I closed my eyes, pulling back to lean against the wall.

“Oh, girl, I get scared, too,” Vida said. “I’m always a little scared when I go out on an Op. Not, like, shit-my-pants scared, but I’m afraid of what could happen to the others if I screw up or don’t cover them well enough. Our friend Roo owes me about five years of my life back.” She paused, likely waiting for Zu to write something. “Thing is, though, fear is worthless. It stops you when you need to keep moving most. And it only exists inside of your head. You can hate yourself for being scared, but that’s still letting it control your life. Aren’t you tired of that same old shit? It’s just going to keep dragging you down.”

There was another pause; long enough that I started to open the door again.

“People come in and out of our lives all the time,” Vida said, her voice tight. “They can promise that they’ll be right back, but you might never see them again. We got a good unit here, and you know why it’s so strong? Because we chose it. We made it. My sister, she wasn’t like your parents, but she still left me. The bitch called in my location for a reward, but I won’t let her win. I won’t give her the satisfaction of not letting myself trust anyone ever again. She didn’t choose me, and now I’m choosing a different family.”

I waited until Vida was back to humming a little song before slipping inside.

“Hey girl, what’s doing?” Vida glanced over.

For once, the smell of bleach wasn’t coming from the cleaning products we used to scrub out the showers, but from the thick cream Vida had combed through her short hair. There was an old ratty towel over her shoulders to catch the gooey mixture before it hit her sports bra. For a second, I couldn’t see anything other than the scar tissue on her shoulders from the burns she’d gotten in Nashville, fighting Mason. It made my stomach go sour.

Zu sat perched on the counter next to her, swinging her legs back and forth, little white socks bobbing up and down through the air. She held up two different boxes in her hands for me to see—one blue, one red—then gestured toward Vida.

“I made Boy Scout stop on our way back from Oregon,” Vida explained, taking the towel from her shoulders and wrapping it around Zu’s much smaller ones. “Glad I did, too. Had to get my war paint on to go into battle tomorrow.”

I gave her a look in the mirror.

“Fine. My carefully planned, reasonably cautious reconnaissance mission.” Vida cocked a brow. “You sure you and me can’t just sneak out tonight?”

“Chubs is useful,” I reminded her. “Please try not to kill him.”

“Yeah, yeah, we’ll see. All I’m saying is, accidents happen.”

Before I could even think of questioning it, she used her gloved fingers to scoop some of the product out from the cup she’d mixed it in and made a thin stripe of it in Zu’s hair.

“Uh...” My mind blanked, cutting quickly to how Liam—and, worse, Chubs—would react to this development.

Zu glanced back in the mirror and made an impatient gesture, like, more! Vida shook her head. “Start with that and see if you like it first. Did you decide which color?”

“She’d rather have pink,” I said. Zu whipped around to look at Vida again, her eyes wide with the possibility.

Vida cocked her head to the side, looking at the two boxes. “I could try mixing a separate batch and using a little less of the red dye than I normally would. Might not work, but it’s worth a shot.”

Zu nodded eagerly, flashing me a big smile.

“Charlie Boy’s going to kill me,” Vida sang out, leaning back against the counter. “But we don’t give a damn what boys think, do we, girlfriend?”

I laughed, startled. “Charlie Boy?”

“Well—I mean, his name is Charles, right?” Vida said quickly, glaring at me in the mirror’s reflection. “How is Chubs any better?”

“Good point,” I said. “Well...I’ll leave you guys to it....”

“Where’s the fire, boo?” Vida asked, hopping up on the counter next to Zu. “Stay awhile. It seems like we haven’t seen your face around much.”

I hesitated, knowing that I still needed to find Liam, but how could I say no when for the first time in days, Zu looked like her old self? When I’d missed seeing their faces, too?

“All right,” I said, reaching for the bowl of dye. “Let’s see if we can get you the perfect shade of pink....”

13

AFTER LYING AWAKE FOR THREE hours in the dark, counting Chubs’s snores, waiting for Liam to come back, I finally pushed myself up off the stiff mattress and headed for the hallway. I wouldn’t bother him, but I just...needed to make sure he was where I thought he was.

The music flowing down the tunnel to the garage was a pretty good hint I was on the right track. The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger was crooning about wild horses, the promise in his voice stopping me just outside of the door.

I thought of the CD he’d brought in for me, the note that was still hidden inside, and felt caught between the need to go in, and the need to walk back to the bunk room, slide under a blanket, and disappear.

There were a few kids lingering around the space. One was working at the table along the opposite wall, her back hiding whatever it was she was doing. The others were playing cards on a blanket they’d spread out over the floor. It was strange to me that they were down here instead of using the chairs and tables in the big room upstairs, where it had to be at least twenty degrees warmer.

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