But we’re not those phantoms. Not any more.
‘You’re that girl,’ he says, and I hold still. Does some part of him recognise, or feel who I am? That girl – no. He must remember the other time on this path. ‘The one who said she knew me,’ he says, confirming. ‘But I’d remember you.’
‘Would you?’ I laugh. The sunrise is properly under way now. Warm light in a cold morning on our faces.
‘I’m going to be late. We came too far,’ he says, and reverses direction. ‘Run back?’
‘Not yet. We need to talk.’
‘Do we? What about?’
‘Who are you?’
‘Can’t answer that. I’m on a secret mission.’ He says the words like he is kidding around, playing some game, but something is behind them. ‘Who are you?’
‘I’m on a secret mission, too. But I can tell you a story. One that was.’
‘Go on,’ he says, still Ben in his eyes: curious, wanting to know everything I am inside, like he always did.
‘Once upon a time, there was a Slated boy named Ben, who loved to run. He met a Slated girl with a few problems: let’s call her Kyla. But she loved to run, too. They became…friends. More than friends.’ I blush.
‘Ben: that is what you called me the last time.’
And I see the realisation in his eyes. ‘I’ve got good taste in girls, even in fairy tales,’ he says, still light, teasing. Curious.
‘But now is where it gets difficult.’ My smile falls away. ‘Listen, Ben or whoever you are now. You’ve been re-Slated, or treated somehow to forget. I don’t know how, or why. Don’t believe what you are told. The old you fought to think for himself! He believed there could be a better way than the Lorders’ way.’
He stares into my eyes, something inside him thinking, considering, for a few heartbeats. Then the look is gone along with his smile. ‘This is indeed a fairy tale,’ he says. ‘Time for me to go now, dream girl.’ And he takes off, running, back the way he came. I stop myself, just, from chasing after him, and slip into shadows under the trees. Fighting not to cry at the cold vacuum created by his absence.
I did the best I could. Did I achieve anything?
For a moment, there was something in his eyes, some trace of thought. I didn’t imagine it! Have I planted a seed of doubt that will grow into something strong enough to withstand what has been done to him, what is being fed to him in that Lorder place?
I pull my dark clothes back over what I wear, and get on the bicycle to start the long ride back to Mac’s. Thinking of what I said, what I could have said that was better, and—
When it hits me I almost fall from the bike.
Dream girl, he called me. Has he been dreaming about me? Like I dream about the past, and lost memories. Am I still there, hiding, in his subconscious?
Somewhere inside is a glimmer, a feeling. It is warm and unfamiliar, and I hold onto it, hug it tight.
It is hope.
Late that night I’m at Mac’s, sitting at his computer. Lucy’s face – my face, from so many years ago – fills the screen on the MIA website. She was Missing In Action, but not any longer.
Aiden sits next to me.
‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ he asks, his dark blue eyes intent, and kind. Not pressing, even though I know how much he wants this.
‘Yes,’ I say. And I am; so sure. Dad said never forget who you are, but I did. I failed him. There is only one thing I can do to try to fix it: I owe it to him to find out who Lucy was. Who I was. And there is no other way to find the missing bits of myself, than this.
Who reported me missing? With my dad gone, was it the mother I cannot remember, or someone else? There is only one way to find out.
I take the mouse, and click the box: Lucy Connor is found.