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       Lost Boy, p.7

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  Peter. Her heart beat faster as she thought of him. He can fly! She closed her eyes as she remembered the exhilaration of flying through the air. Her world would never be the same after today. She looked down her fingers gripping the dresser. Peter said she had powers. But what kind? And was it worth believing Peter’s incredulous tale? Yes, it was. Especially, if it meant that she was no longer a victim and could fight back the next time the Red Skulls appeared.

  Wendy experimented to determine her supernatural gifts and tried thrusting her hands out, bending a baton, and even standing on her desk and jumping off in another foolish attempt to fly. But . . . nope. All the cool supernatural gifts she didn’t have. She’d have called Peter a liar if he hadn’t stolen across the city with her and dropped her into her backyard.

  Peter had left her with questions, giving her just enough information to pique her interest and alarm her at the same time.

  She was about to call everything a big pile of malarkey when a shadow floated into her room. The ease with which it entered startled her, and she knocked over her bottle of water on her dresser.

  “Sheesh! Don’t you knock?” Wendy hissed.

  As if to obey, the shadow moved through her bedroom door and then came back in a second later.

  “Okay, maybe that’s a little bit of a stretch, but how about a warning?” She studied the shadow as it moved over to her dresser. Wendy moved to sit on her bed and lounged back to study the shadow. “So, this is it, huh? My super power is that I see you guys and I’m not officially crazy.”

  The shadow began moving toward her but paused and looked toward the door before quickly disappearing—right before her brother barged through the bedroom door, looking haggard.

  “Wendy?” He gave her a puzzled look at her just lounging on the bed.

  “Yeah.”

  “You’re home. Where have you been? I’ve been waiting on the front step for hours. It wasn’t until I saw the light on in your bedroom that I knew you had made it back. Where were you all this time?”

  Wendy’s cheeks flushed. Peter had flown her to the backyard. “None of your business.”

  “None of my business! You were kidnapped from school, almost taken to a secret facility, and rescued by superheroes,” John said, his voice raised in concern. “And you tell me it’s none of my business!”

  “How did you . . . ?” Wendy stilled, fear and uncertainty clouding her judgment. “What comedy did we watch the other night?” she challenged, putting him to the test.

  He frowned. “We didn’t. It was a home movie.” John sighed. “Listen, I know about Neverland.”

  She sucked in a breath but stayed silent, her heartbeat accelerating.

  “And I know about your friends,” he said warily, watching her tightening expression. “Peter and the others. I got to meet them, and I’ve been worried sick about you.” John sat on the edge of her bed and touched her shoulder. “What are we going to do?”

  “I don’t know, John. I’m scared.”

  He leaned forward, his arms wrapping her in a bear hug. “I’m just glad you’re safe.”

  She knew that as siblings they didn’t always communicate on the same wavelength and they spoke harshly to each other out of fear and worry. “Me too, John. Me too.”

  “You know I’m here for you, right? We’ll get through this together.”

  “Yes.” Wendy squeezed the thimble in her hand. “But I don’t think we will be alone.”

  She glanced out her window into the night. She knew that Peter was probably out there somewhere, watching, waiting. Waiting for her to come to him and get the answers to the rest of her questions about her life. Maybe he knew who she really was and where her real family was. She had to decide if she wanted the life that she was slowly recreating for herself there with the Owens or if she wanted the truth.

  Jax stumbled to his bunk; the bruise on his face had finally turned from a sickly yellow to an angry purple. He had skipped dinner to rush to bed before all the others, and as the other soldiers filed in and began to get ready for bed, he flipped onto his side and faced the wall, turning his back to them. He stayed frozen in a feigned slumber for hours until he was sure that all the others in the bunk were in a deep sleep.

  It was time. Jax slipped out the side door and made his way down a few flights of stairs to the freezer. Though it wasn’t a freezer exactly. It was just the nickname they had given the room that held all the kids in stasis. It was where she was.

