He nods. ‘Really. This isn’t how MIA generally operates, by the way. Normally we only tell someone is found if they agree to it first. But as I sort of feel I had a hand in things with you and Ben, I’ve made an exception.’
And I can’t move or speak, or even take it in. Could it be true?
‘Say something,’ he says.
I shake my head. ‘I just…really?’ And I grin.
He smiles back and without thought I launch myself at him. His arms curl around me in a hug. And all at once it is too much, way too much. Emotion works its way up from inside, and I’m shaking, then I’m crying. ‘It can’t be him. I can’t believe it. What if it is a mistake?’
‘You’re not good with good news, are you? Are your levels okay?’
‘Yeah, fine. I ran here so my levels are up,’ I say, and, embarrassed now, move back. I tuck my hand in my pocket so he can’t see my Levo.
‘But you’re right to be careful. As I said, it could be mistaken identity.’
‘What happens next?’
‘We’ll try to get a photo of him, to show you. Then get you to see him if it still looks like it’s Ben. All right?’
‘Where is he? Where did they see him? When can I—’
‘Slow down a little. I’ll tell you what I can. He was seen not far from here, twenty miles or so. If it is him: it was at a distance, at a running track. So—’
‘That’s Ben! He loves to run. It must be him. When can I see him?’
‘We need to do some planning. Sit tight. Not a word to anyone. Right?’ I nod. ‘We’ll be in touch.’
‘Another flower delivery?’
He laughs. ‘This time I was in the area, and a friend of mine owed a favour. But best not to use that trick more than once. Mac will know if anything is up, all right? I’ll be at his Friday night, I can pass any news on then.’ Aiden gets up. ‘I’ve got to go. It really is good to see you, Kyla.’ His smile is warm; he touches my hand. ‘Take care.’
He starts to walk away. I haven’t seen him since the day I all but accused him of taking Ben away. But it wasn’t fair. He didn’t make Ben do anything he didn’t want to do, and now he’s trying to help.
‘Aiden, wait.’ He pauses, turns back. ‘Look. I’m sorry about what I said the last time.’
‘It’s all right. I understand how upset you were. It’s natural to lash out.’ His stares levelly back, calm and steady.
And he disappears down the footpath, the other way. I walk back the way I came, head spinning. Could it be true? Could it really be Ben? Only twenty miles away: so close. If it is him, what does it mean?
The Lorders wouldn’t just let him go. There must be a catch.
* * *
When I get home, something isn’t right.
The front door isn’t locked for a start. Dad’s car isn’t out front; Mum and Amy are both at work. Could I really have left without locking up? I think back, and I’m not sure. When I left to meet Aiden, I was in a hurry of panic in case he was gone by the time I got there. Yet I would have done it automatically, without thinking. Wouldn’t I?
My instincts are screaming danger.
I open the door and push it forward without stepping in. The hall is empty, and I listen, not moving, not breathing.
There! Footsteps, upstairs. My throat constricts: my drawings! I didn’t hide them away before I went out, did I? Stupid.
Careful, quiet, slow: up the stairs. My door is open; I scan the room. Drawings still all over the bed, the one I started of the hospital face up. Not quite the way I left them, I’m sure. My stomach sinks.
Footsteps, behind me! I spring round, ready for, well, anything.
Amy jumps about a foot in the air. ‘Oh my God, Kyla! You scared me. Why don’t you yell hello or something when you come in?’
I shake my head. ‘I scared you? You scared me! You’re not supposed to be home yet.’
‘You were so out of it this afternoon, I asked to come home early to spend some time with you, you nitwit. But when I got here, no sign. Where’ve you been?’
‘I… I’m sorry. I went for a walk, to clear my head.’
Her face softens. ‘Are you all right? Really? You’ve been so odd this week. And ever since Ben…’ And she looks away, doesn’t finish the sentence.
‘Let’s go downstairs and have some tea,’ I suggest.
‘Not so fast.’ And she walks past me to my room, pushes open the door I’d left ajar. Goes straight for my bed and the hospital drawing I’d left. ‘Tell me about this, first,’ she says.
I shrug, stomach in knots. ‘Just the usual. You know me: I draw everything. And what were you doing, snooping around in my room anyway?’
‘You didn’t answer the door; I thought you might be upset, or that your levels had dropped and you couldn’t.’ She sighs and sits on the bed. ‘I’m worried about you.’ She holds out her hand and I take it, sit next to her.
She is dangerous.
No. This is Amy, not the enemy.
She picks up my drawing of Dr Lysander’s floor of the hospital. ‘Explain this to me,’ she says, and there is no way round it, really, so I do. About the attack, and how doctors disappeared and I wondered where. I was curious, it was a puzzle and I was drawing it.
She shakes her head. ‘Kyla, you are SO stupid. Think of the trouble this could land you in if the wrong person saw it! Why waste time drawing boring stuff like this anyway, when you are so good at people and faces?’ And she turns over Nurse Sally. ‘This is gorgeous. She is so warm and alive. Who is it?’
‘Nobody. Just a made-up face.’
‘Really? Funny, she looks familiar. Can’t place her, though.’
