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The darkest minds, p.30
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       The Darkest Minds, p.30

         Part #1 of Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken
 

  “No spinning,” he agreed.

  When we began to move, it wasn’t really dancing—just some glorified swaying. Back and forth, nice and easy. For once, my brain was perfectly content to keep its hands to itself. My muscles moved slow, like honey. We were completely out of sync with the song, and then we weren’t even moving at all. My cheek rested on his shoulder. The hand on the small of my back slipped under my shirt and curled against the skin there.

  When the bells rang again, this time signaling lights-out across the camp, there was an audible groan, loud enough to get Liam chuckling. I didn’t realize how tired I was until we separated.

  “Bed time,” he called, waving Zu over. She stood, brushing herself off, signaling something to the group of kids she was leaving.

  The fire popped and hissed, buckling under a steady stream of water from a nearby hose. The sound it made was like an animal having the life squeezed out of it. And when the light was finally gone, settling down into a pile of unimpressive embers spread out among the ash, there was nothing but a screen of smoke to separate me from where Clancy Gray sat on the other side of the pit, watching me with dark eyes.

  TWENTY-TWO

  THAT WAS SOMETHING Clancy Gray liked to do, apparently—watch me.

  Watch me while I sat out on the porch helping Zu lace her new tennis shoes before walking with her and Hina to the cabin serving as the classroom.

  Watch me tease Chubs for being the first and only one to get bitten by a tick.

  Watch me wait by the fire pit with Lee for Mike to arrive with what our duties would be during our time at East River.

  All this watching from the window on the second story of the office, where he appeared to control everything and do nothing.

  Mike had mentioned that everyone older than thirteen would be responsible for doing some work; I just hadn’t realized that the assignments were chosen for you. I didn’t mind helping out in the pantry, organizing and counting our supplies—but I would have so preferred being out with Chubs in the camp’s small garden, or running around the forest with Liam on security detail. It was strange not to spend my entire day with them.

  The kids I worked with were nice enough; more than nice, actually. Most had never seen the inside of a camp but then again, I had never cooked a meal, so it wasn’t like any of us were winning in the life experience department. What I liked most was their brand of pluck. Lizzie, for instance, had been hiding out at East River for close to two years, having narrowly escaped capture by PSFs who had pulled her parents’ car over in Maryland.

  “You just got out and ran?” I asked.

  “Like the wind,” she confirmed. “Didn’t have anything on me at all, ’cept what I was wearing. I tried to meet up with my parents again, but they never went back to our old house. I got picked up by a tribe of Greens and brought here.”

  That was another thing: most of the kids here were either Green or Blue, with a small tight-knit group of Yellows that didn’t really socialize outside of their own circle. Lizzie claimed that there used to be more, but the Slip Kid had given them permission to head out and form a tribe of their own.

  “He gave them permission?” I repeated, marking down how many boxes of cereal we had left.

  “Yeah, and there are other requirements, too.” That, from Dylan, a small-boned kid who had only recently finished his Cubbies lessons. He claimed the nickname came from the wood shelving units Clancy had built to store all of their books and schoolwork.

  “You have to have at least a group of five,” he continued. “And then Clancy has to determine whether or not it’s safe, and you have to swear on your life not to reveal anything about the camp, unless it’s to another kid in need, and then you can only reveal the clue. It’s to keep everyone safe. It would kill him if something happened to a kid because of him.”

  I felt myself soften a little then. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t trust Clancy’s motivations; he just unnerved me. When someone takes such an interest in you, you have to wonder what it is exactly they’re searching for in your face.

  “What are you doing?”

  All three of us looked over to the door, where Clancy stood stiff and still, staring at me. The wind from the open door behind him tugged at his dark hair, causing it to stand on end. Something inside of me coiled at his expression, but it wasn’t fear.

  “We’re sorting,” Lizzie said, confused. “Is something wrong?”

