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       Lost Girl, p.16

           Chanda Hahn
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  “He’s one of us. We’re the only family he’s got, and if he leaves, the Red Skulls will find him and take him. I can’t have that. As long as he stays within these walls, he’s safe,” Slightly answered.

  “So in other words, you’ve made him a prisoner out of fear,” she yelled. The others looked up at her from their spots in the room. The mouth of one of the younger boy dropped open at her words.

  Tink immediately gave Wendy the stink-eye and tried to calm him down. The twins jumped up simultaneously. Jax had entered the room and stood by the door, watching her with half-closed eyes. He might pretend not to care what was going on, but he stood right in the middle of the doorway.

  “Excuse me,” Wendy said rudely.

  Jax didn’t move, his arms crossed over his chest. She could see his fingers curl as if he was getting ready to jump on her.

  “I thought you didn’t want me here?” She whispered so only he could hear.

  “My feelings may have suddenly changed. Maybe I’m waiting for that second kiss,” he whispered back.

  “Not going to happen.” Wendy’s cheeks felt warm.

  His eyes drifted up, and Wendy turned and watched Peter give Jax a nod to let her pass. When Jax moved, she breathed out a long sigh. She could see the exit from where she stood. “Be careful,” he murmured.

  “You’re protected here at Neverwood,” Slightly called after her.

  “But who will protect me from you?” Wendy answered. She entered the dark hall and jogged to the fireplace door. She pulled the large sliding deadbolt on the door and an immediate door alarm went off. Tink’s censor box rang loudly from the main room. She must be scrambling to silence the alarms. The thought almost made Wendy smile.

  Wendy rushed through the abandoned house, out the door, and down the steps.

  She looked out into the dark night. A storm had come up and it was pouring rain. She gripped her backpack and headed out into the volley, letting it pelt her, soaking her only clean and dry shirt. She started walking. Maybe if she got to the main road, she could find a bus stop and use her last few dollars to get back to the park.

  She was saddened when no one tried to stop her. Well, that wasn’t true. She was disappointed Peter hadn’t come for her.

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  After a few blocks of hiking in the rain, Wendy found a bus stop. Within moments the bus came around the corner. Perfect timing. She dug in her backpack and took out enough change to pay.

  “Where you headed?” the friendly driver asked.

  Wendy was the only person on the bus so she sat in the middle, facing front. “Doesn’t matter,” she mumbled as she stared out the window, searching for signs of movement in the darkness.

  He closed the doors and drove off.

  “What are you doing in this area so late?”

  “My uncle owns a boat he keeps docked by the waterfront,” she lied easily.

  “A boat, eh? I own a boat. What kind?”

  “A white one.” She leaned her head back against the seat.

  After a few more failed attempts at conversation, the driver stopped with the onslaught of questions and just drove his route. Wendy figured from the map on the small board inside that this route would take her about a mile from the park.

  Did she want to go back to the park? Not really. Maybe she should go home? No. Not after Jax said the Red Skulls could hurt her family. She didn’t want to endanger them. That didn’t leave her any other option.

  “This is the last stop for the night, miss.” The driver turned in his seat. “Do you want off here? I’m not supposed to but if you need I can drop you off somewhere else. I can—as long as it’s on my route back to the bus barn.”

  Wendy sat up. She had missed the stop for the park altogether. She looked up at the map and tried to place where she was—by the St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

  “This is fine,” Wendy answered. She stood and waited for the doors to open. Something moved just at the edge of her vision, and she froze on the last step. Was it a trick of the rain, a part of her imagination?

  “Is everything all right, miss?” The driver’s palm rested on the handle, waiting for her to exit so he could close the doors.

  Was everything all right? Her skin tingled, and she had to force her hand to let go of the railing and take the first step onto the pavement.

  She moved into the circle of light cast by the street lamp and waited as the bus pulled away from the curb. She should have taken his offer for him to drop her off somewhere else, but where?