  Jax glanced through the glass door at an array of gray pods scattered throughout the room. He tapped the glass a few times and waited impatiently for Candace to notice him. The technician hardly ever slept, and he knew that the middle of the night was his best chance of going there without being caught.

  A few seconds later, Candace, a technician with floral glasses and messy hair, rolled up to the window in her wheelchair and buzzed the door, letting him in.

  “What happened to your face? You look like someone beat you with a hammer,” Candace chastised, patting her hair.

  “No, a Hook.” Jax turned his head so she could see the swelling above his eye.

  “I’m sorry,” she said softly. Then, she looked over at the pods and sighed. “Two minutes, okay? I need her to have normal results tonight. They’ve been in there a lot lately, and she was tired.”

  “That’s fine, and thanks, Candace.” He gave her shoulder a squeeze.

  “Don’t mention it, Jax. No really, don’t mention this to anyone . . . ever.” She wheeled herself back over to the computer center and continued working.

  Jax looked among the pods for a specific one. They sometimes got moved around, but her pod never moved. Hers was always in the dead center of the room. The others spread out in a ring around hers.

  She was asleep. She was always asleep, trapped in a dream world controlled by the drugs they pumped into her system. Her blonde hair floated around her, creating a waving cloud of gold. Jax had wondered what color her eyes would be. Maybe hazel, or blue like the sky. She could also have green eyes.

  He first stumbled upon her when he was sent to deliver a file folder to Candace. He hadn’t meant to stay long, and he usually avoided looking at the pods because they made him uncomfortable. But the day she arrived, he could almost feel a buzz radiating toward one in particular, and he had continued to feel a magnetic pull ever since.

  She was so innocent, sleeping in the water, and she looked so helpless that it triggered an inherent need to protect her.

  Jax knew she couldn’t hear his voice since they kept her in a perpetual dreaming state because of her unique gift. He had heard rumors that she controlled the morphlings, and those rumors terrified him. Because it meant the easiest way to stop the morphlings would be to destroy her. Her power was to strong, and in the wrong hands like those of Neverland, it was devastating.

  She was the one that Candace monitored and not so much the others in the pods. While some of the pods held boys, most of the pods were filled with girls—all the kids that never escaped Neverland all those years ago. Jax sucked in a deep breath, remembering. Those kids, seven years older, were held captive in the pods, as Hook harvested their gifts. Gifts that were being engineered into the new PX drug. Those that weren’t in the pods were dedicated to the Red Skulls and Hook. Jax knew it was only a matter of time before he disappointed Hook and ended up in a pod one day. But for the time being, he was more useful as a double agent.

  A black screen on her right would show a visual representation of what she dreamed. And they weren’t always clear because the dreams would frequently jump from place to place or shift out of focus. At the moment, it looked like she was dreaming about an island paradise. Colorful plants with flowers that were too bright, too spectacular to be real.

  It was by watching her dreams that he was slowly getting to know her, to even—dare he say it—fall in love. She was the reason he stayed at Neverland or kept coming back. He just had to figure out a way for her to survive outside the dream state.
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  “Hey, Candace,” Jax muttered over his shoulder, not taking his eyes off the sleeping girl. “Do you think—?”

  “I already told you—she can’t survive outside of the pod. She was in an accident, and this is the only thing keeping her alive.” Her voice sounded annoyed, and he heard the clicking on the computer as she typed focused on her work.

  Jax was grateful that Candace’s back was to him and that she couldn’t see his cheeks turn red with embarrassment. It was hard that the silent dreaming girl occupied so much of his thoughts. But he couldn’t help but wonder if what Candace said was true. Was that pod the only thing keeping her alive? He just wanted her to acknowledge him, to know her name. Her real name.

  “Okay, time’s up, lover boy,” Candace spoke. “Time to get lost. You’re messing up her dreams.”

  “What do you mean?” Jax came over to look at Candace’s computer.

  “It’s just that whenever you’re in here, her dreams become more scattered. See?” She pointed to the brain monitor, and the readings were bouncing all over the place. “It’s like she can sense your presence.”

