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       Lost Girl, p.15

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  No! Wendy reached for his wrist, twisted it, and pressed a button on the brace. His light brace released a blast of light right in his face.

  While Jax was blinded, Wendy brought her foot up and kneed him.

  He doubled over in pain.

  Wendy lunged to the side, but his hand caught her foot and she fell onto the floor mat. He dragged her back and kneeled on top of her. His strong hands pinned her wrists to the mat beside her head.

  “Let me go!”

  The corner of his mouth worked up into a grimace of pain before it slid into a smile. “That was excellent, Wendy. You’re very resourceful under pressure.” Another pained look. “Even using the light brace against me.”

  “Don’t ever kiss me again!” Wendy hissed. She tried to buck him off and roll away, but he was too heavy.

  Jax’s hands tightened on her wrist and he leaned down, his face and mouth mere inches from hers. “Relax, this was just a test.” He smiled. “I promise if I’d kissed you for real, you wouldn’t say that a second time.” He pulled back, his eyes fixated on her lips.

  Her heart began to race, and Jax glanced up at her wrists, rubbing his thumb gently across the underside.

  “Your pulse just picked up at the thought of me kissing you.” Jax eyed her lips and leaned forward again.

  Wendy sucked in her breath and closed her eyes, unsure if she was scared or excited.

  Lights! Bright overhead lights blinded her as Tink entered.

  She froze when she saw Jax over Wendy on the mats. “Well, well, well. What do we have here?” She put her hand on her hip and snapped her gum in her mouth.

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Wendy’s face was on fire—she was sure her cheeks were bright red.

  Jax sighed and got off the mat, leaving her to scramble to her feet in front of the gloating Tink. This was not how she expected her second day at the Neverwood Academy to go.

  Tink’s gum snapped loudly again, and she lifted an eyebrow at Jax. She stalked slowly around and looked him up and down. “I didn’t think she was your type, but then again, we all have our secrets. Don’t we? Like where you keep disappearing to in the middle of the night?” she challenged.

  Jax snorted. “You’re right. She’s not my type, and the other is none of your business.” He marched out, the gym door slamming behind him.

  The slam of the door felt like a slap in the face. Wendy tried to straighten her hair, since her ponytail was skewed and had almost come undone.

  Tink had watched Jax leave, and now turned to give Wendy a calculating look. “So when you’re done fawning over every boy at our school—”

  “That’s not what it looked like,” Wendy interrupted. “He was training me.”

  “In what, mouth to mouth resuscitation?” Tink snorted. “Look, I get it. He’s hot, and there are a lot of guys here and only two available girls. Things can get awkward pretty easily. Just be careful.”

  “What are you doing here?” Wendy grumbled, her face a mass of red.

  Tink put her hands on her hips and studied Wendy. “I’m your next instructor.” She wasn’t dressed in a training suit like Jax. She was wearing green shorts and a black and green plaid shirt. She was shorter than Wendy by at least three inches.

  “What are you going to train me in—fashion sense and sarcastic comebacks?”

  Tink’s green eyes sparkled mischievously and her smile grew, “Better, my young Padawan. Soon, you’ll be a master insulter like me.”

  “Yes, Master Yoda,” Wendy grinned.

  Tink turned and gave Wendy an ugly glare at the insult, but then she started to laugh. “Did you call me Yoda because I wear so much green?”

  “And because you’re short.”

  “Nice,” Tink laughed. “I approve. Let’s blow this place and get ice cream.”

  Wendy looked at her watch. “It’s seven thirty in the morning.”

  “Perfect time for it, don’t ya think?”

  “How’s Ditto doing?” Wendy asked.

  “He’s Ditto,” Tink snorted. “He’s pretending he’s not scared, but soaking up all of the attention he’s getting.”

  Tink and Wendy made their way to the kitchen and into the large dining room. A buffet of warmers filled with eggs, hash browns and French toast, lined one wall. About twenty boys of varying ages were downstairs this morning, most looked to be from thirteen to mid-twenties.

