The toaster on the table started beeping. Nope, he was harmless.
My grandpa eyed it. “I think you should go after him.”
“Because he seemed upset.” He nodded toward the toaster. “And because there’s a Containment car downstairs waiting to intercept him.”
It may have been crazy talk, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. I ran out the front door after Trevor.
Laila: Self-torture sounds better without the word self.
It had been three days since my father stole my money. Three days since I’d seen Connor and humiliated myself. And for three days, I had been trying to talk myself out of having to face him again. But I had a theory—maybe I didn’t need to learn to advance my ability. Connor was a Healer. Maybe he could Heal Addie’s blocked paths. Reopen her mind to her memories. Maybe she didn’t need me to do it at all.
I decided I must be a fan of self-torture. Especially because the last thing in the world I wanted was to ask Connor for a favor. If it were anyone but Addie, I would’ve walked away by now.
Only he wasn’t at home or in his garage. I texted him: Where are you?
He made me wait five minutes before he texted back: Founders Park. By the metro.
I drove the twenty minutes to Founders Park, stepped out of the car, and put my aloof face on. I liked to be in control of every situation I could. There were too many times my father asserted his power. I wouldn’t give up mine when I had a choice. Definitely not for a guy.
I walked past the statues that flanked one corner of the block. As the Compound started changing faster and faster, someone with too much sentimentality, in my opinion, had sanctioned that the oldest area of the city remain forever unchanged. Old cars, old houses, old streetlights, and statues of our founders. Essentially an entire city block wasted. Prime property sitting unused and antiquated. It had turned into a museum of sorts, mostly occupied by schoolchildren taking field trips—a practical study of the Outside world. And even schoolchildren didn’t care to see it. Most of the time it was all but abandoned, like now. Especially during school holidays.
I found Connor sitting on a park bench in front of an old transit car. “I haven’t been here since I was eight. I thought someone had gotten smart and torched the place. Guess I was wrong.”
He didn’t look over. “Funny.”
“I thought so. Was it the delivery or the subject matter that didn’t work for you?”
“More the insulting nature than anything.”
“I see.” I sat down next to him and studied the metal boxlike thing that used to serve as mass transit. I couldn’t imagine getting around like that. All smashed together with so many other people in your space. “I need a favor.”
“Are those the only four words you know?”
“Now that joke didn’t work at all, because I had already said many words before I jumped into the whole favor thing. If I had led with it, then maybe.”
He rubbed his eyes and stood. “The answer is no.”
“You haven’t even let me ask.”
He didn’t say anything and walked to the next display—a row of old motorcycles.
“What’s with your obsession with Norm things?”
“It’s good to be educated. You never know whether you’ll end up out there.”
“I will never end up out there.”
He got out his phone and took a picture of the motorcycle. “Are you Clairvoyant now?”
“No, but some things are nonnegotiable. Me living on the Outside is one of those. I can’t imagine always being surrounded by—”
“I’m half Norm.”
I started to laugh but then realized he was serious. “You’re half Norm?”
“My father is Norm, my mom is a Mass Manipulator.”
“Really? And you’re a Healer. That’s . . . amazing really.” Not just the fact that he was a Healer, which was rare, but that he was so skilled in his ability. It didn’t seem diluted at all.
He raised one eyebrow and looked at me. “How did you know, anyway?”
“How did I know what?”
“That I was a Healer.”
“Well, my knee was bleeding and you put your hands on it and regenerated my skin. I know many people might not have caught on, but I’m pretty observant like that.”
“No. That night outside Mike Petty’s house. You were in the tree. You jumped on me and told me you weren’t worried because of my ability.”
I swatted my hand through the air. “Oh. That. Yeah, I didn’t know. I was hoping your reaction to my statement would give it away.”
He gave a frustrated grunt. “I’m stupid.”
“No. I’m just incredibly smart.” I drummed my fingers on my arm. “So back to my fav—” Wait. I couldn’t get past the fact that he was half Norm. “So your dad lives on the Outside then?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Huh,” I said in wonderment. I’d had no idea. “Were you worried you weren’t going to Present?”
“Will you just ask your favor so you can go?” He took several more pictures of the bike, then pocketed his phone. A streak of grease ran down the left side of his nose, and I realized he must’ve been working on his bike before coming here.
“How old were you?”
“When I Presented?”
My shoulders fell. Even a guy with half-Norm blood Presented at twelve.
