She dropped the zipper on her purse, seeming relieved, and turned to face me. “Yes. So what are you packing for your dad’s house? Six weeks is a long time.”
Laila: You’re anal. In case you didn’t know.
Addie stacked her clothes by color. On purpose. Her shirts, folded in neat squares, sat in separate piles on her bed. One with shades of red, another greens and blues, and finally neutrals. She gripped a pink-and-brown-striped shirt in her hands, and her eyes flashed back and forth between two piles. It wouldn’t surprise me if she imploded from the dilemma of a shirt that fit into two piles. I had an intense urge to grab the stacks and throw them in the air, letting her world of organization rain chaos on us.
“The fate of the universe lies in which pile that shirt belongs to, Addie. Don’t screw it up.”
She rolled her eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with being organized. I know it’s a foreign concept to you, but it will save time later.”
“Is that how your ability works? You just store up bits of time and use them when necessary?”
“Yeah, maybe you should try it.”
“No thanks. I’m in the business of Erasing time. Taking away minutes. Too bad I can’t give those minutes to you so you don’t feel the need to do all that.” I flicked my hand at her piles of clothes.
She finally decided her shirt belonged in the “shades of red” pile, then she added the stacks to her open suitcase. Her suitcase. Its presence alone made my stomach hurt. This would be the first time we’d been apart in a long time, and I’d been trying not to agonize over it. The suitcase was flipping off my efforts. Hurling it out the window seemed a bit dramatic, so I resisted.
“I still can’t believe you’re not coming with me. It’s not too late to change your mind,” Addie said.
My cell phone chimed. I hope you’re at home. Make sure the boys do laundry tonight. I’m working a double shift.
I laughed. “You’re leaving for six weeks. Too long.” My brothers would kill each other and burn down the house in half that time. “I’ll see you in a few weeks for the game.” I grabbed my purse off the desk and flung it over my shoulder.
The letter I’d been carrying around for the last seven weeks made it seem heavier. I wanted to take it out, throw it at her, and run. The problem was, I didn’t want to either. It was a letter Addie had written to herself after her Search. I saw the haunted look in her eyes when she came out of that Search before I Erased her memories. She looked miserable. I had no idea what was in the note, but I did not want to bring that look back, no matter how incredibly guilty I felt hanging on to it. Maybe when she got back from her dad’s she’d be in a better place.
“Don’t leave tomorrow without saying good-bye.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
I hugged her and left.
In my truck, I pulled out the envelope like I had done so many times over the last seven weeks, the tattered corners proving my obsession. Across the front, in Addie’s handwriting, it read, “Open November 14.” It was now November 21. Miraculously, it was still sealed. The specific date bothered me a little. I hoped there was nothing time-sensitive inside. But considering that date marked the morning after the showdown at Bobby’s house, I figured she was just waiting until after that event to make sure nothing changed. Both of our lives had hung in the balance that night, and it made sense that she wouldn’t want a single thing to disturb that balance—including this letter. I shoved it back in my purse and started the engine.
I walked in the front door and my brother Eli threw a wadded-up piece of paper at my head. “Grocery list. We’re out of food, and I’m starving.”
“Don’t throw things at me or I’ll beat you.” I picked up the paper, opened it, and scanned down the list. “Where’s Dad?”
I glanced at the clock on the wall. Nine. “Is Derek in bed already?”
“Did you make him shower? I think it’s been a couple days, and he stinks.”
“Yes. He showered. You’re welcome.”
I sat on him and pushed his floppy hair into his eyes. “Thanks, you’re the best brother ever.” He shoved at me with two hands, but I held on tight.
“Get off me.”
I smacked him on the back of the head and stood up.
“Oh! Think something. I’m practicing.” Eli was three months away from fourteen and still hadn’t Presented. Now every day he felt the need to stare at me while trying to read my mind.
“No.” I walked to the kitchen, and he jumped up and followed me.
“I hate it when people read my mind.” I opened the pantry, inventoried the bleakness, and closed it again.
“Come on. Just think something. I’m getting better.”
“Fine.” I thought idiot really hard, staring at him.
He scrunched his nose, his nearly black eyes squinting with intensity. He looked so much like my dad in that moment that the pit in my stomach that formed whenever my dad was around dropped into place. He gave a grunt of frustration, and then my brother’s face was back, young and sad. I used Thought Placement and pushed my word into his head.
“Idiot!” he screamed out in excitement.
“Yep, and you are. Wow, you’re getting good.” I pointed at him. “Now don’t read my mind anymore.” I left the bare kitchen. He was right, I did need to go to the store.
“You shouldn’t think things like that about your own flesh and blood,” he yelled after me. I laughed and continued into the room my brothers shared. Derek was asleep, blanket twisted around his legs. I untwisted it and spread it over him.
