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The darkest minds, p.35
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       The Darkest Minds, p.35

         Part #1 of Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken
 

  “He didn’t mean it,” I said, walking him over to a fallen log. He was still shaking, and looked unsteady on his feet.

  Liam didn’t sit so much as collapse down onto it, leaning forward to brace his elbows against his knees. “Doesn’t make it any less true.”

  We sat for a long time—long enough for the sun to disappear behind the trees, and then below the horizon. The silence and stillness between us became unbearable. I lifted my hand and guided it lightly down the length of knobby bones between his shoulder blades.

  Liam sat up slowly, turning to look at me. “Do you think he’s okay?” he whispered.

  “I think we should probably go check,” I said.

  I don’t know how we made it back to the cabin, only that when we arrived, Chubs was sitting on the porch, silent tears streaming down his face. I could see the apology written there, the wretched guilt, and was surprised to find my heart could break even that bit more.

  “It’s over,” he said as we sat on either side of him. “It’s all over.”

  We didn’t move for a long time.

  TWENTY-FIVE

  IT SHOULDN’T HAVE SURPRISED ME that Liam threw himself back into watch duty, but it took a generous amount of coaxing from the others for his mind to refocus on the camps. I sat by his side more than once as he and Olivia talked through possible ways of breaking through camp defenses, offering suggestions here and there as they discussed how to bring up their ideas with Clancy.

  The thing about enthusiasm—especially Liam’s particular brand—was that it was catching. There would be nights I would simply sit back, watching, as he became more and more animated with his hands as he spoke, as if trying to shape his ideas out of the air for the rest of us to see. His words were coated with such unyielding hopefulness that it visibly inflated everyone around him. By the end of the first week, interest in the project had spiked to such a level that we had to move the meetings out of our small cabin, to the fire pit. Now, when Liam went anywhere, it was always with a loyal pack of kids around him, trying to catch his ear.

  Chubs and I were less enthusiastic about getting back into the swing of things. He forgave me, maybe because a miserable person can only stand to be alone with their misery for so long. He never went back to work at the Garden, but that girl, the bossy one, never ratted him out, either.

  I went back to lessons with Clancy. Or at least tried to.

  “Where is your head at today?”

  Not invading his, that was for certain. Not even cracking it.

  “Show me what you’re thinking about,” he said, when I opened my mouth. “I don’t want to hear about it. I want to see it.”

  I glanced up from the pool of sunlight spilling from his window to the floor. Clancy leveled me with a look of annoyance that I had only seen him wear once, after realizing one of the remaining Yellows couldn’t zap one of the camp’s few washing machines back to life.

  Never at me, though.

  I closed my eyes and reached for his hand again; I brought to mind the memory of Zu’s backpack disappearing into the wild thicket of trees. Over the past few weeks, fewer and fewer of our conversations had involved words. When we wanted to get a point across, we shared it our own way—spoke in our own language.

  But not today. His mind might as well have been encased in concrete, and mine might as well have been made of jelly.

  “Sorry,” I mumbled. I couldn’t even muster the strength to feel disappointed. I could feel myself slipping into a strange funk, one in which every little noise or sight outside the window was enough to distract me. I just felt tired. Confused.

  “I do have other things I could be doing,” he continued, something simmering beneath his words. “I have rounds to make and people to talk to, but I’m trying to help you. I’m here with you.”

  At that, my stomach did a strange flop. I sat straight up against his headboard, ready to apologize again, when he rolled off his bed and moved across the room to his desk.

  “Clancy, I really am sorry.” By the time I came to stand in front of the desk, he was already typing away at his laptop. He let me stand there in silent, gut-twisting worry, for what felt like nearly an hour before he bothered to look up from whatever he was doing. He seemed tired of pretending now, too. Annoyance had taken a sharp turn into anger.

  “You know, I really thought that letting your Yellow go would help you focus, but I guess I was wrong.” Clancy shook his head. “I was wrong about a lot of things, apparently.”