  Clancy snapped out of whatever daze he had been stuck in. “Yeah, sorry, it’s just—Ruby, would you mind coming with me for a second? I think there was some confusion on your assignment.”

  I passed my clipboard back to Lizzie, wondering why her eyes narrowed at me.

  “I was assigned to Storage,” I said, when we were standing outside on the porch.

  “I didn’t assign you anything,” he said. “I specifically told Mike that.”

  I’d like to think that I wasn’t the type of person to be easily intimidated by other kids—even the ones that were taller, stronger, or better armed than I was. So I’m not sure why it hit me then that I was talking to Clancy Gray. The son of the most powerful man in the country. A blue-blooded American prince, who wore his black polo shirt with the collar popped under a matching cable-knit sweater. He was even wearing a leather belt.

  I crossed my arms over my chest. “I’m more than capable of pulling my weight.”

  Out in the sunlight, he was far less intimidating than he had been in the shade. And shorter. It was possible his reputation had added a few imaginary inches, but he was only a bit taller than I was, which meant both Liam and Chubs stood a nearly a full head over him. Not that it did anything to knock his title of The Most Attractive Person I Had Ever Seen.

  Clancy was lean but not slight, well-kept but not groomed, composed but not comfortable. I thought, as the wind blew against us, that he might have been wearing some spicy cologne, but that seemed ridiculous.

  I was glad we were out on the porch, where everyone by the fire pit could see us. I didn’t think he was going to hurt me, or anything like that—why would he? I felt my hands clasp together in front of me, then move to my side, then rise up to cup my elbows, like they couldn’t figure out what they wanted to be doing.

  I hadn’t forgotten my whole purpose in coming here, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask for his help. He clearly had a good grasp on his own abilities if he was voluntarily diving into people’s minds—the question should have come as naturally as breathing.

  If he had these kids following his every whim and order, it had to be because he was a good guy, right? People didn’t help other people just for their health. Clancy had the kind of confidence that made him the sun at the center of East River’s galaxy. Everything and everyone orbited around his light.

  So why couldn’t I bring myself to ask? Why were my hands still shaking?

  “I know you probably won’t ever come around to liking me after our introduction,” he said, “but I am sorry. It didn’t occur to me that you were keeping that information secret.”

  “It’s fine,” I said. “But what does that have to do with my work assignment?”

  For a few moments, he didn’t say anything at all. He just…stared.

  “Will you stop?” I muttered, feeling both flustered and annoyed at once. “If I say you’re forgiven, will you stop doing that?”

  His mouth turned up in a handsome grin. “No.”

  Clancy, who apparently had never been taught about respecting someone’s personal space, took a step forward, and I took a step back, off the porch, my feet sinking into the sticky mud. Instead of backing off, he seemed to take it as a challenge, and came toward me again. For whatever reason, mostly the flutter of nerves in my gut, I let him.

  “Listen,” he said, finally. “The reason I told Mike not to assign you anything is because I’m hoping that you’ll come work with me.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “Come on, you heard me.” His hand closed over my arm, and it was
like a bee had been set loose inside of my skull. My brain seemed to lurch full speed back into life, flooding with milky-white images of the two of us sitting in front his desk, staring at each other as a fire devoured everything around us.

  The images he was flooding into my mind.

  I don’t know how he did it, but it was so real. The image was burning me up from the inside out, blistering my lungs. Pockets of acrid smoke bubbled up under my skin, until it felt like I was about to burst open. My vision burned to black at the edges. Fire bloomed on my clothes, singeing my hair.

  This is not real, this is not real, this is NOT REAL—

  Clancy must have let go, or I must have found a way to twist away, because just as quickly as the fire came, it went back out, dispersing in three shaky exhales.

  “You can’t block me,” he said, his eyes wide. “Do you even know how to use your abilities? The file the League had on you made it sound like you could control it.”

  Wasn’t it obvious? I shook my head. That’s why I’m here, I wanted to say. That’s why I need you.