  Wendy ran toward the Catholic church and ducked into the large entryway by the antiquated wooden doors with the brass lion knockers. She pulled out the sleeping bag from her pack, unzipped it, and wrapped it around her. With her back pressed to the wood, she pulled her backpack against her legs. Here under the safety of the church and guarded by the lion doorknockers, she would wait until morning.

  Life was so much better before she’d learned about morphlings. She’d almost rather still think she was crazy. But she wasn’t. She was apparently sane. Just sane with unreliable-or-absent memories. She was broken. And she needed to fix herself before she could fix or help the others.

  Something large flew by and cast an ominous shadow along the sidewalk in front of the church.

  “What in the world?” Wendy whispered and watched again. She grabbed her flashlight, tightened her grip on the sleeping bag in front of her neck, and tiptoed down the front steps of the church. She shined the beam all around the treetops. Her heart raced and her hands shook. But she didn’t see or hear anything, so she went back to the church steps.

  There, standing on the top step was Peter, his hands in his jacket pockets, looking like he just stepped out of a magazine.

  “You would really leave without saying goodbye to me?” He walked off the top step and into the light. His hair and clothes were sopping wet. His eyes looked wounded.

  “How did you get here?” Wendy turned to scan the street for a car or Tink’s scooter. She hadn’t heard any vehicles approaching.

  He shrugged in a teasing manner and smiled. “I flew.”

  “I see,” Wendy said. “As the crow flies, huh?”

  Even dry, with the sleeping bag wrapped around her shoulders, Wendy still shivered from the rain. Or from Peter’s closeness—she wasn’t sure.

  He stood in front of her now, gazing down into her eyes. The rain poured down his face in rivulets, but he didn’t seem to notice.

  “No, not crow. I’m faster than a crow.” One corner of his mouth lifted, revealing his dimple. That dimple made him seem oh so much more charming.

  That dimple could be her undoing.

  “You were right,” he said. “We were watching you. That’s because two weeks earlier, the shadows were swarming your house. Your house was a dead zone. I’m not sure why, but I put my best team on it. We didn’t know if a morphling was coming, but two more times, the dead zone moved around your house. I did it to protect you, but I have a crazy feeling that the shadows are actually gathering to help you.” He sighed. “Now I sound crazy.”

  His body trembled slightly in front of her, but he didn’t draw any closer, and he didn’t touch her. How was it that she wanted him to? She wanted him to kiss her, really kiss her. To feel his lips pressed to hers and to hear him say she meant something to him.

  “Wendy,” her name fell from his lips.

  She met his eyes. The water dripped from his face to hers, and he leaned in. He pulled her into his embrace. His body heat slowly merged with hers as he nuzzled closer to her. Her heart filled to overflowing. She wanted this moment to be locked away forever in her memory, but knew it couldn’t last.

  “Please. Don’t leave me,” he whispered against her cheek.

  “You can’t save everyone, Peter. You can’t save me.” She started to cry, her tears mingling with the raindrops.

  “I can try.” Peter buried his head into her neck, and she could feel his lips press against her skin in the gentlest of
caresses. Maybe it wasn’t a kiss, maybe it was just him whispering something she was unable to hear in the rain.

  He took her hand and pulled her back up the church steps and to the door. After shaking off the excess water from the bag, he wrapped it around them both, and he sat in the corner, pulling Wendy against his side.

  He didn’t speak. He didn’t ask questions. He just held her protectively against his side and hugged her.

  They sat and enjoyed the silent comfort that came from being close to someone. No words were exchanged. No apologies were given. Words would only complicate things.

  Wendy leaned her head against Peter’s chest and listened to his heartbeat. It only took a moment for the coolness of his skin to warm up. His clothes were still wet, but at least he was warm. Peter nuzzled the top of her head with his cheek.

  “Sleep, Wendy. I’ll watch over your dreams.”

  “I remember you saying that once before.”

  “And I’ll do it again.”

  How easy it would be to let herself fall in love with Peter. But then she remembered she couldn’t trust him, and as painful as it was, she resolved not to fall in love.

