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The darkest minds, p.36
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       The Darkest Minds, p.36

         Part #1 of Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken
 
My eyes flew open as his hands slipped up to my neck, his fingers tightening slightly around the skin there. I tried to pull back, but it felt like he had flooded my veins with concrete. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even shut my eyes.

  Stop, I tried to say, but when his forehead found mine, the pain that exploded behind my eyes was enough to make me forget everything.

  TWENTY-SIX

  THE COMPUTER’S FRANTIC BEEPING woke me from a dreamless sleep, tugging at me until my eyes drifted open. I was lying in darkness.

  My body felt heavy, and though someone had pulled off my sweater, my shirt was plastered to my skin with a thin sheen of sweat. If I had been alone, I might have taken it off, or at least kicked my jeans off my legs to let my body breathe, but I knew better. I was still in his room, and if I was here, then so was he.

  The light on Clancy’s dresser was on, and I could hear the voices of kids below at the fire pit. Night, already? It was insane that my blood could run as frigid as winter at the same moment my heart started to squeeze out a panicked rhythm.

  The creaking of the old mattress was drowned out by the TV. For a while, I did nothing but listen to President’s Gray baritone voice give his nightly address. My legs seemed to be the last part of my body willing to wake up.

  “—assure you that the jobless rate has declined from thirty percent to twenty percent in this past year alone. I gave you my word that I would succeed where the false government would not. As much as they would like you to believe they have influence on the world stage, they can barely control their terrorist branch, this so-called Children’s League—”

  The TV set turned off with a hiss of static. Footsteps.

  “Are you awake?”

  “Yes,” I whispered. My throat felt sore, my tongue swollen.

  The bed dipped as Clancy sat down beside me. I tried not to wince.

  “What happened?” I asked. The sound of the voices below grew louder, getting trapped between my ears.

  “You passed out,” he said. “I didn’t realize…I shouldn’t have pushed so hard.”

  I raised myself up on my elbows in a vain attempt to pull away from his touch. My eyes were fixated on his lips, the white teeth gleaming behind them. Had I imagined it, or had he—?

  My stomach clenched. “Did you find anything out? Did it prove your theory?”

  Clancy sat back, his face unreadable. “No.” He stood again and began to pace between the window and the white curtain. I caught a glimpse of the other side of the room, and was unsurprised to find that it was awash in the blue light of the open laptop.

  “No, see, I’ve been going over this again and again in my head,” Clancy said. “I thought maybe you erased their memories intentionally because you were angry or upset, but you didn’t go all out and erase their entire memories, just…you. And again, with that girl Samantha. Samantha Dahl, age seventeen, from Bethesda, Maryland. Parents Ashley and Todd. Green, photographic memory…” His voice trailed off. “I’ve been thinking around and around and around in circles, trying to understand how you do this, but walking through your memories doesn’t tell me what’s going on inside of your head. No cause, only effect.”

  I wondered if he even realized he was rambling, or that I had managed to get myself off the bed, with my only thought to get the hell out of that room and away from him. The pain came back to me in pieces.

  What did he do to me? I brought a hand to my forehead. My head ached like all the other times he had been inside of it, but the pain was sharper. He hadn’t just looked in, he had made me want him—made me want to kiss him.

  Hadn’t he?

  “It’s late,” I said, interrupting him. “I need to…I need to go find the others.…”

  Clancy turned his back on me. “Find Liam Stewart, you mean.”

  “Yes, Lee,” I said, taking a few slow steps back toward the door. “I was supposed to meet him. He’s going to be worried.” The white curtain caught in my hair as I passed it.

  Clancy shook his head. “What do you even know about him, Ruby? You’ve known him for, what, a month? A month and a half? Why are you wasting your time with him? He’s a Blue, and not only that, but he—he had a record, even before camp. Even before he killed all of those kids. A hundred and forty-eight. Over half of their camp! So you can cut all of your bullshit and hero worship, because he doesn’t deserve it. You’re too valuable to be screwing around with him.”

