I almost can’t believe it, that it’s the first reaction I have, that it’s still there after everything that’s happened this morning.
It’s because you’ve been alone, it’s because everyone is gone and you can’t admit to yourself you’re scared, and because it feels like home, it’ll feel like nothing ever changed. I know all of it is true, but I also know, on a very basic, human level, hers is the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen. They must have created art specifically for people like her, to try and fail forever to capture these small looks, all her various angles and the colors of her moods.
The urge is overwhelming, and I wonder...I wonder if she’s thinking about the same thing, because her eyes keep flicking down to my lips before finding my eyes again. It doesn’t make sense. She’s in pain, we are in actual hell, and none of it seems to matter.
But isn’t this how it always was with us? When we were together, the world shrank around us. Nothing else existed outside of that space between us. We took Greenwood with us wherever the two of us were together.
“Lucas,” she says again, “it’s...this isn’t...were you here? Before?”
I shake my head. “No—I don’t know where the Facility is, but I was never here. Mia, though—I overheard the PSFs say they’d bring her here.” I almost can’t ask. “Have you seen her?”
“No. What color is she? Do you know?”
For a moment, I can’t speak at all. I want to look at Sam’s face, the curve of her cheek, her eyes, until the blistering pain leaves. Sometimes I am suffocated by the memory of how helpless I was then, when I tried to get her away from the PSFs. I had fire, but they had Calm Control trapped in a little device. “I don’t know. They took her before she...before she changed. I had already gone through it, but they wanted to take her as a precaution. They kept saying that. Precaution. I overheard one of them say she would be taken here, but—” It’s the first time I’ve admitted this out loud, and it feels just as horrible and bitter as I knew it would. “I don’t know if she lived through the change. When it happened. What she is.”
Sam gives me a sharp look. “No. She survived. She would have. Mia was strong.”
“Strong doesn’t have anything to do with it.”
Still, she continues on, undaunted, and I love her for it. “She’s not Green. I would have seen her by now. There’s a chance she could be Blue. There are so many of them, and unless we have the same shift in the Garden. If she was Yellow—”
I don’t like the catch in her voice. “If she’s Yellow, what? There aren’t any Yellows here.”
“They took them out a little bit after the Orange and Red kids,” she says. “She might have been here and then taken out—moved. I don’t think they would have killed them. If they didn’t do it to the Reds—”
“Right. If the Red monsters get to live, then everyone else should be fine.”
“Stop it,” Sam says, and this time succeeds in pulling away from me. “Lucas, look at me. Look at me.” As helpless against her as always, I do. “The Reds who were here were...very broken. I don’t think it was their fault. But they were the only ones brave enough to try to do something. Fight back. I didn’t hate them then, and I don’t hate them now. I’m not afraid.”
“You aren’t afraid of anything,” I say.
“She could be here. I’ll help you look. We’ll find her,” she says. “Is that why you came here? Did you have a choice?”
I nod. They gave us the illusion we were choosing our assignments, thinking, I guess, that it would help us commit if we felt like we were making the choice of our own volition. All they did was open a door for me I’d been waiting to look through for seven years.
The rain and wind beat against the building, filling the silence. I finally see why the concrete under me is so wet—there’s a gap between the wall and foundation in the back corner of the room. I look back at the bags of wasted dog food and start to rise, thinking I can at least stop the hole up.
“No—” Sam says sharply. “Wait—Lucas, don’t—” Her voice falters. “Don’t go.”
I lower myself back to the ground. “I wasn’t leaving. I won’t leave you.”
She’s shaking again, watching me out of the corner of her eye. My heart gives a painful lurch.
“The change? A few weeks after we left Bedford—”
“That soon? Are you—”
“The same old Lucas?” I have to joke about this, I’m that desperate for one small part of this to feel normal. Normal-ish. Not soul-crushingly awful. “Unfortunately. Only now, I’m slightly more flammable.”
She doesn’t look amused, but my smile encourages hers, just a little bit. Her frantic plea fades from the room as if the rain were carrying it away. “Fortunately.”
I try not to beam.
She studies me as openly as I study her. I feel caught somewhere between a memory and a dream, because everything about her is the same but just that tiny bit different. The roundness to her face has thinned out, and damn if what my mom said was true all those years ago—she looks a lot like her own mother. The difference is, Mrs. Dahl had this...frigid quality to her, like a doll whose sole purpose was to have her hair brushed and her clothes changed before being placed on the shelf again to be admired. Never played with. Sammy seems almost feral in comparison, adapted to her situation here the way a lost dog has to relearn how to live outside in the wild. She’s never, ever going to be trained; she’s always going to bite and bark and run away.