That I was coming for her.
Liam walked Alice to the bus, ignoring the glances the team shared as they passed by them. After exchanging a few last quiet words with her, he got back on his motorcycle, explaining to Zach he was going to ride behind us.
I held a hand out to Rosa, who took it gratefully. Zach jumped into the driver’s seat and craned his neck back, counting to make sure that everyone was on. The kids squeezed into the seats and onto the floor; after a moment of petrified uncertainty, the older kids began to play with the vents, fiddling with the lights.
“Pull your curtains all the way closed,” I told them. “It’s going to be another three or four hours to where we’re going.”
“Where is that?” one of the kids asked.
“Cali-for-nia!” Gav sang out, pounding his meaty hands down on the seat in front of him. “Let’s go, already!”
“Seat belts,” Zach called as he started the bus. Then, realizing there was a speaker system, repeated the order through that. “Seat belts. Welcome to Psi Bus Services. I’m Zach and I’ll be your driver on this epic quest to freedom. If you look out your windows—but, obviously, don’t, because Ruby just told you not to—you can give Nevada the finger as we pull away.”
That, at least, made a few of them crack a smile. I gave Zach a thumbs-up and he returned it. The bus lurched forward and we were off again, really cruising. I smiled despite myself, winging along on my own cloud of happiness. I didn’t come down, not for a second, until I glanced at Rosa.
She had taken the window seat, drawn her legs up to her chest to tuck under her shirt, and pressed her face into her knees.
“Rosa,” I said, putting a hand on her back. The number on her shirt pocket, 9229, had been her whole identity in that place. I wanted her to hear her name. To feel human.
“You shouldn’t have come, we’re not ready yet. We’re still broken.”
“No,” I said quickly, “no you’re not. You’re different, that’s all.”
“They said the good ones were the ones that died,” she said, and I noticed a faint scar running down her left cheek, a narrow, spiraling pink line. What could have left a mark like that, other than someone intentionally scratching it into her skin? “That we were all wrong and we’d—we’d never get out. But they never did anything to help us. I want—I want to be fixed, we all did, we did everything they asked, but it wasn’t enough.”
“If they made you feel that way, then they were the ones who were wrong,” I said. It took me a moment to realize why the words came so easily. Clancy. How was this any different from what he kept trying to tell me? I shifted uncomfortably, trying to think of Cate instead, how she had talked me down after I escaped Thurmond. “The most important thing you ever did was learn how to survive. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you shouldn’t have, or that you deserved to be in that camp.”
“You were in one, too?” Rosa asked. “You got out and things got better?”
“They’re getting there,” I told her. “Your mom is helping us.”
There. One small, trembling smile. “Has she been wearing her red suit?”
“Red suit?” I repeated.
Rosa nodded, finally sitting back against the seat. “Mom had this dark red suit she always wore when she had to go in for a big vote or debate. She said it scared the old white dudes who kept trying to shut her up or make her sit down.”
“No,” I said, “but you know what? I don’t think she really needs it anymore.”
The girl spread her fingers over her blue uniform shorts. “And you’re totally...you’re sure she wants to...I mean, I would understand if she didn’t want to see me. I was with my Gran when they came. Mom never saw me after I got damaged—changed, I mean.”
“She wants you,” I said, the words spilling out from some place I hadn’t dared to touch since I’d left Thurmond. “More than anything. It doesn’t matter what you can do, or what any of the people at that camp told you. She’s there and she’s waiting for you.”
They were the right words. I knew it by the pain that came with wrenching them up from where I’d buried them.
I knew it, because they were the exact words I’d fantasized about someone saying to me, just before Grams would arrive to rescue me.
She turned toward me. “Thank you for coming to get us.”
I wasn’t sure I could trust my voice, but I said, “You’re very welcome.”
“You’re going to get more kids out, right?” she asked. “Not just us?”
“Everyone,” I reassured her, leaning my head back against the seat and closing my eyes. It was the only way I knew of to keep from crying. It was more than just a possibility. We had done this. We could do it again at Thurmond. We could make this moment everyone’s reality. Every single kid.
Zach brought the bus into the garage as Cole had instructed. The kids who’d stayed behind were there, opening the large, rolling door we’d kept shut and locked the whole time we’d used the space. Senator Cruz and Cole stood a way inside; the woman had her hands folded in front of her, and while she seemed otherwise serene, even from a distance, I could see the white-knuckled hold she had on herself. I pulled back the curtain and leaned away, so Rosa could see her as well. The senator must have spotted her at that exact moment, because she lost the fight she’d been waging to control herself and ran for the bus’s doors, just as I stood to let Rosa pass. The girl launched herself at her mother from the top step, and nearly took them both to the ground.
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