  He whirled around just as my hand touched the door, and slammed it shut.

  “What is your problem?” I yelled. “So what if he’s a Blue? Aren’t you the one that keeps going on about how we’re all Black and how we should respect each other?”

  The smile that curled his lips was as arrogant as it was beautiful.

  “You need to accept the fact that you’re Orange and that you’re always going to be alone because of it.” A measure of calm had returned to Clancy’s voice. His nostrils flared when I tried to turn the door handle again. He slammed both hands against it to keep me from going anywhere, towering over me.

  “I saw what you want,” Clancy said. “And it’s not your parents. It’s not even your friends. What you want is to be with him, like you were in the cabin yesterday, or in that car in the woods. I don’t want to lose you, you said. Is he really that important?”

  Rage boiled up from my stomach, burning my throat. “How dare you? You said you wouldn’t—you said—”

  He let out a bark of laughter. “God, you’re naive. I guess this explains how that League woman was able to trick you into thinking you were something less than a monster.”

  “You said you would help me,” I whispered.

  He rolled his eyes. “All right, are you ready for the last lesson? Ruby Elizabeth Daly, you are alone and you always will be. If you weren’t so stupid, you would have figured it out by now, but since it’s beyond you, let me spell it out: You will never be able to control your abilities. You will never be able to avoid being pulled into someone’s head, because there’s some part of you that doesn’t want to know how to control them. No, not when it would mean having to embrace them. You’re too immature and weak-hearted to use them the way they’re meant to be used. You’re scared of what that would make you.”

  I looked away.

  “Ruby, don’t you get it? You hate what you are, but you were given these abilities for a reason. We both were. It’s our right to use them—we have to use them to stay ahead, to keep the others in their place.”

  His finger caught the stretched-out collar of my shirt and gave it a tug.

  “Stop it.” I was proud of how steady my voice was.

  As Clancy leaned in, he slipped a hazy image beneath my closed eyes—the two of us just before he walked into my memories. My stomach knotted as I watched my eyes open in terror, his lips pressed against mine.

  “I’m so glad we found each other,” he said, voice oddly calm. “You can help me. I thought I knew everything, but you…”

  My elbow flew up and clipped him under the chin. Clancy stumbled back with a howl of pain, pressing both hands to his face. I had half a second to get the hell out, and I took it, twisting the handle of the door so hard that the lock popped itself out.

  “Ruby! Wait, I didn’t mean—!”

  A face appeared at the bottom of the stairs. Lizzie. I saw her lips part in surprise, her many earrings jangling as I shoved past her.

  “Just an argument,” I heard Clancy say, weakly. “It’s fine, just let her go.”

  I burst outside, completely out of breath. My feet were drawn toward the fire pit, but I forced myself to stop and reconsider. There were so many people still out, gathered around the food tables. I wanted to find Liam and explain why I hadn’t been there, to tell him what had happened, but I knew I was a mess. I needed to calm down, and there was no way I could do it here. There were too many potential questions. I needed to be alone.

  So of course when I backed up a few steps, I managed to walk right into Mike.

  “Hey, there
you are!” His hair was pulled back into a ponytail, a black bandana tied around his head. I could smell gasoline on him, and something metallic. “Ruby? You okay?”

  I bolted, heading past the Office, down the path to the cabins. Eventually, I found what I thought was the path we had walked Zu out on, but it turned out to be nothing more than an old side trail, overgrown and unforgiving to bare skin. Fine. It would do. There was no one around. That was my only criterion.

  I walked until I lost the light from the fire pit, clawing at my T-shirt, trying to pull it away from my skin. It smelled like his room. Like evergreens and spice and old, decaying things. I pulled it over my head and threw it as hard and far as I could, and still—still—I couldn’t shake the smell. It was everywhere: my hands, my jeans, my bra. I should have run straight for the lake, or even the showers. I should have tried to soak his venom out.

  Calm down, I thought. Calm down! But I couldn’t pick apart exactly what was pulsing through me. Anger, for sure, that I had been lied to, that I had fallen for it. Disgust, for the way he had touched me and invaded even the pores of my skin. But something else, too. An ache inside of me that expanded and twisted, turning me to stone.