  “Does it happen often?”

  “No, not really. I mean sometimes.” She turned in her wheelchair, lifting her glasses onto the top of her head. “Look, I think she’s aware, or semi-aware. Cause I can see spikes sometimes when I talk to her, though not often. But the more you come, the more I start to see these anomalies, and I can’t have that. If you want to keep her safe, we need to maintain the status quo. Got it? Right now, she’s safe; she’s doing her job.”

  “And what is that again exactly?” He knew that they weren’t harvesting her gifts. She was there for a different reason.

  “That’s classified. Just understand that she’s working and I don’t need you coming in here and breaking her. We all know what happens when something breaks around here?”

  He did, and Candace wasn’t referring to the machines; she was referring to the people—thrown out like garbage if they no longer served their function. Then, they replaced you with another.

  “It’s why I can’t have you in here longer than two minutes at a time.” Candace pushed the button on the desk, and the door unlocked. “Now, get out of here.” She made shooing motions, and Jax left, but not before casting one long look over his shoulder at her. “Say goodbye to Alice,” she said.

  “Alice?” He gave Candace a quizzical look. “I thought you didn’t know her name?”

  “Yeah, it’s what I call her in my head. It’s not good to get attached to any of them, but I gave her a nickname too.” Candace pointed to the faded stencil markings on the numbered pod, something that Jax had never paid much attention to before, the serial number along the side of the pod.

  A-L1C3.

  He looked back at Candace and grimaced. “Yeah, I don’t think she sounds like an Alice.”

  “Shoo!” Candace yelled and rolled over to him threateningly. “Don’t make me run over you.”

  “Okay, okay.” Jax held up his hands and backed out of the room, just as the door swung close and locked on him. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he had caught a glimpse of something on the screen right before he left. He thought he saw himself inside her dream.

  He smiled slowly. Yeah, he was having an effect on Alice, like she’d had on him.

  But he knew enough about her, tidbits spoken in hushed tones, gossip from the scientists—that she was powerful. Incredibly powerful. The morphlings showed up right after she did, and he wasn’t leaving Neverland until he figured out what that connection was. He couldn’t believe that she was meant to live out the rest of her days inside a pod. Even if that meant he was going to have to spend the rest of his days trying to break her out, serving Neverland’s purpose to further his own.

  Jax turned the corner and walked straight into Hook, barreling into his senior commander.

  “What are you doing out of your bunk?”

  “Couldn’t sleep, sir.” Jax stood at attention, not looking him in the eye.

  He could see Hook processing the truth, trying to determine if Jax was lying or not. His commander even looked down the hallway he had just come from, but Jax had been smart, never taking a direct route from the freezer. He had cut through the kitchen and was heading back to his room.

  “Do you remember my special assignment?”

  “Sir, yes, sir.”

  Hook pulled a folded picture out of his uniform pocket and held it in front of Jax. “See her,” Hook waited expectantly.

  Jax swallowed, his stomach dropping as Hook held a blown-up screenshot of Wendy. It was hard to tell when Hook had gotten that photo, or how old it was. It seemed pretty recent. But he was able to keep his voice neutral despite his rising heart rate. “Yes.”

  “Twice the Red Skulls have failed to bring her in. I will dispatch a morphling tomorrow at eighteen hundred hours and you will be in charge of the reaping team. I know how unpredictable the morphlings can be. Show me you’re not worthless, and make sure she gets here in one piece.” Hook snapped, “I won’t tolerate failure.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  Jax waited until Hook had continued down the hall to let out a sigh. The time had come to choose a side. Neverland or Neverwood. Protect Alice or Wendy. He wasn’t ready to make that choice.

  Chapter Thirteen

  The thimble was burning a hole in her pocket the whole day at school. She regularly would feel for it to make sure she hadn’t lost it. It was ridiculous. But she was struggling to come to terms with yesterday’s events. It was too surreal. All she knew was that Peter had rescued her, and with him came the burden of something truly terrifying—the truth about her past and Neverland.