  But in her dream she could fall in love, so Wendy let herself dream.

  And like she’d done in her dreams many times before, Wendy dreamed she was flying.

  Peter held Wendy in his arms and tried not to jostle her as he pulled his specter goggles on over his eyes so he could scan the perimeter. Even though he didn’t need them, it was always easier to use them in inclement weather.

  Once again he could see the shadows, skirting the light and floating among the trees. Through the goggles, they looked like blurred shapes in light blue. Always at about the same distance, never leaving but never coming any closer to Wendy. They didn’t seem to want to harm her, but he kicked himself for not bringing Tink’s scanner.

  He wasn’t going to leave her unprotected again, not when the shadows’ presence always attracted a morphling. Ugh. How he hated them, wanted to kill every single one of them.

  Wendy moved as she snuggled under his arm. He took a deep breath and could smell her honey and vanilla shampoo. He pressed his mouth to the top of her head in a gentle kiss. What was it about her that made him so possessive? Was it her innocence, her laughter, her fighter instinct? He almost laughed out loud and woke her when he remembered the time she’d sliced his arm with a knife.

  At the same time, though, she was childlike in her fears; she’d whimpered in her sleep at the safe house. Quite a few times, as he checked on her and listened outside her door last night, he heard her cry out in fear. But he never could make out what she said.

  About an hour later, her REM cycle started, and Wendy began to kick out and twitch. “Don’t let go of me!” she cried out in fear. He wrapped his arms around her tighter.

  Peter froze. His body began to tremble as her words brought him back to his own personal nightmare—to that night on the boat. He closed his eyes and whispered. “Never.”

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Something warm pressed against her face, and at first Wendy thought it was Peter. But then a rough, wet tongue lapped at her cheek.

  She opened her eyes to a Saint Bernard eagerly sniffing her face.

  Wendy grunted. “Nana?” Confused, Wendy sat up, her sleeping bag slipping off of her shoulders.

  “Oh, Wendy child. What are you doing here so early? Don’t tell me you slept here on the steps.”

  Wendy looked up at the ever-chipper Mr. Bernard. He was carrying his umbrella and holding Nana’s leash.

  Everything was wrong. She wasn’t on the stoop of the Catholic church; she was sitting in front of Bernard Books. She looked to her right and Peter was gone. How did she get here? Where was Peter? Then the horrible realization came to her, and she felt like she was going to throw up. Had it been part of her imagination? She wasn’t going to work at the bookstore, but then she showed up here. It must be a sign.

  Wendy stood and quickly began rolling up her sleeping bag. “Um, I had to take the early bus this morning and ended up getting here…a few hours earlier than I’d thought.”

  “Oh, I see,” Mr. Bernard said, opening the front door and setting his umbrella in a stand. “Well, come on in, come on in. I’ll fix that by giving you a key.” He headed back to his office and she followed. “That way, if you ever get here early again, or miss the bus home at night, you can just let yourself in and take a nap on the couch.” He flung his jacket over his chair and rummaged through his desk.

  “Key, key, key. Where’s my spare key?” He pulled out multiple keys of various shapes and sizes until he found the small brass one. “Now for a key ring.” He dug in a small tin cup until he found an old keychain with a charm. He attached the key and handed her both. “There’s a shower and bathroom upstairs. Use it whenever you like.”

  Wendy stared at the key dangling from the keychain in her hand. “I’m not sure what to say other than thank you.”

  “Nothing, Wendy.”

  She fingered the small keychain charm and held it up to Mr. Bernard. “What is it?”

  “Oh, that. That’s a pan flute. I got it at a gift shop when I visited a small island in the Pacific for research on the book I’m writing.”

  “A pan flute? How interesting.”

  “Glad you like it. Don’t lose your key,” he warned. He opened up the safe and handed her the till and then immediately got started on his book. Nana curled up in the corner of his office on an overstuffed dog bed and went to sleep.