  I bristled, but I’m not sure if it was because of the way he said your Yellow or the implication that I wasn’t capable of mastering the things he was trying to teach me.

  I needed to leave. If I stayed a second longer, I might say something that would ruin our friendship. I might tell him that Zu had a name, that of course I’d be worried about her out in the world without me there to protect her. He should have realized that I could have spent the last few weeks spending time with her, but instead I had agreed to work with him. Spend time with him. Comfort and support him.

  Maybe I had learned a lot, and maybe I had a better grip on my abilities, but staring at him, my fists clenched and shaking, I couldn’t justify it. What was the point of being holed up with someone who didn’t believe in me when I had people out there who did?

  I turned sharply on my heel and stalked toward the door. As I opened it, Clancy called, “That’s right, Ruby, run away again. See how far you get this time!”

  I didn’t look back and I didn’t stop, though some part of me recognized that this might be it—that I was walking out on the one chance I had to learn how to manage my abilities. Sometime in the last ten minutes, my head had disconnected itself from the stubborn muscle beating in my chest and, honestly, I wasn’t sure which was guiding me outside and away from him. But what I did know, with dead, absolute certainty, was that I didn’t want him to see the way my face crumpled, or for him to glimpse whispers of guilt and sadness circling around inside of my head.

  I couldn’t hide anything from him, but this was the first time I had ever wanted to.

  It took a few days for me to realize that Zu’s leaving wasn’t the only event that had shifted the rotation of the earth. Once Chubs had pointed out East River’s similarities to camp life, I couldn’t go back. Where I had seen kids in jeans and black T-shirts, I was now seeing uniforms. Where I had seen kids waiting in line for their food, I was now seeing the Mess Hall. When the lights turned out in the cabins at nine p.m. sharp, and I watched a few members of the security team stroll past our window, I was back in Cabin 27, staring up at the belly of Sam’s mattress.

  I began to wonder if the supposedly dead security cameras in the office and around the facilities were actually on.

  I did try to go see Clancy a few times to apologize, but he always sent me away with a stern I don’t have time for you today. I got the sense he was punishing me, but I wasn’t sure what I had said or done to warrant it. In any case, it quickly became clear that I needed him in my life more than he needed me. That, combined with my stinging pride, made me feel even worse.

  It was a Wednesday, only an hour before Liam and the others were meeting to discuss a new camp liberation strategy, before Clancy was finally ready to see me.

  “I’ll be back in a little while,” I told Liam, squeezing his hand at breakfast. “I’ll just be a few minutes late.”

  But when I walked into Clancy’s office and saw the state of it, I wondered if I should have come at all.

  “Hey, come in—just watch your step. Yeah, sorry about the mess.”

  Mess? Mess? His office looked like someone had detonated a bomb and unleashed a pack of wild wolves to pick over the salvageable remains. There were piles of paper everywhere, printouts, torn maps, boxes…and then there was Clancy himself, his hair falling into his face, wearing the same rumpled white shirt I had seen the day before.

  In the weeks I had known him, I had never seen Clancy as anything less than impeccable. It was actually a litt
le scary how put-together he was. I’m sure some of it had to do with the way he was raised. That even if his father hadn’t taught him himself, some crotchety old nanny had waxed poetic on the value of tucking your shirt in, polishing your shoes, and combing your hair. He looked like he was fraying at the edges.

  “Are you okay?” I asked, shutting the door behind me. “What’s going on?”

  “We’re trying to coordinate a hit for med supplies.” Clancy settled down into his chair but was back on his feet a moment later, when his laptop began to chime. “Hang on just a sec.”

  I toed one of the paper piles on the floor, trying to peek at what was written on it.

  “Those are reports of the usual nightly activity at a nearby truck stop,” Clancy said, as if reading my thoughts. His fingers flew over the keyboard. “And League intelligence about PSFs in that area. It seems that Leda Corporation is now employing the government to protect their shipments.”

