“Here’s how it’ll play out, Tommy,” Newt said. “You’re with me the rest of today—we need to figure things. Tomorrow, the Slammer. Then you’re Minho’s, and I want you to stay away from the other shanks for a while. Got it?”
Thomas was more than happy to oblige. Being mostly alone sounded like a great idea. “Sounds beautiful. So Minho’s going to train me?”
“That’s right—you’re a Runner now. Minho’ll teach ya. The Maze, the Maps, everything. Lots to learn. I expect you to work your butt off.”
Thomas was shocked that the idea of entering the Maze again didn’t frighten him all that much. He resolved to do just as Newt said, hoping it would keep his mind off things. Deeper down, he hoped to get out of the Glade as much as possible. Avoiding other people was his new goal in life.
The boys sat in silence, finishing their lunches, until Newt finally got to what he really wanted to talk about. Crumpling his trash into a ball, he turned and looked straight at Thomas.
“Thomas,” he began, “I need you to accept something. We’ve heard it too many times now to deny it, and it’s time to discuss it.”
Thomas knew what was coming, but was startled. He dreaded the words.
“Gally said it. Alby said it. Ben said it,” Newt continued, “the girl, after we took her out of the Box—she said it.”
He paused, perhaps expecting Thomas to ask what he meant. But Thomas already knew. “They all said things were going to change.”
Newt looked away for a moment, then turned back. “That’s right. And Gally, Alby and Ben claim they saw you in their memories after the Changing—and from what I gather, you weren’t plantin’ flowers and helpin’ old ladies cross the street. According to Gally, there’s somethin’ rotten enough about ya that he wants to kill ya.”
“Newt, I don’t know—” Thomas started, but Newt didn’t let him finish.
“I know you don’t remember anything, Thomas! Quit sayin’ that—don’t ever say it again. None of us remember anything, and we’re bloody sick of you reminding us. The point is there’s something different about you, and it’s time we figured it out.”
Thomas was overwhelmed by a surge of anger. “Fine, so how do we do it? I want to know who I am just as much as anyone else. Obviously.”
“I need you to open your mind. Be honest if anything—anything at all—seems familiar.”
“Nothing—” Thomas started, but stopped. So much had happened since arriving, he’d almost forgotten how familiar the Glade had felt to him that first night, sleeping next to Chuck. How comfortable and at home he’d felt. A far cry from the terror he should’ve experienced.
“I can see your wheels spinnin’,” Newt said, quietly. “Talk.”
Thomas hesitated, scared of the consequences of what he was about to say. But he was tired of keeping secrets. “Well … I can’t put my finger on anything specific.” He spoke slowly, carefully. “But I did feel like I’d been here before when I first got here.” He looked at Newt, hoping to see some sort of recognition in his eyes. “Anyone else go through that?”
But Newt’s face was blank. He simply rolled his eyes. “Uh, no, Tommy. Most of us spent a week klunkin’ our pants and bawlin’ our eyes out.”
“Yeah, well.” Thomas paused, upset and suddenly embarrassed. What did it all mean? Was he different from everyone else somehow? Was something wrong with him? “It all seemed familiar to me, and I knew I wanted to be a Runner.”
“That’s bloody interesting.” Newt examined him for a second, not hiding his obvious suspicion. “Well, keep lookin’ for it. Strain your mind, spend your free time wanderin’ your thoughts, and think about this place. Delve inside that brain of yours, and seek it out. Try, for all our sakes.”
“I will.” Thomas closed his eyes, started searching the darkness of his mind.
“Not now, you dumb shuck.” Newt laughed. “I just meant do it from now on. Free time, meals, goin’ to sleep at night, as you walk around, train, work. Tell me anything that seems even remotely familiar. Got it?”
“Yeah, got it.” Thomas couldn’t help worrying that he’d thrown up some red flags for Newt, and that the older boy was just hiding his concern.
“Good that,” Newt said, looking almost too agreeable. “To begin, we better go see someone.”
“Who?” Thomas asked, but knew the answer as soon as he spoke. Dread filled him again.
“The girl. I want you to look at her till your eyes bleed, see if somethin’ gets triggered in that shuck brain of yours.” Newt gathered his lunch trash and stood up. “Then I want you to tell me every single word Alby said to you.”
Thomas sighed, then got to his feet. “Okay.” He didn’t know if he could bring himself to tell the complete truth about Alby’s accusations, not to mention how he felt about the girl. It looked like he wasn’t done keeping secrets after all.
The boys walked back toward the Homestead, where the girl still lay in a coma. Thomas couldn’t stifle his worry about what Newt was thinking. He’d opened himself up, and he really liked Newt. If Newt turned on him now, Thomas didn’t know if he could handle it.
