I never got the chance to answer. A moment later, Hina burst through the cabin door, Zu in tow, and told us they were leaving.
“Okay, okay, slow down,” Liam said. Zu was darting around the cabin, collecting her things, as Hina’s mouth ran a mile a minute. I wasn’t sure whom I was supposed to be paying attention to—my friend or the girl she had, apparently, elected to speak for her. Every time Hina opened her mouth, Liam and I reverted back to the same state of shock.
I caught her on her way to the drawers, steering her to the futon and forcing her to sit. She must not have picked up on our shock, because her face was bright and glowing. I studied it, the way her smile seemed to crackle with her own brand of electricity, and felt something inside of me shrink in defeat.
“Us and three others,” Hina said, breathlessly. I wondered if she had run all the way over from class. “Two Blues and a Yellow. Kylie finally got permission to leave the camp.”
Liam twisted around to look at Zu when he said, “And go…for a hike?”
Zu made her Are you serious? face.
“Help me out here. Tell me what you want to say.”
Hina was finally silent, and for a moment, one crazy second really, I thought Zu was actually going to open her mouth and have out with it. Liam’s entire body tensed, as if he was expecting the same thing. But Zu only slipped her notebook back out of her pink duffel bag and wrote in her neat, looping handwriting. When she flipped it over, she was looking him right in the eye.
I want to go with them to California.
I know I should have been happy for her. I should have been celebrating the fact that she was finally able to come out and tell us exactly what she wanted. I just never imagined what she’d want would be a future without us.
“I thought Clancy turned down Kylie’s request to leave?” I asked Hina.
“He did, but she said she finally wore him down.”
“What’s in California?” Liam asked, leaning against a cabin wall.
“My parents have a house there,” Hina explained, “and they’re waiting for us. The West Coast government isn’t going to turn us back over to the camps.”
“What about Zu’s parents?” I asked. “They—”
To her credit, Hina knew what I was trying to ask without my having to ask it. “My father has not been on speaking terms with my uncle for some time.”
“Zu, that’s a long trip,” Liam began uncertainly. “What if something happens? Who else is going? That Talon kid?”
She nodded, and all of a sudden her eyes were on me. I tried to give her an encouraging smile, but I was worried I might burst into tears instead. We all waited as she scribbled out another hasty note and showed it to Liam again.
You don’t have to worry about me anymore. Isn’t that good?
“I like worrying about you.” Liam put a hand on her head. “When would you be leaving?”
Hina at least had the decency to look guilty. “We actually have to leave right now. Kylie is worried Clancy might change his mind. He wasn’t…all that happy.”
“That’s a little fast,” I choked out. “Have you really thought about this?”
Zu looked right at me when she nodded. The next note was for both of us. I want to be with my family. I just don’t want you to be mad at me.
“Mad?” Liam shook his head. “Never. Ever. You’re my girl, Zu. We just want you to be safe. It would kill me if anything happened to you.”
There was a knock at the door. Talon, an older Yellow with his hair woven into intricate dreadlocks, appeared first, followed by a wide-eyed Chubs. Liam stood.
“Good,” he said. “I was hoping to talk to you.”
Talon nodded. “I figured. Kylie and Lucy are here, too.” She stuck her head inside and waved. “Do you want to talk outside?”
Liam’s hand reached out and touched the small of my back. “Help her pack?”
“Are you nuts?” I heard Chubs say. “You barely know these people!”
“Excuse me,” Hina protested, her hands on her hips. “In case you’ve forgotten, she’s my cousin.”
I’ll miss you, too. Zu stopped piling her things into her pink suitcase and tore the sheet of paper out for Chubs to keep. He sat so suddenly that he almost missed the futon. For several moments, he couldn’t do anything other than stare at her. I knew the feeling.
“Did Kylie say why you guys had to leave tonight?” I asked, sitting beside Chubs.
Zu only shrugged.
“I mean…are you guys just going to walk to California?” Chubs said, his voice rising with each word. “Do you have some kind of plan?”
“Maybe you’ll find a new Betty,” I said, but the moment I uttered her name Zu stopped packing and shook her head. The next note took some time for her to write.
No, there’s only one Betty.
“And apparently she wasn’t enough for you,” Chubs said, with a shocking amount of hurt. “I guess everything is replaceable, even us.”
Zu took a deep breath, walking over to him with her pink bag at her side. He tried to look away, but she was standing right in front of him, wrapping her arms around his neck. All he could do was hug her back, his face hidden in the fabric of her jacket.
The camp’s bells began to ring, a frenzied sound that didn’t cease until it had driven everyone outside. I let Zu and Hina lead us, pushing a path through the gathered kids. This was the first time their black garb seemed remotely appropriate.
Kylie handed a piece of paper to Lee, and he nodded at whatever she was telling him. Lucy was next to them, as tiny and quiet as ever, but she reached up and patted Liam on the shoulder in what I guess was supposed to be a reassuring way. All happy pretenses were gone. The only way to describe the look on his face was stricken.
“—borrow that pen?” he asked Talon. The boy began to pat down his black cargo pants, searching the pockets until he came up with a blue-capped pen. With it in hand, Liam knelt down in front of Zu and tore off half the sheet of paper Kylie had given him.
I wished I could have seen what he had written there, but it wasn’t for my eyes. When he was finished, he folded the paper over several times and pressed it into her palm.
The bell fell silent. Everyone’s eyes shifted to the right, where Clancy appeared at the head of the path, Hayes towering beside him. His face, which I had grown used to seeing relaxed and proud, was pinched with what was either annoyance or anger.