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       Lost Boy, p.4

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  “I think maybe this isn’t an ideal situation,” Brittney said to Wendy as they stuffed their pom-poms into her gym bag. “I know the principal suggested we pretend nothing happened and accept you back—even though you missed enough practices to be kicked off the squad. But we have to face the facts. I just don’t think you’re an asset anymore.”

  Wendy stammered, unable to come up with a single word in response, but then a voice from the stand called out, saving her.

  “Asset?” The blonde girl with the laptop yelled from the bleacher. “I’ll tell you who’s an *&$.” A ringing tone censored out her expletive.

  “Excuse me?” Brittney turned to challenge the girl in the stands, sliding her hands to her hips.

  Bleacher girl put her laptop down and stood up on the bench. A verbal war was about to go down, and Wendy used the distraction to grab her bag and dash out the open gym door.

  “Hey, wait up. What’s the rush?” John asked, running to catch up with her in the hallway. “Did something happen?”

  Wendy brushed off her tears. “Nothing.”

  John let out a low whistle and looked over her shoulder at the ensuing argument between the two girls in the gym. “That bad, huh?”

  “Worse.”

  “Then, what are we waiting for? Round two?”

  “No,” she breathed out, wanting to disappear from there fast.

  “Then, let’s get out of here.” He held the outside school door open for her, and he followed her toward their car parked at the end of the lot. He fumbled with his keys at the locked driver’s door, running his fingers over the keys with a blank expression, and Wendy gave him an odd look from the passenger side.

  “Just unlock it with the key fob,” she said.

  “Can’t,” he said and then nodded his head, signaling to someone behind Wendy. The van door behind her slid open—hands grabbed her from behind and pulled her into the darkness within the van. Wendy reached for John for help, but her brother remained immobile, staring at her from over the roof of their car, his eyes and smile vacant.

  “What the—?” Wendy gasped as something cold pressed against her neck, followed by the sound of compressed air.

  She looked over at John as he made his way around the car and climbed into the van to kneel beside her. His arms and face shrunk as he slowly morphed and changed into a teenage girl with curly red hair.

  “Welcome home,” the girl said, then smiled cruelly before fading from her sight.

  Chapter Six

  “How could you lose her?” Peter ground his teeth and tried not to take out his fury on poor Tink.

  Loud chimes came back over the cell phone, masking her colorful response. The censor band she wore to mask her swearing was on overdrive.

  “Well, find her,” he snapped and immediately felt guilty for yelling at his best friend. It wasn’t her fault. He was the one who had decided to take her home. He was the one to blame.

  He took the stairs two at a time as he headed out the door into a hidden passageway with Ditto at his heels. He gave Ditto some brief instructions as they entered the garage, and they split up. Ditto started in the van toward the highway, Peter took to the air as they tried to fly toward her last known whereabouts.

  “Please let nothing bad happen,” Peter chanted over and over. “I can’t live with myself if something happened to her because of me.”

  Within minutes, he had flown to the school and met Tink by the gym door. She was hysterically waving while holding on to the back of a boy’s sweater. The boy kept trying to pull away from Tink, but she’d give him a rough shake.

  “He took her,” Tink said, letting go of his sweater, and the boy quickly moved away from her.

  “No, I didn’t.” He rubbed the back of his neck.

  “Who took her?” Peter growled.

  “He did,” Tink answered with a look of frustration.

  The boy turned around for the first time, and Peter instantly recognized Wendy’s brother—hardly a kidnaper.

  “What’s going on, Tink?”

  “Why don’t you ask him?” she snapped. “Since he took her.”

  Peter turned to John and huffed. “Where is Wendy?”

  “That’s what I want to know,” John barked. “I was supposed to pick her up and take her home, but she never showed.”

  Peter looked over at Tink, who shrugged. “I saw her leave with him to the parking lot, but then thirty seconds later, he walks back into the gym asking for her.”

  Ditto pulled the van up to the curb, and when he recognized John, he leaned back into the driver’s seat and stayed out of view.

