“I’m so sorry,” I said, feeling tears prick at the back of my eyes. “For everything.”
“Me too,” he said after a minute, and I didn’t need to look back to know that he was crying, too.
The laptop was stored in the top drawer of his desk, the note taped to the top of it glaringly yellow.
I lied before. I would have run.
“Chubs!” I called, waving him over. The power-on chime was oddly sweet. Little bells.
“He just left it here?” Chubs asked, tapping his fingers against the desk. “Is the wireless card still there?”
It was, but Clancy had taken care to wipe everything else from the computer. Only the icon for the Internet was left, sitting in the middle of the screen.
“Why does the clock in the corner say fifteen?” Chubs asked, sitting down in the chair. I leaned over to see what he was pointing at. The battery life. We only had fifteen minutes.
“That ass**le,” I fumed.
Chubs shook his head. “It’s better than nothing. As long as the connection holds, we can use it to try to figure out a way out of here. We can even look up Jack’s father’s new address.”
“And post your message to your parents,” I said, feeling a frail wave of happiness cut through me.
“It’s okay. I’d rather use these…fourteen minutes to find Jack’s dad,” he said. “I might even be able to put a call through to him if the computer has a microphone.”
He didn’t dare try to call his own parents.
“Seriously,” I began. “It’ll take you two seconds to post the message. Do you remember it?”
“Enough to make it work,” he said.
I moved around the room listlessly, listening to him type, taking in the room’s stale smell. My feet drew me over to the side of Clancy’s bed, where I finally stopped, my anger at him overwhelming even the anxiety I felt.
The window was coated in soot and protested bitterly when I tried to throw it open. The flood of fresh air that rushed in made it worth the fight; I leaned forward, bracing my arms against the sill. The camp was spread out before me in piles of ash and scorched earth, but it was all too easy to imagine where the clusters of kids had once stood, waiting to get their food by the fire pit. When I closed my eyes, I could hear the laughter and radio drifting up to me, taste the spice of chili and wood smoke on the air. I saw Liam below, the firelight turning his hair pure gold as he bent his head in quiet conversation with the others.
And when my eyes opened, I was no longer just imagining him.
I tore out of the room, ignoring the way Chubs’s voice followed me. I stumbled down the stairs, trying to take too many at once, flew through the entryway and out the door that was barely hanging from its frame.
He was down the trail, back toward the cabins, struggling to get around the maze of fallen trees and buildings. His battered face was twisted with grief and fear, and he could barely limp through the wreckage.
“Lee!” The word exploded out of me. He dropped the charred wood from his hands and struggled over the tree, blindly fighting his way through its leaves and branches. Seeing me. Believing and not believing it all at once. “Oh my God!” I threw my arms around his neck and nearly took us both down.
“Thank you,” he was whispering, “thank you, thank you.…” And then he was kissing my face, every inch of it he could find, wiping away the tears and soot, chanting my name.
Liam wasn’t the only one who escaped, but he was the only one who came back.
He had relived the night for us as we sat in Clancy’s office, eating what food was left in the supply room. Chubs had the laptop at his side, checking every few minutes for a message from his parents, or rechecking the address he had found for Jack’s dad.
When the fighting had broken out, it was enough of a surprise that most of the Watch kids couldn’t get to the cabins from the outer gates in time to make a real difference. The ones who were off duty came to our cabin and forced him—“Carried me, is more like it,” Liam said, bitterly—away, running for one of the hidden side trails that had been marked for this exact purpose. They moved until morning, not stopping until they reached that same stretch of highway that they had picked us up on.
“There were maybe twenty of us at most,” he said, gripping my hand. “All in bad shape. Liv and Mike found a working car and piled the ones that were scary bad into the back, to go find a hospital, but…”
“What about the rest of them?” I asked.
“They split.” Liam rubbed at his eyes and winced. The skin there was still tender, blooming to black.
“And why didn’t you?” Chubs demanded. “What the hell is the matter with you that you’d come back here, knowing that there could still be PSFs?”
Liam only snorted. “You think that mattered to me for a second when there was a chance the two of you were still here, too?”
We didn’t have time to waste; we all knew the PSFs well enough to know that there was a chance they would double back and check for survivors. The two of them went to work immediately in the supply closet, trying to figure out how much food we could carry with us. I tried to be useful, too, but I could feel my attention drifting upstairs, to Clancy’s desk.
I finally gave into my restlessness and left the two of them locked in an argument over canned food. I made my way back upstairs, patting the inside pocket of Liam’s jacket to make sure Jack’s and Chubs’s still-damp letters were there.
There were two minutes left of the laptop’s battery. The power icon was flashing, warning that reserves were low. The screen dimmed and the lights in the keyboard switched off. I typed as fast as I could, searching the online White Pages for Ruby Ann Daly, Virginia Beach.
I tried again, just with her name but no location. A listing did pop up, but it was for Salem. I hadn’t lived there in close to a decade, but I recognized my parents’ address when I saw it.
A minute and fifteen seconds. I looked in the Web-site history for the site Chubs had talked about, the one that let you make calls, and typed in the phone number. I lost two seconds with each ring.
I don’t think I wanted to talk to her so much as to hear her speak. Going to her wasn’t an option for me anymore. There were more important things to take care of. But I needed to know that she was still out there—that there was one more person in the world who remembered me.