Was Sally at the hospital when Amy was Slated? When was that: five years ago. She could have been.
‘But this,’ she says, and picks up the hospital one again, ‘has to go. And don’t do anything like it again. Promise?’
I do, and together we tear it in half and in half again and again, until all that is left are tiny squares. She flushes them. ‘That is the end of that,’ she says. ‘Time for that cup of tea?’
Downstairs in the kitchen I put the kettle on.
‘Where’d you walk?’ Amy asks.
‘Oh, you know. Just around the village,’ I lie, the footpath being off limits solo.
‘Mum would have a fit if she knew you went walking alone. Ever since that Wayne Best was found.’
‘Have you heard anything else about him?’
‘Oh, didn’t I say? He is talking and remembering things now.’
I turn to get the cups out of the cupboard, not trusting myself to keep a neutral face. He is remembering? Oh, God. The room seems to darken and spin in my eyes, as if it is turning into a black pit that will suck me in. I shake my head and my vision clears.
My stomach squirms. Nico will be furious it is the first he’s heard about it. I can’t tell him now. It’s too late.
‘But he’s got, like, traumatic amnesia,’ Amy says.
‘He can remember everything, except why he was in the woods that day, and what happened to him there.’
‘He might remember, eventually, the doc said. I heard Lorders were annoyed with him for not answering.’ She shuddered. ‘That’d be enough to get your memory back quick, I should think.’
The phone rings as I’m pouring the tea, and Amy runs to answer. I dash upstairs and carefully gather the rest of my drawings and hide them in a folder with others.
Amy almost recognised Nurse Sally. I shouldn’t have lied about who she was: what if she remembers that she works at the hospital, and puts it together?
Did Amy actually say she wouldn’t tell anyone about the drawings?
I think hard. Not in so many words, but she got me to destroy the one of the hospital. What would be the point if it wasn’t then secret?
I shrug, uneasy, but the moment to make her promise not to tell has passed. If I bring it up again she’ll wonder why. Silence is best.
Late that night I creep out of my room to the dark study downstairs. Shut the door and turn on the desk lamp.
Mum is a bit of a local history buff. The shelves in here are stuffed with books on local villages and towns, current and historical, and maps: both usual road ones, and detailed Ordnance Survey maps that show every footpath and canal.
I can’t wait for Aiden’s careful investigations. Is it really Ben? It has to be. I cannot accept any other alternative. My thoughts twist around each other over and over, jumping between bubbles of joy and anticipation, and fear that it will all be a lie. That any hope will lead to disappointment.
A running track, twenty miles from here. I visualise a circle and carefully go over each village and town that fits the distance. The footpaths and lanes to reach them from here.
I’ll find you, Ben.
* * *
The next day is crisp and cold, with a few clouds light and high enough that they shouldn’t cause trouble.
I strap on my bike helmet. ‘Are you sure you don’t mind switching to a bike ride today?’
‘Your wish is my command,’ Cam says, bowing down. ‘Where do you want to go?’
We head out. The roads are quiet today with the holiday, if Remembrance Day can be thought of that way. I’d memorised the map grid. We should be able to check at least three possible locations of Ben’s running track today. I shrug off the doubting voice that says even if I find the right village and the right track, I won’t know it unless he happens to be running at the exact same time. At least I’m doing something.
Amy had been SO pleased to hear Cam and I were going cycling. Mum, off with Aunt Stacey for the day, thinks we are chaperoning each other, and I wonder what Amy and Jazz will get up to. Amy had smirked at Cam and me when we left. She assumes things about us that aren’t true.
But I’m dancing inside because Ben has been spotted; there is no other reason. This is just going for a bike ride. Cam said he understands about Ben. We’re just friends.
At a small bridge I duck off-road to a canal path. I glance back to make sure Cam follows: something is coming up fast behind him on the narrow country lane. The sun in my eyes makes it difficult to see, and I squint. A black van?
We disappear down the canal path, and I shake off unease. If that even was Lorders, they are all over the place. It’s just coincidence.
A few miles later we are back on a country road, cycling side by side, close to the first village to check. There is a rumble, a car coming up behind, and Cam slips in front. There isn’t much room for passing cars and we both move as far to the left as possible. It is getting closer and Cam glances back. His eyes widen.
I turn just in time to see a blur of motion. A black sliding door opens, an arm swings out and connects with my shoulder. And I’m flying through the air in a slow-motion tumble, then landing, hard, half on the side of the road and half in a hedge. Tangled in my bicycle.
I look up. My vision is swimming, but I can’t mistake what gets out of the van and stands over me. Big and dressed in black: a Lorder.
‘Get up,’ he says.
I try to push myself up with my arms, but struggle to move with my legs under the bicycle. He kicks me in the side.
Another blur of motion and Cam is there, grabbing the Lorder by the arm. ‘Leave her alone! You’re making a big mistake,’ Cam says.
No Cam, no. Terror finds strength and I push the bike away, pull myself to my feet.
Something you don’t see every day: a smiling Lorder. ‘I think you’ll find, boy, that you are making the mistake. This has nothing to do with you.’ He turns and shoves Cam, easily landing him on the ground.