I grabbed the laundry hamper and the clothes that were strewn around it off the floor of the boys’ room and carried it to the washing machine.
My mom kept a cash card hidden inside an empty detergent box. My dad would never do laundry, so it was perfectly safe at all times. When I went on a last-minute shopping trip like this, it was the money I was supposed to use. I hoisted myself up onto the washing machine and reached to the highest shelf, pulling down the box. I grabbed the card and shoved it in my pocket. Jumping down, I ran full speed into a hard chest. My stomach dropped.
“What are you doing?” His gruff voice grated on my every nerve.
“Oh you know, solving life’s mysteries, discovering new math theories, or whatever else a person might do in the laundry room.” I opened the lid to the washing machine and shoved clothes in, willing my dad to leave. He didn’t. He stood there, studying my face.
My dad is a loser, I thought, over and over. Don’t think about anything else, I told myself. Loser, loser, loser. Sometimes I was glad for the suppression drugs he used on a daily basis that made his ability weaker than it would’ve been otherwise. But then again, if he wasn’t on them, he wouldn’t be the financial ruin of our family. I didn’t mind if he overheard that thought.
He growled and I smiled, pushing the start button on the washing machine. “Is something wrong?” I asked over the now pouring water. I hoped he couldn’t see the outline of the card in my pocket.
His eyes darted down to my jeans. I cursed under my breath.
“Hand it over.”
“It’s for food. Don’t be a jerk.”
He grabbed my wrist. “Give me the money, Laila.”
“Let. Go.” I tensed up, ready to knee him as hard as I could, but stopped when his eyes met mine. They looked so hollow and yet so desperate.
“Your mother will bring home some food tonight.” He reached into my pocket and snatched out the card.
He squeezed my wrist harder and I ripped it free, using my shoulder to shove past him. I wanted to love my dad, but instead pity and hatred battled for a spot. I was angry I had let pity win tonight.
Addie: Bored. Entertain me.
I knew what was going on. They were trying to intimidate me. Everything about the Tower was set up for psychological intimidation. From the outside it looked like a fortress. The darkest building in the Compound by far. And the tallest. It was the only passage to the Outside. Para cars were parked beneath, and only cars approved to be seen in the Norm world could exit out the other side.
The third floor of the Tower, where I sat with my mother, was no different in its imposing feel. The furniture was bulky and dark, unlike the sleek, clean furniture found in most places. And the lighting was dim. But knowing they were using intimidation tactics on me didn’t keep me from being intimidated. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans. We had been waiting for over an hour (driving home the point that their time was more important than ours).
“How much longer?” I asked my mom.
She looked up from her tablet to the closed door. “Soon, I’m sure. Why don’t you read?” She pointed to the closed book in my hand. I couldn’t concentrate enough to read.
I shrugged and eyed a flickering blue light near the ceiling. “Are they monitoring us?”
“Just security cameras. Why are you so nervous? You went to that football game a few weeks ago.”
“Yeah, but that was an overnight pass. We just had to read and sign a contract. This is an extended stay.”
“It’s not much different—just a backstory, a Norm refresher course, and a mental assessment, plus the secrecy contract.”
“Was that supposed to make me feel better?”
She patted my leg a few times. “You’ll be fine.” The lack of warmth in the assurance didn’t garner confidence. But I appreciated the fact that she didn’t Persuade me to feel better. Her words could be as powerful as she wanted them to be.
The door slid open with a whoosh, and a man who was an illustration in intimidation walked out. He was handsome—tall, black hair, gray eyes, and muscular. But he had a long scar that ran along his cheek, as if he had personally chased down a rule breaker and silenced him. I wondered why he’d never had it Healed. He probably realized its value in his job.
“We’re ready for you, Addison.” His gruff voice didn’t soften his appearance.
Save me, I mouthed to my mom as I left.
She just rolled her eyes. My dad would’ve pretended to throw me a life preserver.
Scar-Face led me to a large, nearly bare room. Only a table, two chairs, and a bookcase lined with electronics and digital notebooks greeted us.
“Have a seat. I’m Agent Farley with the Containment Committee.” He grabbed a tablet and powered it on, then scrolled through a few screens.
I slid into a chair. It felt cold on my bare arms. “Hi. I’m Addie.”
“Addison Coleman, please clearly state your claimed ability.” He angled the tablet slightly toward me, probably so it would pick up my voice.
Unlike most people, he seemed to know what that meant, or at least the tablet did, because it didn’t complain or ask for a description. After I said it, though, I wondered if that was still my ability. I always assumed I was Divergent, because my grandmother was, but maybe my ability to see the future had to do with Time Manipulation. My recent presentations, coupled with my established ability, seemed to fit better under that descriptor. It was perfectly normal for abilities to grow and expand until we reached adulthood, but for some reason I didn’t want to tell him about my expanded ability. What if it wasn’t normal?