‘I’m so sorry,’ I start to say, but the words catch in my throat. Now that it is over and the Lorders gone, the horror, the fear wash over me. I start to shake.
He catches my hand, holds it and pulls me close. We just stand there by the side of the road, not moving, not speaking. And I try to breathe slow, to get myself under control, to not cry. But having him there, his arms warm about me, just makes it harder. I pull away.
‘Now,’ he says. ‘Are you going to tell me what is going on with you and the Lorders?’
Cam has earned the truth. He has, but I can’t tell it. It would just put him in more danger if he knew about Coulson’s deal. About me and Free UK.
I shake my head. ‘There’s not much to tell. The Lorders thought I was in some trouble. But then they worked out they made a mistake, so they let us go.’
‘Do you expect me to believe that? Don’t lie to me,’ he says, his eyes full of hurt.
And I wince inside. But I’m not saying anything, not when knowledge is so dangerous. The less he knows, the better for him.
‘If there was anything I could tell you, I would. I’m sorry.’
He gets up, checks my bicycle survived its collision with the hedge, but doesn’t look me in the eye. I so long to tell him everything, just to take away that withdrawn look. To have someone know what I know. Hold me and make things feel better, even if just for a moment.
That won’t make anything better. Don’t trust him.
This is crazy! He’s just been hauled off along with me; his only crime was standing up to that Lorder who knocked me off my bike. Hasn’t he proved he can be trusted?
No. Until you work out who has betrayed you, trust no one.
That is what occupies my mind the long ride home. The sun is getting low in the sky: late afternoon. Well after we should be getting home.
Who told the Lorders about my drawing of the hospital?
Amy is the one who saw it. But she wouldn’t. Never! Anyhow, it doesn’t make sense. If she was going to report me to the Lorders, why get me to destroy it, or even admit she saw it in the first place?
Yet…what if she told someone about it without meaning to get me in trouble, and they told somebody else?
That is possible. But it was just yesterday she saw it. With no school today the only people she has seen since then are Mum, and Jazz.
It must be one of them.
No! I can’t believe it. But who else could it be?
And I have no answer to that. Whether unwittingly or deliberately, either Amy, Jazz or Mum must have turned me in to the Lorders.
There are so few people in this world that I trust and care for, and one has betrayed me. I don’t know which one, and I can’t believe any of them would do it. Especially Mum.
The mum you’ve had for less than two months.
The one whose parents were killed by terrorists; her son, too, as far as she knows. You don’t think she’d turn you in if she thought you were one of them?
I squirm inside. Maybe, but… No. I can’t believe it.
But something else sings inside: Ben is alive! He really is. Not just Aiden’s sighting confirms it now; Coulson said so, as well.
He could be lying, but why would he bother? His threats against me and Cam were enough. And Coulson doesn’t know that even if I don’t manage to track Ben down by myself, I can find out where he is from Aiden. All I have to do is find Ben, and warn him about Coulson’s threats. Maybe we can disappear someplace together, someplace the Lorders won’t find us.
Like the moon?
I push the doubting voice away, ignore it. Hug this little hope inside and hold it tight.
Without it, I have nothing.
When we get to our street, Cam gets off his bike in front of his house. Says nothing, starts pushing it up his drive.
‘Wait,’ I say. He stops, turns. ‘What are you going to say happened?’
‘I fell off my bike. You?’
‘I won’t say anything.’
He turns away.
Tears are pricking in my eyes. He is my only friend here now, apart from Amy, Mum and Jazz. And at least one of them is not really my friend.
‘Cam, I’m sorry,’ I call softly.
He turns again. Nods. ‘I know,’ he says. And goes inside.
I breathe in and out to steady myself, then push the bike into our shed. Unlock the front door.
‘Hello?’ I call out. But there is no answer. The house is quiet.
I run for the shower. At least I will look normal by the time anyone gets home: I’ll see who looks surprised to see me here.
I watch them all carefully at dinner. Jazz is here yet again, so all the suspects are in attendance. But everyone is as they always are: either someone is a good actor, or I’ve got it wrong. But what else could be the answer? It must be one of them.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
* * *
Next morning is misery and grey drizzle. Not helped by how I ache, everywhere, from head to toe. Getting thrown around and drugged by Lorders takes a lot out of you. Not to mention fighting. Part of me grins inside at the thought of the swollen face of that Lorder I kicked; part of me winces.
I wilt over the breakfast table, stirring cereal this way and that, and not eating much of it.
‘What’s with you this morning?’ Mum says.
‘Too many late-night sighs over Cameron, maybe?’ Amy says, and smirks.
I scowl. ‘You’ve got it wrong; we’re friends.’ At least, we were. I sigh. Wonder if he is even talking to me?
‘See?’ Amy laughs. And Mum smiles as if she agrees with her conclusions. How could they think that, so soon after Ben disappeared? Butterflies flutter inside with his name. Ben, will I see you, soon?
And what does it matter what they think. Better that than they know what really troubles my sleep. Of course, one or both of them do, if they called the Lorders.
Yet watching, listening to them again this morning, I find it impossible to believe they could have had anything to do with what happened yesterday.