  His gaze flicked down over me, from head to toe and back up again. When he spoke, his voice was soft. Sympathetic. “Look, I know how it is. You don’t think I struggled with this, too? How lonely it is to not be able to touch someone the way you want to, how terrifying it is to be trapped in somebody else’s head without knowing the way out? Ruby, everything I’ve learned I had to teach myself, and it was awful. I want to save you from that. I can teach you things, tricks—how to use your talents the way they’re meant to be used.”

  I hoped he couldn’t see the way my hands were shaking. Oh my God, he had offered—I hadn’t even had to ask—and I still couldn’t say a damn thing.

  Clancy’s posture relaxed, and when he touched me again, flicking my braid back over my shoulder, there was no ill will behind it. “Think about it, okay? If you decide you want to, just come to the office. I’ll clear my schedule for you.”

  I pressed my lips together, biting down hard on my tongue.

  “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to know how to use your abilities,” Clancy added. “That’s the only way we’re ever going to beat them.”

  Beat who?

  “There are so few of us left,” he said. “Until you showed up in the system, I actually thought I was the only one.”

  “Well, there’s at least one more. His name is Martin—”

  “And he’s with the Children’s League,” he finished. “I know. I accessed their report on him. Creepy kid. When I said us I meant the non-psychotic Oranges.”

  I snorted.

  “I’ll think about it,” I said, finally. I was pinned under his dark gaze again; the hair on my arms standing on end, like a whisper of electricity had run over it. I took an unknowing step closer to him.

  “Listen to your gut,” Clancy said, turning to head back inside the Office. A cluster of kids called out to him from where they were setting up lunch near the fire pit and, ever the president’s son, he smiled and waved at them real pretty.

  Listen to your gut.

  So why was it at odds with my head?

  I made a beeline for the wood dock I had discovered the afternoon before, needing to find some way to wash out the jitters racing through my heart. My mind felt tangled with the possibilities.

  Clancy Gray had just offered me everything I could have asked for. A way to avoid repeating what had happened to my parents and Sam. A way to be with Liam, to find Grams, to not live in constant fear of what I could do to them. So why hadn’t my yes come tumbling out, then?

  I ducked under the rope tying off the path to the lake and made it all the way down the trail before I realized anything was amiss.

  “Crap,” I said when I saw him.

  “Oh no—no, no, no,” Chubs said. The goofy grin dropped off his face and he stopped throwing bread crusts out to the ducks gathered in the water. “This is my secret hideout. No Rubys allowed.”

  “I found it first!” I huffed, plopping down next to him.

  “You most certainly did not.”

  “Try a week ago, while you were unpacking.”

  He balked at that. “Well…fine. But I got here first today.”

  “Aren’t you supposed to be on Garden duty?”

  “Got tired of hearing some girl coo about how smart the Slip Kid is for making them plant carrots.” He leaned back. “Aren’t you on Storage duty?”

  I looked down at where my hands had clenched into fists. When I didn’t answer, Chubs set the bread bag aside and sat up straight.

  “Hey, are you all right?” He put a cool hand to my forehead. “You look like you’re going to be sick. Are you experiencing any migraines or dizziness?”

  That was an understatement. I croaked out a laugh.

  “Oh.” He pulled his hand away. “That kind of head trouble.”

  I lay back against the rough wood and threw my arm over my eyes, hoping the darkness might help dampen the headache. “You said Jack taught you how to use your abilities?”

  “Pretty much,” he said. “That was the only way I was ever going to learn—if some other kid taught me, I mean. It just took a while to decide.”

  “Why?”

  “Because I thought that if I didn’t use them, they’d eventually go away,” Chubs said, quietly. “I thought everything might go back to normal. There’s scientific evidence that if we stop using parts of our brains, those sections will eventually cease to function, you know.” After a moment, he asked, “Did Clancy offer to help you with your abilities?”

  I nodded. “I told him I’d think about it.”