  Tink cut through the room, headed straight for a warmer, and flipped the lid back. A blast of humid air and the mouthwatering smell of bacon hit Wendy’s face. Tink grabbed tongs and crammed a napkin full. Wendy mimicked Tink and followed her through a swinging door and into the industrial sized kitchen. With purpose, Tink made her way to the walk-in freezer, pulled it open, and stepped inside. Seconds later, she returned with two pints of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. She tossed a Cherry Garcia to Wendy and then grabbed two spoons out of a drawer in the center island.

  “This way.” Tink nodded and left through another side door. They were in a back hallway. They walked in silence up the stairs to the crime-scene-taped door, and Tink opened it.

  “Welcome to the brain—my brain.” Tink turned with a pleased smile, showing off her extremely messy bedroom. Clothes and electronics littered every available space, except for a desk with a Mac. The computer desk was spotlessly clean. “From here, I can control all of Neverwood’s defenses without having to be in the control room.” She sat on her unmade bed, opened up the carton of ice cream, crumbled the bacon into bits, and sprinkled them on top before taking a bite. Her eyes rolled back in her head with joy. “You’ve got to try it.”

  Wendy wasn’t convinced, but she didn’t want to insult her instructor, so she sat on a chair covered with what she hoped were clean clothes, opened her napkin, and broke off a corner of a piece of bacon. She put it on her spoon of ice cream. Wendy wrinkled her nose preemptively as the cool spoon touched her tongue, and she ate. A few chews later, she bobbed her head in agreement. “Mmm. It is good.”

  “Told you,” Tink quipped. “Ohh, brain freeze!” She grabbed her blonde head and then shook it. “But enough about ice cream. I need to know what your intentions are.”

  “Regarding what exactly?”

  “Peter,” Tink seemed focused on her ice cream and didn’t look at her.

  “I don’t understand.”

  “GAH!” Tink said. “What don’t you understand? It’s not that hard.”

  Wendy wasn’t really in the mood for ice cream anymore. Tink’s plan was a little too obvious: offer ice cream and pretend to be buddy-buddy just so she could interrogate her. “Well, I barely know him.”

  “Exactly!” Tink pointed her spoon at Wendy. “And it’s best if you keep it that way and not make things complicated.”

  “How so?” Defensive, Wendy realized she’d read Tink right. And Jax surely didn’t want her here—at least she thought that’s how he really felt. Two of them—two of Peter’s closest friends—hated that she was here. What was she supposed to do with that?

  “Peter likes you. I can tell,” Tink added glumly. She poked her spoon in her ice cream. She hadn’t taken a bite in a while.

  Wendy’s cheeks warmed at Tink’s admission of Peter’s feelings. Her heart sped up. “And that’s bad because…?”

  “You distract him. Peter is the only one keeping Neverwood running right now and you…don’t really belong here yet. You don’t really know who Peter is and what he can do. You don’t know the real Peter.”

  “What are you talking about, Tink? What are you not telling me?” Wendy was beginning to hate everything about this place. Today was becoming one of the worst days ever.

  “Listen, and listen well. You’re just a surrogate. You remind him of someone he couldn’t save…a long time ago. He’s been beating himself up over that for years. But let’s get this straight. You’re not this girl. She died. Peter’s developed a bit of a savior complex since that day. He’s projecting those feelings onto you—trying to save you—but I have to
ask myself if you’re worthy to be saved.”

  “You know nothing about me!” Wendy argued. “You know nothing of my life, or my circumstances, or the nightmares I’ve lived through.”

  “Listen, growing up in middle suburbia with a family is a way better life than what any of us ever got here. This is our family. This is all we have.”

  “If you knew anything about me, then you’d know I don’t need to be saved. I can save myself.” She’d had enough of Tink’s barbs. She stood and tossed her half-eaten pint of ice cream in the trash, and only wondered for a second if the girl would take it out later. “Thanks for the girl talk.” Wendy glared at Tink. “Let’s not do it again any time soon.”

  Trying to leave gracefully, Wendy’s foot became tangled in a pair of jeans. Tink just laughed.

  Wendy slammed the door and headed downstairs, her hands clenched into fists. Man, she really wanted to punch something.