  “Why the PSFs?” I asked.

  Clancy shrugged. “They’re the largest military force the government has now, and, thanks to dear old Dad, the most organized.”

  “I guess that makes sense.” I leaned back, but staring at the glowing symbol on the laptop lid reminded me of Chubs. “Can I ask you a favor?”

  “Only if you let me apologize first.”

  I sat down and studied my hands. “Can’t we just forget it ever happened?”

  “No, not this time,” he said. “Hey, will you look at me?”

  The expression on his face alone made my heart swell to twice its usual size. It was dangerous how handsome he was, but today his pained look was absolutely lethal.

  He does care, a little voice in my head whispered. He cares about you.

  “I’m sorry for losing my temper,” he said. “I didn’t mean the things I said about your friend Suzume, and I definitely didn’t mean to imply that you haven’t been trying.”

  “Then why did you say that?”

  Clancy rubbed a hand over his face. “Because I’m an idiot.”

  “That’s not an answer,” I told him, shaking my head. You really hurt me.

  “Ruby, isn’t it obvious?” he said. “I like you. I’ve only known you for, what, a month? And you’re probably the only real friend I’ve had since I turned ten and figured out what I was. I’m an idiot for getting so upset that you were focused on someone else when I wanted you to be focused on me.”

  I was almost too stunned to move.

  “I didn’t let Suzume and the others go because I thought it would help you focus. I let her go because I thought it would make you happy. I didn’t even stop to think that, yeah, of course you’d be worried about her, especially after how hard you worked to protect her.”

  He more than cares about you.

  I had to look away now. Play the situation off. My brain had turned to mush, and my heart wasn’t much better. “I guess I could forgive you.…”

  “But only if I do you that favor?” I could hear the smile in his voice. “Sure. What?”

  “Well…I know you don’t allow it, but I was hoping you’d make an exception in this case,” I said, finally looking back at him. “My friend…he needs to use your computer to try to contact his parents.”

  Clancy stopped smiling. “Your friend Liam?”

  “No, Chu—Charles Meriwether?”

  “The one who’s been skipping Garden duty?”

  Okay, apparently that girl had ratted him out.

  Clancy was silent as he shut the laptop and stood. “I’m really sorry, Ruby, but I thought I made it clear that no one else could leave.”

  “Oh no!” I said, forcing a laugh. “He just wants to check in with his parents to make sure they’re all right.”

  “No,” Clancy said, moving around so he was sitting on the edge of the desk in front of me. “He wants to make arrangements to leave and take you with him. Don’t try to cover for him, Ruby. It’s the same for everyone. I don’t doubt for a second that he’s desperate enough to tell his parents the location of this camp.”

  “He would never,” I said, getting riled up on Chubs’s behalf. “Really.”

  “You were there when we had intruders a few weeks ago. You saw how easy it could be for someone to slip past our defenses. What if they hadn’t triggered the alarm? We would have been in serious trouble.” Clancy’s face was dark, worried. “If Charles wants to contact his parents, tell him he needs to fill out a request with instructions on how to do it, just like everyone else. I have to base my decisions on what might threaten the camp’s security—no matter how much I want to help you help your friend.”

  It was no good. Chubs would rather not contact his parents at all than grant a stranger access to his only means of safely communicating with them.

  “Though,” Clancy said after a moment, sitting down next to me and kicking his legs up on the desk. “There is something that could persuade me.”

  I couldn’t look at him.

  “Fifteen minutes, Ruby. You teach me.”

  What could I possibly know that he didn’t?

  “Do you think you could walk me through how you erase someone’s memory? I know it’s not something you’re proud of, and I know it’s caused you a lot of pain in the past, but it seems like a useful trick, and I’d be interested to learn it.”