  Tink nudged Peter as a brunette cheerleader came out of the gym.

  “You’re on the squad with Wendy, right?” Peter asked the brunette.

  She looked him over from head to toe and flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Maybe, who’s asking?” she said, arching a brow.

  “She is, her name is Brittney,” Tink answered tensely. Brittney’s eyes darkened.

  “Never mind that now,” John snapped, tense. “Where’s my sister?”

  Brittney scoffed, irritated. “She left with you, dingbat. You telling me you’ve already lost her? Again?”

  “But she didn’t leave with me—”

  “Uh. Yes, she did. I saw you.”

  “She never showed up,” John cried.

  “You’re telling me you lost her again. Ugh, someone get a leash on that girl. Whatever. It’ not my fault you can’t keep track of your crazy sister.” She shook her head and stepped off the curb and headed to her car.

  “Then, who took her, if it wasn’t me?” John asked.

  Peter knew it couldn’t have been John, but then who was it?

  Ditto waited until Brittney was out of earshot, leaned out the driver’s window, and spoke up. “Do you think it was a shifter?”

  “Shifter?” John asked. “What’s a shifter?”

  “It’s possible, Ditto. I mean look at us.” Peter turned and studied the parking lot for signs of where Wendy could have gone.

  “Ditto?” John said as his eyes widened in realization. “I know that name! You were supposed to meet up with Wendy the night she disappeared.” John’s face went from shock to rage. He leaped onto the driver’s door, grabbing Ditto by the shirt. He swung a fist to hit him square in the jaw, but he missed, hitting the air. Ditto had moved too quickly, splitting right down the middle into two beings.

  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” both Dittos said at the same time, and an eerie echo followed.

  John fell backward as he tried to get away from the replicating boy. “What are you? You’re a freak.”

  “Listen, *$%#. We don’t have time to mess around,” Tink interrupted, reaching out a hand to pull John up from the ground. “Ditto’s harmless, I swear. Yes, he is a bit of a freak, we all are. We’ll explain everything later, but first, we need to find your sister.”

  John straightened his jacket and seemed to settle down, ready to listen, though he kept a wary eye on Ditto.

  “Was there any sign of shadows following her before?” Peter asked.

  Tink shook her head. “No, we’ve kept round-the-clock surveillance, and only a few of them ever appeared. It’s been quiet.”

  “Wait, you’ve been watching our house?” John asked incredulously.

  “Someone’s got to keep an eye on you. We’ve been attending school with you as well. Don’t get me started on the public education system.” Sounds of bells and clanging masked her next slew of words.

  “Can you track her?” Peter asked.

  Tink pursed her lips and reached for her side bag. “Well, I can usually track a large group of shadows by the dead zone, but there has been a lack of shadow activity. My guess is that they went to one of Never’s black sites.”

  “Who’s Never—” John started but immediately stopped when he received an annoyed glare from Tink.

  “Then, how do we find her?” Peter snapped.

  “How do we find any of t
hem?” Tink spat out. “We don’t. We never have. She’s gone, Peter.”

  “No, I won’t accept that.” His hand curled into a fist.

  “Neither will I,” John said, glaring at Tink before she could say or do anything.

  Ditto grinned. “Well, you can count me in . . . uh, I mean us.” In a blur of motion, the two Dittos once again became a single entity, and then he hopped out of the van.

  “We should head back and see what we can pick up on our scanners,” Tink said, turning as Ditto opened the van door for her. She climbed in and moved to a bolted chair in front of a long desk filled with scanners, computers, and various gadgets. Her fingers began to fly over a keyboard as Peter followed her and leaned over the screen to look at the map she brought up on the computer.

  Peter nodded. “I doubt they would take any of the major highways.”

  “What are you doing?” Tink snarled as John slid in and sat on a jump seat across from her.

  “I’m going with you.”

  “No, you’re not.”