  Liam was standing right in front of me, and I had never felt so alone.

  “Ruby?” His hair was pale silver in this light, curled and tangled in its usual way. I couldn’t hide from him. I had never been able to.

  “Mike came and got me,” he said, taking a careful step toward me. His hands were out in front of him, as if trying to coax a wild animal into letting him approach. “What are you doing out here? What’s going on?”

  “Please just go,” I begged. “I need to be alone.”

  He kept coming straight at me.

  “Please,” I shouted, “go away!”

  “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s going on!” Liam said. He got a better look at me and swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “Where were you this morning? Did something happen? Chubs told me you’ve been gone all day, and now you’re out here like…this…did he do something to you?”

  I looked away. “Nothing I didn’t ask for.”

  Liam’s only response was to move back a few paces back. Giving me space.

  “I don’t believe you for a second,” he said, calmly. “Not one damn second. If you want to get rid of me, you’re going to have to try harder than that.”

  “I don’t want you here.”

  He shook his head. “Doesn’t mean I’m leaving you here alone. You can take all the time you want, as long as you need, but you and me? We’re having this out tonight. Right now.” Liam pulled his black sweater over his head and threw it toward me. “Put it on, or you’ll catch a cold.”

  I caught it with one hand and pressed it to my chest. It was still warm.

  He began to pace, his hands on his hips. “Is it me? Is it that you can’t talk to me about it? Do you want me to get Chubs?”

  I couldn’t bring myself to answer.

  “Ruby, you’re scaring the hell out of me.”

  “Good.” I balled up his sweater and threw it into the darkness as hard as I could.

  He blew out a shaky sigh, bracing a hand against the nearest tree. “Good? What’s good about it?”

  I hadn’t really understood what Clancy had been trying to tell me that night, not until right then, when Liam looked up and his eyes met mine. The trickle of blood in my ears turned into a roar. I squeezed my eyes shut, digging the heels of my palms against my forehead.

  “I can’t do this anymore,” I cried. “Why won’t you just leave me alone?”

  “Because you would never leave me.”

  His feet shuffled through the underbrush as he took a few steps closer. The air around me heated, taking on a charge I recognized. I gritted my teeth, furious with him for coming so close when he knew I couldn’t handle it. When he knew I could hurt him.

  His hands came up to pull mine away from my face, but I wasn’t about to let him be gentle. I shoved him back, throwing my full weight into it. Liam stumbled.

  “Ruby—”

  I pushed him again and again, harder each time, because it was the only way I could tell him what I was desperate to say. I saw bursts of his glossy memories. I saw all of his brilliant dreams. It wasn’t until I knocked his back into a tree that I realized I was crying. Up this close, I saw a new cut under his left eye and the bruise forming around it.

  Liam’s lips parted. His hands were no longer out in front of him, but hovering over my hips. “Ruby…”

  I closed what little distance was left between us, one hand sliding through his soft hair, the other gathering the back of his shirt into my fist. When my lips finally pressed against his, I felt something coil deep inside of me. There was nothing outside of him, not even the grating of cicadas, not even the gray-bodied trees. My heart thundered in my chest. More, more, more—a steady beat. His body relaxed under my hands, shuddering at my touch. Breathing him in wasn’t enough, I wanted to inhale him. The leather, the smoke, the sweetness. I felt his fingers counting up my bare ribs. Liam shifted his legs around mine to draw me closer.

  I was off-balance on my toes; the world swaying dangerously under me as his lips traveled to my cheek, to my jaw, to where my pulse throbbed in my neck. He seemed so sure of himself, like he had already plotted out this course.

  I didn’t feel it happen, the slip. Even if I had, I was so wrapped up in him that I couldn’t imagine pulling back or letting go of his warm skin or that moment. His touch was feather-light, stroking my skin with a kind of reverence, but the instant his lips found mine again, a single thought was enough to rocket me out of the honey-sweet haze.