“Your brother still not showing signs?”
“He’ll get there.”
“Is he using Face’s track?”
His jaw tensed.
“No reason.” He reached over the barrier that was supposed to prevent people from touching the antiques and grabbed a set of keys out of the bike. “I wonder if it still runs.”
“They wouldn’t have gas near the city, even if it is historical.” I snatched the keys from him and climbed over the waist-high barrier.
“What are you doing?”
“Testing my theory.” I slid the keys into the ancient starting device and turned. Nothing happened.
“That’s not how you start a Norm motorcycle.”
“Well, come over here and show me how you start a Norm motorcycle, oh Norm expert.”
He jumped over the barrier and moved me aside by my hips. A chill shot up my back. He turned the key a notch, then used one foot to push down on a bar by his leg, then did something on the handle. There was a small purr of the motor, followed by silence. “Ha!” A smile lit up his face. “That was incredible.”
I laughed. “It didn’t start.”
“But it turned over.” He slid off the bike and gave it another appraising stare.
A smile looked good on Connor, and I couldn’t decide if it was because it was such a rare occurrence or because it lit up his whole face. I realized I was staring and forced myself to look away. “I’m surprised we haven’t been kicked out yet.”
“You’re kidding, right? This place is so understaffed it’s laughable. Plus, it’s sanctioned. They can’t even bring Para security systems here. They want to keep it pure.”
“But you’ve never tried to start the bike before?”
Instead of hopping back over the barrier like I expected him to, he walked deeper into the relics. Toward the back was an Amtrak train sitting on some rusty tracks. He gave me a smirk and climbed up through the open door.
“So, what is it that you need, Laila?” he asked from inside.
“I need you to restore Addie’s memories. If that’s even possible. I mean, you kind of owe it to her, since you almost ran her over and everything.”
His head reappeared in the doorway. “What?” But he didn’t wait for my answer, just disappeared again.
Was he honestly going to make me climb into that rusty old thing? Would it even hold the both of us without falling apart? With a grunt I reached for the vertical bar on the side and hoisted myself inside. He stood just inside the door, and I almost swung myself into him. I stopped short. It was dim—only the light from an old light post glowed outside the single open door.
“I need you . . .” I stopped because he was staring at me intensely, and I didn’t understand why. I looked down to make sure I wasn’t subconsciously gripping his shirt again, but both my hands were at my sides like well-behaved children. My heart wasn’t playing the well-behaved game, though, and decided to beat out of control. When I looked back up at him, I realized where I had stopped my sentence and quickly added, “To help me. To help Addie.”
He took a step back and then seemed lost for a moment, like he didn’t remember what he was doing. I bit back a smile. Did I actually have an effect on him?
He finally sat down on a bed that folded out from the wall. This must’ve been a sleeper car. “Is she hurt?”
“No. I Erased her memories and she wants them back. You can do that, can’t you? You can reopen blocked memory paths, regenerate stagnant memories.”
“No. I can’t.”
“I know you can, so are you saying you won’t?” I actually didn’t know he could, but confidence in a suspected truth had gotten many people to admit many things to me.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
“You’re kind of a jerk sometimes.”
“Sometimes? I was going for all the time. What more do I have to do?” He stood and walked deeper into the train. My heel caught on some sort of bolt on the ground, and I almost tripped. I got my phone out to light the way and followed him. When I caught up, I grabbed hold of his arm and used it as support while I took off my shoes. I tossed them onto a seat. “Don’t let me forget those on the way back.”
He glanced at me several times as we continued walking.
“You’re shorter than I thought.”
“I am not short.”
“I said shorter.”
“I always wear heels.” I sighed. He really wasn’t going to help Addie. “I guess it’s back to me advancing my ability.”
“What makes you think that you advancing your ability will result in restoring memories?”
His arm accidentally brushed mine, and my heart raced. Stupid, traitorous heart.
“The note. It’s a long story. It just will . . .” I stopped with a gasp. We had reached the front of the train, and the windows that surrounded us now looked out onto the river, across which shone the city lights. The tracks at one point must’ve gone across, but they were now a gnarled mess. The train rested on the last track, its progress halted by the water. We stood in the old, looking at the new. With Connor standing so close, the darkness surrounding us, and the lights streaking the water white in front of us, an energy began to build in the air. An energy that seemed to push against me.
“Have you ever tried to restore memories?” he asked.