  She was a mess of mixed emotions, of wanting to see Peter but also wanting to run as far from him as possible.

  A tap on her shoulder made Wendy jump. She was losing it and needed to keep her cool, but it was hard when she expected every single person to shapeshift into a Red Skull. She turned and was stunned to see Jeremy standing before her.

  He waited for her to say something, but when nothing came, he said, “What are you doing after school today?”

  He flashed a grin her way, and she could see why at one point she would have been affected by that brilliantly white smile, but it paled in comparisons to Peter’s.

  “I don’t know,” she said. “I think I’m just heading home today.”

  Jeremy’s face fell in disappointment. “Okay, how about we change that? You, me—and dinner?” He gave her a confident grin.

  Wendy panicked. Dinner meant being forced to have small talk, and she wasn’t sure she was ready. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I have a lot going on right now.”

  A tall figure was walking through the front doors, and Wendy’s radar went off—she couldn’t help but zero in on his outline and knew he was near. Peter nodded when he saw her and worked his way through the throng of students. He was wearing a green hooded sweater and dark denim jeans, which did nothing to disguise his good looks, and many girls noticed. He kept getting stopped and waylaid as he tried to make his way through the throng of girls.

  Why was he there? He said he didn’t go to her school.

  Jeremy was oblivious that he had lost Wendy’s attention. He cupped his hands around his mouth and began to holler down the school hallway, “Who thinks this girl should go on a date with me?”

  Peter froze in the middle of the hall, his brows furrowed, and pressed his lips into a thin line of displeasure.

  Students stopped and stared; some began to make loud noises, and others clapped.

  One student yelled, “Do it.”

  “How about a movie?” Jeremy countered. “I’m not going to take no for an answer.” He grinned, his fist pumping in the air, inviting more mass chanting. Wendy crossed her arm and began to look for an escape route.

  “The masses are speaking to you, Wendy. What say you give a guy a chance?”

  Her anxiety began to rise, she opened and closed her mouth, unable to get
the words out. Where did all of the saliva go in her mouth? She was speechless.

  Her eyes sought Peter’s over the crowd. Peter had drawn closer to her, his mood dark like a thundercloud, his ire aimed at Jeremy. She could feel Peter’s jealousy, and the full effect of him being that near her washed over her, making her knees go weak, and her cheeks flushed. Why should he be angry? Peter had no claim on her, they had only just “met” the night before. Then, he showed up in her school after dropping life changing information bombs and had the gall to act jealous because another boy asked her out?

  In an attempt to save her, Peter gripped her arm and pulled her to his side. How dare he? He had no right to assume that she needed his help.

  Wendy recoiled in irritation, yanking her arm back with enough force that she stumbled backward and fell. But it was Jeremy who caught her—his arm slinked around her waist.

  “It looks like you’re already falling for me. So, what does Wendy have to say to my offer?”

  Out of spite, and to prove to herself that Peter didn’t mean anything to her she nodded in affirmation.

  “She said yes,” Jeremy yelled, and the hallway erupted into chaos. He leaned in, his eyes looking her up and down, and his voice lowered. “Now, remember, I don’t take no for an answer.”

  He flashed her another confident smile before sauntering off.

  She could feel Peter’s displeasure from five feet away. He didn’t come any closer to her—just watched, a confused look on his face. But Wendy didn’t dare meet his gaze. She turned down the hallway and tried to put as much distance as she could between them.

  John recognized Tink instantly in the crowded hallway. She stood out like Starburst in a pile of Skittles, both bright and colorful except for the shape, the odd one out. She might pose as a student and look like the other kids, but her attitude didn’t fit. Plus, she was leaning against a wall wearing dark sunglasses, pretending to read a textbook like it was a comic book.

  He was first irritated by her presence, but he came up beside her and noticed that she wasn’t even looking at the book. Sure enough, Tink was watching Wendy make her way into the girls’ locker room.

 
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