I sat back at that, suspicion working a slow path through my mind.
Grams held up a finger, walking over to retrieve a newspaper from a purse I hadn’t noticed by the door. “It’s been a feeding frenzy outside of the hospital for days. You have two armed guards posted outside of your room at all times, a whole wing to yourself, and still a vulture tried to sneak in and take a photo of you.”
The New York Times had run with the news of the camp hit and the subsequent fallout. I spread the newspaper out over my lap, apprehension already cutting through my hard-won calm. In the time I’d been gone, Alice’s original idea for an information package had changed, blossoming into the complete story of what had happened in Los Angeles, and at the Ranch. It was pages of her photographs of us, all of us—planning, playing, working. The road code. She’d written about why the deceptions had been necessary, and what editors and media bosses had worked with us to cover up the truth until the Thurmond camp hit began. There was a long profile of Cole, his face grinning up at me in black and white.
And then there was the piece about me. While she hadn’t gone into any details about my abilities, Alice had deprived readers of pretty much nothing else. I was at the edge of many of her photos, just out of frame, face hidden by shadows or hair. The others—Cate, especially—must have filled her in on how I’d escaped Thurmond in the first place, what my life had been like on the run and with the League, and then, how I’d been willing to go back to the camp to help them. The paper had run photos of me being carried to the ambulance, but Liam’s face was out of the shot. It might as well have been a completely different person because I didn’t recognize that small, pale girl at all.
I shrank back against the pillow, feeling exposed under Grams’s watchful eye.
“There’s more, if you’d like to read it,” she said, taking the paper away.
“Not now,” I said. “Has anyone else...”
“Hmm?” Grams walked the paper back across the room and took up her tray of hospital food again, settling it over me. “Has anyone else, what?”
“Been by,” I mumbled. “To visit.”
Grams gave me a knowing smile. “A charming young woman with a mouth that could give a sailor a heart attack? A sweet little one who brought you flowers? The one who spent half a day chasing doctors and nurses around, demanding answers about your condition? Or, by any chance, are you referring to a very well-mannered Southern boy?”
“All of them,” I whispered. “Are they here?”
“Not at the moment,” Grams said. “They had to go back to the hotel—everyone’s in Charleston for this fancy press conference. But they were here, and they asked me to give you this for when you woke up, so you’d know how to find them.”
Grams handed me a folded piece of paper. Hotel stationery, as it turned out, with a telephone number scrawled across it. Call as soon as you can. Liam’s handwriting.
“I missed you very much, darling girl,” Grams said softly. “One day, I hope you’ll talk to me about what’s happened to you. I don’t want to read about it; I’d much rather hear it from you.”
“I missed you too,” I whispered. “So, so much. I wanted to find you.”
She smoothed the hair back from my face. “Do you want to see them now?”
I didn’t need any clarification about who them meant.
“Do they...” I swallowed. “Do they want to see me?”
“Oh, yes,” Grams said. “As long as it’s all right with you.”
After a moment, I nodded. When she left the room, I balanced my tray on the small table. My heart was hammering in my chest the moment I heard their footsteps.
The last time, I thought, this is the last time I’ll do this....
Grams appeared first, stepping aside to let a slight, frail woman in, followed closely by a salt-and-pepper-haired man.
It was remarkable how little I remembered about what they really looked like. Maybe the years had done damage to them the way they had to me, thinning them out, running them back and forth over life’s sharp edges. It was so odd to see the shape of my nose on another person’s face. My eyes. My mouth. The dimple on my chin. He wore a polo shirt tucked into slacks, she wore a dress, and I had the strange thought that they had dressed up to see me.
I wished it didn’t feel so painfully uncomfortable, but I could see it in their faces. They looked at me, and all they remembered was the morning I’d been taken away, when they’d forced me out of the house in their confusion. The years stood between us, empty, aching.
So I started with the sweetness. A camping trip we had taken a very, very long time ago in the Blue Ridge Mountains; the hike down through the autumn trees, just beginning to change their colors. The air had been crisp and clear, the rolling mountains only a few shades darker than the endless blue sky above. We’d slept together, the three of us, in this little pocket of warmth in our tent, fishing for our food. I’d watched, amazed, as Dad had started the campfire.
The knotted memories released with only the slightest touch, as if they’d already begun to unravel on their own. I pulled back from each of their minds in turn, barely able to control my own feelings without the sudden flood of theirs.
“Someone please say something,” Grams said, exasperated.
But I didn’t need to say a word. I only needed to let them hold me as they cried.
I’ve heard some people say life can change in a day, completely flipping you feet over head. But they’re wrong. Life doesn’t need a day to change.