And what about Nico? If I tell him about Coulson, he’ll know what to do. But what will he make of me leaving that drawing where it could be found in the first place? Coulson said he was watching me already. Perhaps my slip-up tipped us off, put us in a stronger position: now, at least, I know I’m being watched. But somehow I doubt Nico will see it that way.
Nico goes past in the hall when I am changing classes that morning. He tilts his head slightly, then walks on towards his office. He wants me to follow.
Does he somehow know what happened yesterday, already? Indecision and fear hold me still.
Better to know.
I check no one is watching and knock once on his office door. It opens and he pulls me inside, shuts it again.
‘Rain! How are you?’ He is grinning.
‘I’ve got a surprise for you. Don’t look so alarmed! You’ll like it,’ he says, and there is nothing in his eyes to alarm, yet I am.
‘What is it?’
He shakes his head. ‘Not so fast. First we’re going on a road trip at lunch today.’
‘Wait and see, impatient Rain. Wait and see.’ And he tells me where to walk out of the grounds at lunch, where he’ll pick me up.
‘What about my afternoon classes?’
‘Give me your ID at lunch and I’ll sort it. No one will notice.’
When the lunch bell goes I head through the side gate, and rush down the road. As I hurry along I wonder why I’m even going. If he knows, this is dangerous. If he doesn’t, I should tell him. Either way I’m in deep trouble. Yet somehow, even as I’m wondering if I should turn around, my feet take me to our meeting point. Somehow I can’t not do what he says.
When I reach the bend he described I barely have time to take a breath when his car appears, and stops. The passenger door opens. I get in.
Soon we’re off the main road, twisting down single-lane tracks, overgrown and unfamiliar. Nico remains silent. My stomach twists, inside. Maybe this is all just about getting me out somewhere quiet, alone, to deal with.
‘We’re nearly there,’ he says, but all I can see are trees and more trees. The track narrows until the car barely fits along, and he stops. Nothing in sight. He points out an almost invisible path hidden in the undergrowth. ‘You’ll find answers to why I brought you here about a ten-minute walk that way. I’ll come later.’
He reaches for my school ID where it hangs around my neck, and pulls it over my head; his warm fingers brush my face. ‘Go on. Take care,’ he says.
After I get out he starts reversing back down the lane, and the further away he gets, the more I can breathe.
I hesitate, but there is nothing for it. Is there?
I walk under the trees, along the faint path. Careful, quiet, slow; not sure what lies in wait. Having to concentrate to not lose the way.
With Nico long ago we did all sorts of deep-woods training, like how to move through undergrowth and make no noise. How to mark or follow a path no one else will see. Here, there are only faint bends in plants to mark the way, at irregularly spaced intervals. Once I lose track and have to go back.
Out of practice.
Yes. And I wonder if I’m walking into one of Nico’s traps. Take care, he said: what did he mean? He used to test us, introduce unexpected dangers. Maybe he is checking to see if I am still up for it?
As I get close to ten minutes’ walk I double off the path and back, in loops. Creeping and checking as I go forward.
It is on one such diversion that I see a small clearing. To one side, under overhanging trees, a green tarp and loose branches cover something bulky. And to the other side, someone is waiting, sitting on a stump, watching the path where I should have emerged. He glances down at a watch. Wondering where I am?
I blink, and again. My eyes feel wrong. Like I’m wide-eyed awake and in deep sleep at the same time; standing here, and lost in a dream – or a nightmare. Goosebumps creep up my arms and spine. The back of this head is familiar, so familiar. His dark hair is long now; his shoulders are broader. My heart is beating fast. Wondering is it really him, and who is he, all at the same time. I step forward, hesitant, not looking where I place my feet. A twig snaps.
He whips round at the sound. Eyes widen, and he stares for one beat, two. Emotion crosses his face, too fast to identify; he shakes himself. ‘Well, I don’t flipping believe it. Rain?’ A scowl covers his face, one I’d nearly forgotten, but now it is stark in my memories. The jagged knife scar down the right cheek has faded little since I last saw it, and prompts memory to whisper the name he chose for himself.
‘I never thought I’d see you again.’ His jaw is clenched; a little muscle twitches up the side of his face.
‘That makes two of us. Nico didn’t tell me you’d be here.’
‘Same. He just told me to meet someone. What rock did he find you under? I thought you were Slated.’
I hold up my wrist, pull the sleeve back. Levo in place.
‘Shouldn’t you be blacking out at the mere sight of my handsome face?’ He smiles.
‘I hate to disappoint you, but you’re not that frightening. Besides, this thing doesn’t work.’ I spin it on my wrist.
‘Aren’t you the special one.’
I glare. Echoes of past taunts burn in my ears. Rain is too special to come with us; Rain is too special for this; Rain is too special to do that. It’s coming back: Nico stopped me from going with my cell a lot of the time. Until – I frown. The memory is gone.
‘Come on. Best get going.’
He doesn’t answer; pulls the tarp up. Underneath are trail bikes. ‘Remember how?’ he says, challenge in his voice.
‘Try and keep up,’ I say, and take off ahead of him up the path. It is rough and bouncy; not great with yesterday’s bruises, but I don’t care. It is like flying! Faster than Katran: this is all that matters.