“If all else fails,” Newt said, interrupting Thomas’s thoughts, “we’ll send ya to the Grievers—get ya stung so you can go through the Changing. We need your memories.”
Thomas barked a sarcastic laugh at the idea, but Newt wasn’t smiling.
The girl seemed to be sleeping peacefully, like she’d wake up at any minute. Thomas had almost expected the skeletal remnant of a person—someone on the verge of death. But her chest rose and fell with even breaths; her skin was full of color.
One of the Med-jacks was there, the shorter one—Thomas couldn’t remember his name—dropping water into the comatose girl’s mouth a few drips at a time. A plate and bowl on the bedside table had the remains of her lunch—mashed potatoes and soup. They were doing everything possible to keep her alive and healthy.
“Hey, Clint,” Newt said, sounding comfortable, like he’d stopped by to visit many times before. “She surviving?”
“Yeah,” Clint answered. “She’s doing fine, though she talks in her sleep all the time. We think she’ll come out of it soon.”
Thomas felt his hackles rise. For some reason, he’d never really considered the possibility that the girl might wake up and be okay. That she might talk to people. He had no idea why that suddenly made him so nervous.
“Have you been writin’ down every word she says?” Newt asked.
Clint nodded. “Most of it’s impossible to understand. But yeah, when we can.”
Newt pointed at a notepad on the nightstand. “Give me an example.”
“Well, the same thing she said when we pulled her out of the Box, about things changing. Other stuff about the Creators and how ‘it all has to end.’ And, uh …” Clint looked at Thomas as if he didn’t want to continue in his company.
“It’s okay—he can hear whatever I hear,” Newt assured him.
“Well … I can’t make it all out, but …” Clint looked at Thomas again. “She keeps saying his name over and over.”
Thomas almost fell down at this. Would the references to him never end? How did he know this girl? It was like a maddening itch inside his skull that wouldn’t go away.
“Thanks, Clint,” Newt said in what sounded to Thomas like an obvious dismissal. “Get us a report of all that, okay?”
“Will do.” The Med-jack nodded at both of them and left the room.
“Pull up a chair,” Newt said as he sat on the edge of the bed. Thomas, relieved that Newt still hadn’t erupted into accusations, grabbed the one from the desk and placed it right next to where the girl’s head lay; he sat down, leaning forward to look at her face.
“Anything ring a bell?” Newt asked. “Anything at all?”
Thomas didn’t respond, kept looking, willing his mind to break down the memory barrier and seek out this girl from his past. He thought back to those brief moments when she’d opened her eyes right after being pulled out of the Box.
They’d been blue, richer in color than the eyes of any other person he could remember seeing before. He tried to picture those eyes on her now as he looked at her slumbering face, melding the two images in his mind. Her black hair, her perfect white skin, her full lips…. As he stared at her, he realized once more how truly beautiful she was.
Stronger recognition briefly tickled the back of his mind—a flutter of wings in a dark corner, unseen but there all the same. It lasted only an instant before vanishing into the abyss of his other captured memories. But he had felt something.
“I do know her,” he whispered, leaning back in his chair. It felt good to finally admit it out loud.
Newt stood up. “What? Who is she?”
“No idea. But something clicked—I know her from somewhere.” Thomas rubbed his eyes, frustrated that he couldn’t solidify the link.
“Well, keep bloody thinking—don’t lose it. Concentrate.”
“I’m trying, so shut up.” Thomas closed his eyes, searched the darkness of his thoughts, seeking her face in that emptiness. Who was she? The irony of the question struck him—he didn’t even know who he was.
He leaned forward in his chair and took a deep breath, then looked at Newt, shaking his head in surrender. “I just don’t—”
Thomas jolted up from the chair, knocked it backward, spun in a circle, searching. He had heard …
“What’s wrong?” Newt asked. “Did ya remember somethin’?”
Thomas ignored him, looked around the room in confusion, knowing he’d heard a voice, then back at the girl.
“I …” He sat back down, leaned forward, staring at the girl’s face. “Newt, did you just say something before I stood up?”
Of course not. “Oh. I just thought I heard something … I don’t know. Maybe it was in my head. Did … she say anything?”
“Her?” Newt asked, his eyes lit up. “No. Why? What did you hear?”
Thomas was scared to admit it. “I … I swear I heard a name. Teresa.”
“Teresa? No, I didn’t hear that. Must’ve sprung loose from your bloody memory blocks! That’s her name, Tommy. Teresa. Has to be.”
Thomas felt … odd—an uncomfortable feeling, like something supernatural had just occurred. “It was … I swear I heard it. But in my mind, man. I can’t explain it.”
This time he jumped from the chair and scrambled as far from the bed as possible, knocking over the lamp on the table; it landed with the crash of broken glass. A voice. A girl’s voice. Whispery, sweet, confident. He’d heard it. He knew he’d heard it.