  “Wanna bet?” He pulled the seat belt over his lap and clicked the buckle and stared her down. “I’m not leaving until I find my sister.”

  They stared in silence for a full two seconds before John looked around the van and noticed all of the equipment and gadgets inside.

  “Wait a minute. You don’t happen to have any candy in here, do you?” he asked in a worried voice as Ditto climbed into the driver’s seat.

  Ditto laughed. “Of course. We use them to lure all the high schoolers into our candy van.” He sped out of the parking lot, the tires briefly skidding as he took a corner a little too fast. John was jostled and reached for something to hold on to.

  “Free cell phones work better than candy,” Tink said. “But we didn’t need either to get you in here,” she huffed under her breath, and the word dork slipped out.

  Peter caught Ditto’s look of concern. “It’s fine. I say we bring her brother in. It would be good to have someone in the family understand what we’re doing. She needs support, and it’s time he knew about Wendy’s past.”

  “You know about Wendy’s past?” John’s jaw dropped.

  “We know more than you do, Dumbo,” Tink answered.

  “Just don’t judge, and don’t call us freaks,” Ditto warned.

  John nodded. “I won’t. I promise.”

  “I think I’ll take the high road from here,” Peter said as he reached for the handle. Ditto nodded but never slowed the vehicle; then, Peter opened the sliding door and jumped out.

  “He just jumped!” John cried out, climbing to the back of the van, and looked for Peter’s body, which was surely bouncing along the road. “Stop the van! We need to save him!”

  Tink laughed in response. “He’s fine. Put the pedal to the metal Ditto!”

  Chapter Seven

  Jax couldn’t believe he had lost all his money to Stevens. He never lost, which made him think that Stevens had to have cheated at poker. Now he was down twenty bucks and had to take over Steven’s watcher shifts because of a lost bet.

  Jax sighed in resignation, leaning back in his chair in front of the row of monitors, and began the tedious job of watching. Watcher duty usually amounted to little more than staring at security screens and monitoring the radio communication. The job wasn’t boring, but it wasn’t suited to his skill set. He didn’t have the patience.

  He’d rather be on the reaping team; at least then, he’d get to see some action. It was more thrilling to hunt live than to sit here, writing and filing reports. It was also more dangerous and required quick thinking and deep pockets to bribe the city official currently on their payroll.

  After the fall of Neverland, Jax had made Neverwood his home, like all the lost boys, and he’d grown close to Peter, as close as a would-be killer like Jax could be to anyone. It pained him to betray Peter, or any of the lost boys, but he had no choice. Jax knew full well what Neverland was capable of, unlike Peter who acted as if he were invincible. But Jax understood that the lives of the lost boys were at stake. And if it took betrayal to save them, so be it. If he slowly fed Neverland all of the information about the Neverwood Academy, Captain Hook would let the boys live. Hook had made it clear that he just wanted to see how they were progressing over the years.

  He rubbed his eyes and shook off his feelings on seeing Wendy again. It was all her fault that he had to leave Neverwood. He had a boyhood crush on her years ago when they were at Neverland, but he couldn’t tell her how he felt because she was always with Peter. He couldn’t help but feel like he was competing for her, even now. She was his first crush and would always have a special place in his heart. Even when he tried to forget. He always made dumb decisions because of Wendy.

  Saving her had blown his cover—she would have told them of his betrayal. He couldn’t stay with Peter and the boys any longer.

  He opened the desk drawer and dug around inside, looking for something to help bide his time. His fingers scraped along the bottom, knocking various items to the side and making lots of noise as he dug around. His hand snagged a tube of Steven’s forgotten Pringles, and he pulled them out and shook it, the sound of chips and victory ringing in his ears. He’d eat all of them and leave the empty container in Steven’s desk as thanks. Squeaky wheels of a chair moving across the floor toward him made him glance up at the other soldier assigned to watcher duty. Familiar angry cat-like eyes met his across the room.