  Wendy went out to start her morning routine. When the drawer was counted, front steps swept off, daily papers brought in, and the morning coffee brewed, she found herself at a loss. She decided to straighten the shelves, lining the books up with the edge.

  With nothing left to do until the first customers came in, she poured herself a cup of coffee—one sugar, one cream—and sat by the front window to people watch. She absently picked up a pad of paper and a pencil and began to sketch. It had been a while since she’d drawn, but before long she had a decent image of Peter’s face.

  She glanced at the clock on the wall. Was he coming in today?

  She wanted to ask him about last night. About whether or not he’d been at the church with her. But the front door never opened, and Peter never stepped through. By lunch time she was starving, and she hadn’t thought to bring a lunch.

  Mr. Bernard came out of the back office with Nana and pulled out his wallet. “Hey, Wendy. How about I make you a deal?”

  “What’s that, Mr. Bernard?”

  “You take Nana for her walk, and while you’re out, pick us both up some lunch at one of the vendors. She needs to go out, but I’m on a roll with writing. My main character is just about to encounter the pirates.” He handed her a twenty.

  “What do you want to eat? There’s pizza, hotdogs, tamales…” she asked, glad for something to do.

  “Oh, whatever you get, just get me the same.” He handed her Nana’s leash and waved her off. She watched as he quickly shuffled back to his office.

  Wendy looked at the twenty-dollar bill in her hand and then down at Nana, whose front paws were shuffling a doggie two-step. She really was antsy to do her business. Wendy put out the small sign that said “Ring for Help” and opened the door for Nana, who bolted out onto the sidewalk.

  “Whoa, Nana! Slow down.” But the dog didn’t listen. She just made a beeline for the crosswalk, and then stopped to wait for it to turn white. How the dog knew when to walk and when to wait was a mystery, but as soon as the walk symbol appeared, Nana dragged her across the road and down the path to the middle of Kinderly Park.

  Nana’s nose glided over the ground on the hunt for the perfect spot. She pulled Wendy off the stone path and into the trees. “Oh, come on, Nana. That looked just as good a place as any. Oh, thank goodness,” Wendy exclaimed when Nana found a place to pee.

  Unfortunately, it lasted for all of two seconds, and the dog was off again chasing after a squirrel.
r />   “Down, Nana. No, Nana,” Wendy commanded. But the dog only continued to yank her arm. She tried to readjust her grip on Nana’s leash, so her hand wouldn’t get ripped off at the wrist, but Nana bolted again.

  The leash slipped out of Wendy’s hands.

  “Noo!” Wendy darted into a thicket after the Saint Bernard, but she couldn’t make it very far.

  Frustrated, she kneeled to see if she could crawl in. The Saint Bernard was the size of a small bear, so of course she should be able to follow her same path. The problem was the thicket itself. It was full of thorns—Nana had a nice, thick coat to protect her skin. Cautious, Wendy held up the branches and passed through the thicket and into a small clearing.

  Nana was jumping up and barking at something in the tree.

  “What is it, Nana?” Wendy asked softly as she picked up the leash from the ground. She tucked her wrist through the strap and wrapped it around her arm. If Nana wanted to run away again, she would have to take Wendy’s arm with her.

  Something dark was caught in Nana’s teeth. Wendy reached down to remove it, thinking it was a bit of black cloth, but it wasn’t corporeal.

  A black, misty smoke clung to her canines.

  Was it burning? In a hurry, Wendy swiped her hand through the dog’s mouth, but the misty shadow swirled around her hand and disappeared, leaving a dark wet smear across her fingertips.

  “What is this?” She looked closer. It looked like blood, except the color was off, wrong. It was almost black.

  Nana’s barking turned into a deep threatening growl. Alarmed, Wendy looked up and noticed a dark form sitting on a branch among the leaves. It was large, much larger than a squirrel or even a raccoon.

  It moved suddenly, floating to the next branch. Wendy would’ve dropped the leash again if her arm hadn’t been wrapped in it.

  A shadow. The way it floated and quivered told Wendy that something was wrong. Had Nana injured the shadow?

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