  The memory of Clancy’s face as he had leaned in to do exactly what Liam was doing now suddenly flooded my mind, twisting its way through me until I couldn’t ignore it. Until I was seeing it play out glossy and burning like it was someone else’s memory and not mine.

  And then I realized—I wasn’t the only one seeing it. Liam was seeing it, too.

  How, how, how? That wasn’t possible, was it? Memories flowed to me, not from me.

  But I felt him grow still, then pull back. And I knew, I knew by the look on his face, that he had seen it.

  Air filled my chest. “Oh my God, I’m sorry, I didn’t want—he—”

  Liam caught one of my wrists and pulled me back to him, his hands cupping my cheeks. I wondered which one of us was breathing harder as he brushed my hair from my face. I tried to squirm away, ashamed of what he’d seen, and afraid of what he’d think of me.

  When Liam spoke, it was in a measured, would-be-calm voice. “What did he do?”

  “Nothing—”

  “Don’t lie,” he begged. “Please don’t lie to me. I felt it…my whole body. God, it was like being turned to stone. You were scared—I felt it, you were scared!”

  His fingers came up and wove through my hair, bringing my face close to his again. “He…” I started. “He asked to see a memory, and I let him, but when I tried to move away…I couldn’t get out, I couldn’t move, and then I blacked out. I don’t know what he did, but it hurt—it hurt so much.”

  Liam pulled back and pressed his lips to my forehead. I felt the muscles in his arms strain, shake. “Go to the cabin.” He didn’t let me protest. “Start packing.”

  “Lee—”

  “I’m going to find Chubs,” he said. “And the three of us are getting the hell out of here. Tonight.”

  “We can’t,” I said. “You know we can’t.” But he was already crashing back through the dark path. “Lee!”

  I went back to find his sweater, and pulled it on, but not even that could keep away the chill as I followed him out of the woods, back in the direction of the cabin and fire pit.

  When I got to the cabin, Chubs was already there, propped up on his bed reading. He took one look at me and snapped his book shut. “What in the world happened?”

  “We’re leaving,” I told him. “Get your things—what are you star
ing at? Move!”

  He jumped down off the bed. “Are you okay?” he asked. “What’s going on?”

  I had only just finished telling him everything that had happened with Clancy, when Liam came bursting through the door. He took one look at the two of us together and let out a shaky breath. “I got worried when I couldn’t find you,” he told Chubs. “Are you ready?”

  I pulled on a baggy T-shirt and took Liam’s jacket when he threw it to me. Chubs tied up his shoes, snapped his suitcase shut, and didn’t put in a word of protest as we switched off the cabin lights and headed out into the darkness.

  The smell of smoke from the fire pit followed us down the main trail longer than the light or the voices from it. I caught Chubs looking back toward it over his shoulder, just once; the distant orange glow reflected in the lenses of his glasses. I knew he wanted to ask what we would do next, but Liam hushed us both and started down a side trail that I had never seen before.

  It was well-worn but narrow enough that we had to walk single file. I kept my eyes on Liam’s shoulders until he reached back to take my hand. The trail grew darker the farther we walked into the thick layers of young trees.

  And then we were out, and there was light—so much of it, that for a moment I had to hold up a hand to cover my eyes. I felt Liam tense and stop, his hand tightening around mine until it hurt.

  “Told you,” I heard Hayes say. “Told you he’d try to get out this way.”

  “Yes, good call.”

  “Damn,” I heard Chubs swear behind me, but I was too shocked to do anything other than step out from behind Liam, and see where Clancy, Hayes, and the cluster of boys from Watch stood blocking our only way out.

  TWENTY-SEVEN

  THERE WAS A SINGLE MOMENT when no one moved at all.

  I recognized where we were now that the area was lit up with flashlights and lanterns. I had seen it once before, on Clancy’s computer screen. This is where, days before, the skip tracers had tried to slip through the camp’s wire fences and Hayes had “taken care” of them. Much like how he seemed poised to take care of us now.

 
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