, quiet except for low music on the car stereo. Classical. Not what I would have thought Nico would like, but then what do I know about him, really, as a person?
‘Is everything all right, Rain?’ he says.
I nod. ‘Yes. Just knackered; it’s been a hard few weeks.’
He laughs. ‘You’re getting soft. What you need is a good endurance course in the woods for a few days.’
‘All right: I will if you will.’
He shakes his head. ‘If only we could. Those were the good days, weren’t they, Rain? With the Owls.’
My eyes open wide. The Owls. That is what we were called, the code-name for our cell. Is that why I was so fascinated by owls? To draw them, follow them, no matter where they led? Images fly through my mind.
The Owls were the best!
There were seven of us. Well, eight, but one died early on in an accident with explosives, and I shy away from thinking of her. Three girls and four boys. I was the youngest, not quite fourteen when I joined, the oldest fifteen. We were so tight: best friends, fiercest competitors. We lost our old identities and picked new names from the woods when we joined: mine was Rain. A face floats in front of my eyes, then vanishes. Who was he? The best part of things until…until…something went wrong. Then he was the worst. What happened? The memories vanish.