  “What’s there to think about?” Chubs smacked me on the stomach with his book. “Didn’t you say that you didn’t know how to control it?”

  “Well, yeah, but—” I’m afraid of how much I don’t know.

  “You need to be able to control it, otherwise it’ll always control you,” he said. “It’ll scare you and manipulate you until you go crazy, die, or they find the cure. And guess which one of those things will probably happen first.”

  The lunch bell sounded—two rings, for second meal. Chubs stood and stretched, throwing the rest of the bread out into the water.

  “You really think they’re going to find a cure?” I asked.

  “My dad used to say that anything was possible when you put your mind to it.” His mouth twisted into a humorless smile. At the mention of his father, my stomach clenched.

  “You still haven’t had a chance to send them a message.”

  “I’ve asked around, but there’s only one computer in this entire godforsaken place, and only one person gets to use it.”

  That’s right. The silver laptop on Clancy’s desk.

  “Did you ask him if you could use it for a few minutes?”

  “Yeah,” Chubs said, as the fire pit came into view. It looked like they were handing out sandwiches and apples. “He said no. Apparently it’s a ‘security risk’ if someone other than him touches it.”

  I shook my head. “I’ll ask tomorrow. Maybe I can convince him.”

  “Could you?” Chubs grabbed my arm, his face lightening considerably. “Will you tell him that we have a very important letter to deliver, but we need to be able to look up Jack’s father’s new address? Tell him we’ll do anything—no, tell him that I will personally lick every single pair of shoes he owns clean.”

  “How about I just tell him that it’s the whole reason we came here in the first place,” I said, “and leave your tongue out of it?”

  Chubs waited until I had taken my sandwich from the table before pulling me away. I thought he might want to eat back at the cabin or even the dock, but we wandered until we found Liam.

  He and a few of the other guys on the security team were on a break from their rounds and had found themselves a nice clearing in the trees. It was just wide enough to square off into two small teams for a quick game of hover ball, otherwise known as football with no hands. Chubs and I found an old tree trunk to
share, ignoring the small group of female spectators who had gathered to cheer the teams on.

  A tall redhead with an explosion of freckles on his face levitated the old football at the start of a play. He ran alongside it, trying to keep both it and himself out of the reach of the others. Liam, at one point, had the football an inch in front of him, but his hands were too slow and his footwork too bad to catch it when it was tossed to him.

  “Keep your eye on the ball, butterfingers!” I called. Liam’s head whipped around in our direction. Just as his gaze locked on mine, Mike, who had the football at that point, mowed him over to get to the makeshift end zone.

  Chubs and I cringed as Liam hit the ground and knocked his head against one of the old trees’ roots.

  “Wow,” I said. “He wasn’t kidding about sucking at sports.”

  “It’d be funny if it weren’t so damn sad.”

  The other boys were too busy laughing to keep the ball in the air. Liam stayed on the ground, his face flushed red, but his entire body shaking with laughter. He lifted his shirt to wipe the sweat off his face, giving me, along with every other girl present, a glimpse of skin.

  This time, I was the one blushing.

  One of the guys I didn’t recognize jogged over to Liam and helped him up, patting him on the shoulder. They laughed together like they had known each other since preschool.

  But that was Liam for you—he joked about Zu making friends at the drop of a hat, but he was the same way. But Chubs and I were perfectly content to sit by ourselves, watching, waiting, but not dipping our toes into the ocean. Maybe we had just gotten too used to being alone—and maybe that needed to change.

  The next morning, at exactly 9:21, I found myself standing outside of Clancy Gray’s office, my hand raised and ready to knock. The only thing preventing me, besides the nerves hula-hooping my guts, was the conversation happening on the other side of the door.

  “—sure we have the kind of numbers to do that. If I sent the amount of kids we’d need, there wouldn’t be enough left here to maintain watch.” It was a girl’s voice, soft but not sweet. Olivia, most likely, if they were talking about security.

 
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