  Why did it have to be her? He inwardly groaned as Lily gave him a wry smile. She was good at her job—she had killer instincts—but she also had a crush on him, and the tension still hung silently in the air between them.

  “You know he cheated, right?” Lily smirked, running her hand through her long black ponytail.

  “Stevens?”

  “Who else could I be talking about? He’s been bragging for days about how good he is at poker. He knows your weakness is cards.” She nodded to the drawer that Jax had left open. “See anything else of interest?” she purred.

  He leaned forward and saw that there were quite a few packs of Bicycle playing cards. “Let me guess. They’re missing a few aces.”

  “Bingo!” Lily laughed and then launched her chair back over to her desk across the room, disappearing behind her wall of monitors.

  He was relieved that she didn’t want to say anything else, and as she was finally out of sight, maybe he could ignore the screens and get a few minutes of shut-eye. It was dangerous to sleep on the job, and he doubted Lily would hold their one failed date against him that much. He didn’t have any feelings for her. He tried to let her down easy, but he knew she still garnered hope.

  He popped the top off the chips and began to crunch them loudly. They were sour cream and onion. His favorite. Maybe pulling watcher duty wasn’t the end of the world—if he could ignore the annoying gum-popping girl on the other side of the room.

  He crunched on another chip loudly.

  “Are you gonna share?” Lily asked from behind her screen.

  Jax leaned to the left and saw the bottom half of her face in the gap between monitors and watched for her reaction.

  “Nope,” Jax said, licking the last of the salt from his fingers before placing the empty tube back into the drawer.

  A smile played at the corner of her mouth. “Figured.”

  Jax didn’t reply but leaned back to stare at the black and white screens. Halfway through their shift, he started to nod off when he heard Lily speak up.

  “How close are you to the target?” Lily said into her headset. She was directing a team for a pickup. “Address is 1314 S. Grand. Yeah, it’s the high school. You’re going to have to get her to come to you. But be careful. This one was seen with a lost boy; she may get a heads-up and bolt.”

  Jax sat up and looked between the monitors. There was only one person that sounded like. He had just done everything he could to save Wendy, but yet they were going to capture her. He snatched up a pencil and quickly scribbled down her location, and pu
lled up a map of the school. Timber Valley High School.

  He picked up a headset and turned it to the same channel that Lily was on. Keeping his head low, he listened to the ops team close in on Wendy’s location.

  “Don’t be stupid,” Jax muttered when he heard that the shifter from their reaping team had intercepted her.

  They got her. She was in their van.

  The pencil he had picked up snapped into two. He very quietly brought up a map of the area on the computer and watched their tracked van as it headed to the black site. He knew once they got the van there, it would be almost impossible to break her free. She would be drugged and then transported to Neverland.

  Where was Peter? Why hadn’t they done anything? He was sure that he wouldn’t have let her go back to school without assigning her a guard of some sort. Minutes dragged by and the van never slowed; they were only miles away from the point of no return. His mind went over every possible scenario that the van could take and had their course plotted in his mind.

  Lily chuckled from the other side of the room. “He will be so pleased since the last team failed to retrieve her.”

  Jax held his angry retort in and casually slid out from the desk, being careful to minimize and close his screen and history, before stepping out into the hall. He pulled out his phone and dialed a number he never thought he would call again.

  “Pick up,” he muttered as the phone rang. “Pick up, pick up.”

  “Hello?” The heavy wind nearly drowned out the voice, but Jax knew it was him.

  “Package is in a white Chevy conversion van, headed east on Brookstone. You have a ten-minute window before delivered. Don’t let it get through the tunnel.”

  “Jax?” Peter said in disbelief.

  Jax clicked end, flipped the phone over, and pulled out the battery.

  He had done all he could. Now, it was up to Peter.

  Chapter Eight

  Peter stared at his phone in disbelief as the line disconnected. Jax, who he thought he would never hear from again, might have given him a second chance to save the person he loved. Peter knew where Wendy was heading. That was all that mattered at that point. He didn’t have time to question Jax’s motives.

 
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