  How come everyone doubted her? Was it because she doubted herself? She really was starting to believe that she had made a mistake coming here. Jax was right. She didn’t belong.

  Maybe the shadows weren’t really after her. She’d been seeing them for years. If they were after her, they’d had plenty of chances to try and nab her. The more she thought about it, the more likely it seemed that Peter had made a mistake about her.

  About everything.

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Wendy spent most of the day in her room, eventually she wondered out and headed downstairs. She collapsed on the couch in the rec room next to a seemingly recovered replicated Ditto and hoped no one could see she’d been crying. It was late evening and Slightly was sprawled out on another chair across the room as the three played a video game.

  “So how are you feeling?” Wendy asked the Ditto sitting closest to her.

  He dropped the game controller and became one person and grimaced a bit. “Great, except I didn’t sleep well.”

  “Bad dreams?”

  He swallowed and looked at her. His red-rimmed eyes filled with fear. “The worst.” He rubbed his eyes. “It will go away in a few weeks.”

  “Yeah, I have them too.” Wendy offered up.

  “Mine are worse,” he challenged. He continued to click the controller and jerked his whole body as he tried to dodge an incoming attack.

  Wendy laughed and tucked her legs under her. “Can you beat dreaming about being trapped as a building burns around you?”

  Ditto nodded his head and gave her an odd glance. “Yeah, that’s exactly what I dream.”

  Slightly added, “Mine are running. I’m running through the woods and someone is hunting me.”

  Her hand went cold as she looked over at Ditto. Slightly stopped playing the game to stare at her. Her voice was barely above a whisper. “How does your dream end?”

  Ditto licked his lips and answered. “Well, I’m obviously saved at the last minute.”

  Slightly nodded his head. “Yeah, me too. How about you?”

  Wendy felt like she was going to throw up. She’d never told anyone about her dream and how it ended. “I drown.”

  Wendy couldn’t look at the guys. She glanced at the 60-inch TV and recognized the video game on the big screen—the same one her brother played. In fact there was an extra headset on the coffee table. Someone was talking frantically on the other end.

  She watched the four-way split screen as one soldier fought an enemy base by himself. The other three avatars stood frozen, taking damage and getting killed. Wendy looked at the screen and read the name of the player who was fighting the losing battle alone.

  Lt. J-Dog.

  “John?” Wendy gasped, feeling her knees go weak. With trembling hands she reached for Ditto’s extra headset and brought it up to her ears.

  “Slightly! Ditto! Man, where are you guys? We’re getting creamed again. You better not have abandoned me for some girl,” John’s voice came over the headset.

  Wendy watched his lone avatar try to take the enemy base, not knowing he’d been abandoned. A second later, three of the screens faded red, as Ditto’s two characters and Slightly were killed off by the other team.

  Her mouth was dry and she swallowed, trying to speak. “John?” her voice rasped. Tears started to pour down her cheeks. She turned around and saw Ditto scratching the back of his neck and refusing to make eye contact. Slightly’s shoulders were hunched, and he wouldn’t look up from his shoes.

  “Wait…what? Wendy, is that you?” Her brother’s voice spoke back in disbelief. She swallowed, about to say more, but Tootles ran through the room and tripped over the game system.

  It came unplugged. All she got was static on the other end.

  She turned and stared accusingly at the boys in front of her. “It was you…both of you. You were playing that night, with my brother. He said your name.” Wendy pointed to Slightly. “I thought he was just giving you instructions. And you…she pointed up to the screen name of Ditto. “I recognize your voice.”

  Ditto and Slightly’s faces had gone white, and they nodded, confirming what Wendy had already known.

  “You’ve been following me, spying on me since before the football game? It was no accident; you were there that night. You lied to me—even figured out my worst nightmares to play them against me. Trying to get me to trust you. You are all sick!”

  “No, that’s not it, Wendy.” Slightly jumped up from the chair. He seemed excited.

  Peter joined them, tuning into the commotion. “Are you all right?” He tried to wrap his arms around her, but she pushed him away.