  “Well…I guess?” I said. Like I could deny him after all that he had done for me. But it wasn’t something I knew how to teach. I’d barely managed to figure it out for myself.

  “I think understanding how you do it will also help me figure out how to prevent you from accidentally doing it again. Sound good?”

  That sounded great, actually.

  “If you’d let me,” he continued, “I’d like to walk through your memories and see if I can find any clues. I just want to confirm a suspicion I have.”

  I don’t think he expected the request to give me pause, but it did. He had been in my head multiple times, seeing things I’d never spoken about to anyone. But I’d been able to keep him from seeing the things that really mattered, the dreams I wanted to protect.

  I kept thinking about what Liam had said before, when he told me about his sister. Those memories are mine.

  But if I wanted a future with my family—with Liam—then I had to relinquish my control. I had to let Clancy in if it meant I could avoid the same thing happening in the future.

  You can trust him, said the same voice at the back of my mind. He’s your friend. He would never overstep.

  “Okay,” I said. “But only those, and, afterward, Charles gets to use your computer.”

  “Deal.”

  Clancy knelt in front of me, hands cupping my jaw, fingers weaving through my hair. I tried not to squirm at his proximity and his assumption that I would be fine with it. We’d sat this close before, but somehow this felt different.

  “Wait,” I said, sitting back. “I told Liam and the others I’d meet with them about something. Can we maybe do this later? Or even tomorrow?”

  “It’ll only take a second,” Clancy promised, his voice soothing and low. “Just close your eyes and think about the morning you woke up on your tenth birthday.”

  Come on, that same voice said. Come on, Ruby.…

  I swallowed hard and did as he asked, imagining myself back in my old room, with its blue walls and enormous window. Bit by bit, the room reassembled itself. Blank walls bloomed with cross-stitch samplers Grams had sewn, pictures of my parents, and a map of D.C.’s metro system. I could see all six of the stuffed animals I slept with, on the floor next to my bright blue comforter. Even things I had completely forgotten—the lamp on my small desk, the way the middle shelf of my bookcase sagged—suddenly came back into clear focus.

  “Good.” Clancy sounded far away, but I felt him near, closer and closer. His breath was warm across my cheek, an unexpected touch. “Keep…” He sounded breathless. “Keep thinking.…”

  I saw his face through a glossy haze, his dark eyes burning the shimmering air. I saw
only him, because for those few passing moments, he was the only thing that seemed to exist in my world. Every part of me felt slow and warm, like honey. Clancy blinked once, then again, as if to clear his own cloudy gaze, to remember what he was supposed to be doing. “Just keep…”

  And then his lips—his lips were so close, smiling against mine. Fingers wove their way through my long hair, thumbs gliding along my cheeks. “You—” he began, his voice hoarse. “You are—”

  At the slightest pressure, something hot and dark sparked there, sending a wave of desire straight into my core. His hands slid down over my neck, my shoulders, down my arms, down…

  And then there was nothing gentle about it.

  His lips pressed against mine hard, with enough force to drive them apart, to steal breath, and sense, and the feel of the bed under me. The skin of his face was smooth and cool against mine, but I was warm—too warm. The fever that swept up over me made my body go limp, and I was pressed back against the bed, sinking into the pillows there like I was falling through clouds. The blood had left my head, and all that was left there was a low, throbbing pulse. My hands came up to tangle in his shirt—I needed to grasp something, to hang on before I fell too far.

  “Yes,” I heard him breathe out, and then his mouth was on mine again, his hands at the hem of my top, edging it up over my stomach.

  You want this, a voice whispered. You want this.

  But it wasn’t my voice. I wasn’t saying that—was I? In that instant, a flash of his black eyes gave way to a light blue. That was I wanted, what I really wanted. My mind felt slow, drugged with the strain of thought. Liam. But here was Clancy. Clancy, who helped me, my friend, beautiful in a way that made me lose trains of thought. Clancy, who more than liked me.…

  Who was also an Orange.

 
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