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“Of course the treatment will work.” Now Tansy sounded affronted. “Doctor C developed it, and that means it works. Just, you know. It’s pretty dangerous and it wouldn’t work on anybody who’s too far gone. Once the meat car goes sans driver for a little bit, there’s no pill in the world that’s going to bring them back.”

My stomach turned as my own “meat car” reacted to the implications of her words. “Well, let’s hope Joyce is still firmly in the driver’s seat,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. “Nathan and I are going to my place to pick up some of my things, and then I’m going to stay with him for… well, for a while.” Forever, if the way I felt meant anything.

“Ooo, a sleepover? Can I come?”

That was a horrifying image. I couldn’t decide whether she’d keep us up all night watching bad movies and trying to braid my hair, or bring in something for us to vivisect as a party game. “It’s not that kind of a sleepover.”

Tansy sighed. “Oh, whatever. If you want to be like that, you just be like that. Doctor C wants to know if you think you can get out here again in the next day or two. She says there’s some developments and stuff, and she doesn’t want to talk about them on the phone.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “SymboGen bugged my house, and now my father thinks I’m withholding information from the military. It’ll be hard for me to go anywhere without being watched. Nathan might be able to manage it—”

“No, I can’t,” said Nathan. “If they’re watching you, they’re going to be watching me, too. It’s not safe for either of us to try sneaking away.”

“Did you hear that?” I asked Tansy.

“I did,” she said. “We’ll think of something else. For right now, you two sit tight and try not to get yourselves killed before I can get there to join the party.”

“Tansy—” I began, but it was too late; she was already gone. I lowered the phone. “She hung up on me.”

“Somehow, I’m not surprised.” We were leaving the comforting metal cage of the bridge, sliding back out into the open as the highway continued into the city. “Did she say what Mom wanted?”

“Just that she wants to talk about some things she can’t discuss over the phone. She said they’ll think of something else if we can’t come to them. I don’t find that very reassuring.”

“It’s Tansy,” he said. “You’re not supposed to.”

I laughed again, and leaned over to rest my head against his shoulder as he drove us onward, toward the house that was no longer going to be my home.

Mom’s car was in the driveway when we pulled up. I grimaced. I’d been hoping to get in and get out without any more family confrontations today. Nathan followed my gaze and grimaced in turn before asking, “Do you want me to come in with you, or would it be easier if I waited out here?”

What I wanted was to just drive away without facing my mother. I shook my head. “You should come in. I don’t think I can carry a suitcase and manage Beverly at the same time, and I don’t want to go in there twice. Once I’m done, I want to be done.”

“Right now, I don’t want to let you out of my sight.” Nathan turned off the engine. We got out and walked up the driveway toward the house.

Mom opened the front door before we got there. Her face was drawn and pale as she looked out at us. I stepped onto the porch. She didn’t say a word. She just stepped forward, wrapped her arms around me, and squeezed so hard I was briefly sure I felt my ribs bend. It was like she was afraid that if she let go, I’d float away and never be seen again.

“Um,” I said awkwardly. “Hi, Mom. Can you… this sort of hurts.” I patted her on the back with one hand, straining to move even that much. “Can we come in?”

It felt weird to be asking for permission to enter my own house, even if I was planning on moving out. Still, it was apparently the right thing to say; she sniffled as she let me go, stepping backward and out of the way. “Of course, sweetheart, of course. Hello, Nathan. It’s good to see you again.”

“Hello, Mrs. Mitchell,” he said, politely not commenting on the fact that she hadn’t seen him because he hadn’t been allowed in.

Beverly squeezed past Mom as I stepped into the house. Her tail was wagging so hard her entire backside was shaking, making her look like she was on the verge of coming apart in the middle. I crouched down to let her lick my face in greeting, and stayed crouched as I asked, “Did Dad call?”

“Yes.” Mom sniffled. It was a small sound, almost obscured by Beverly’s panting. I heard it all the same, and my heart broke, just a little. “I… I understand why you feel you need to go, Sal, but I wish you wouldn’t. Not while your sister is still in isolation. The house is too big for me to be in it by myself.” She didn’t need to say that Dad wouldn’t come home until they knew about Joyce, one way or the other. I knew him well enough to know that.

“I’m sorry.” I rubbed Beverly’s ears before I stood. “I can’t. I know it hurts, but you let him lock me up, Mom. Maybe you even agreed with him. I need to know that I’m not with people who don’t even trust me enough to tell me what’s going on in my own life. I need to know that I’m not with people I can’t trust.”

Mom stared at me, looking almost like I’d slapped her. Then she nodded, wiping at her eyes with the side of one hand as she said, “That’s fair. I wish you didn’t think that way—and I still understand how we made you think that way. This isn’t some silly teenage rebellion.”