  “No, no I’m not,” Wendy cried out. Tears welled in her eyes, making his face swim before her. “I think I’d like to be alone.”

  Peter’s jaw set in a firm line and he nodded in understanding. She headed out of the room.

  Slightly called out after her, but she held up her hand to cut him off. “Don’t say anything. I don’t want to hear it.” She made it to her room where she lay down on her bed and cried until her lungs burned. Her heart ached for her family. John had sounded so surprised to hear her! It made her chest hurt all the more deeply. She wanted to go home. Even if she did have weird similarities with some of these guys, she didn’t belong here. Not with people who lied to her.

  What were the chances of meeting so many people from Neverwood on the same night by coincidence?

  Those weren’t odds she trusted.

  It might break her heart to leave Peter and Tootles, but she couldn’t stay here. Not now. She grabbed her backpack, filled it with the few items she owned, and left the room.

  Tink was leaning against her own door waiting for her. “It’s time for your next class.”

  “That’s not going to happen, Tink,” Wendy spoke angrily. “I’m leaving this place.”

  “And going where?”

  “Anywhere that’s not here.” Wendy headed toward the exit.

  “You’re serious? And after I just started to like you too,” Tink scoffed.

  “I’m not a prisoner,” Wendy chastised. “Peter said I’m welcome to come and go as I please. Are you saying that’s not true?”

  Tink’s lip stuck out in an angry fit. “No, but by walking out that door, you’re endangering not only yourself, but all of us at Neverwood.”

  “I never said I wanted to be here, that I would become one of you. I came here because you offered me a safe place to stay.”

  “We’re not Motel 6,” Tink’s voice rose. “If you leave—don’t come back.”

  “Well, maybe I would have chosen to stay if you guys had told me the truth from the beginning.” Wendy adjusted her backpack and headed down into the main rec room. She grabbed a couple bottles of water off the counter to toss in her backpack.

  Tootles snuck up behind her and watched as she grabbed some granola bars and other snack foods laid out for them. “You’re not staying with us, are you?” His bottom lip trembled.

  Wendy turned to kneel behind the bar and out of sight of the others. Hopefully, no one else had h
eard. “No, Tootles, I don’t belong here. You do though.”

  He wrapped his hands around her shoulders and squeezed. “But I was hoping that you’d stay and be my mom and tell me stories and tuck me in at night.”

  Movement from above caught her attention, and Wendy looked up to see Peter sitting in the loft above, looking down on her. His expression was unreadable, but it was obvious that he could hear them.

  “No, Tink can be your mom.” Wendy hugged the small boy back, and she felt the crack in her heart widen.

  “Not Tink. She’s terrible at telling stories. Her stories always end up with everyone being dead.”

  Wendy snorted, “Oh, come on. They can’t all end like that.”

  Tootles’ bottom lip pooched out. “Trust me, they do. Her latest story was about a bird named Wendy that was eaten by an eagle.”

  Wendy started coughing, and she could even hear Peter chuckling from the loft.

  “Well then, I’ll tell you what.”

  “What?”

  Wendy looked around. She opened up the cupboard under the sink and found a paint stick. She grabbed a blue magic marker from the counter top and wrote two words on the stick. “This is a magic stick. What does it say?”

  “Story wand.”

  “The next time the story doesn’t end the way you want. You wave your magic story wand and bring the Wendy-bird or whoever else you want back to life. And whoever is telling the story must change the ending until it’s one that you like. Got it?”

  His fingers wiggled excitedly. “Got it!” He grabbed the paint stick and ran out to find Tink.

  Wendy stood and looked up.

  Peter sat on the banister, dangling his feet over the edge. His hair looked damp, as if he’d just showered, and he wore a clean blue shirt which made his eyes look different—deeper, sadder—in the light. “Wendy, I—”

  “Peter was right. You are good at telling stories.” Slightly had leaned over the bar counter to look at Wendy as she stood up to dust off her knees and hands. “Thanks for doing that for Tootles. He really wants a mother.”

  “Then take him home, Slightly,” Wendy demanded. “To his family.” Even though she spoke to Slightly, her voice aimed for Peter’s ears.

 
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