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       Nobody, p.1

           Jennifer Lynn Barnes
 
Nobody


  Also by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

  The Raised by Wolves series:

  Raised by Wolves

  Trial by Fire

  Taken by Storm

  Every Other Day

  First published by Egmont USA, 2013

  443 Park Avenue South, Suite 806

  New York, NY 10016

  Copyright © Jennifer Lynn Barnes, 2013

  All rights reserved

  www.egmontusa.com

  www.jenniferlynnbarnes.com

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Barnes, Jennifer (Jennifer Lynn).

  Nobody / Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

  p. cm.

  Summary: Fifteen-year-old Claire Ryan has always felt invisible, always lived beyond people’s notice, which causes trouble when she instantly connects with seventeen-year-old Nix, who really can become invisible and has been sent to assassinate her.

  eISBN: 978-1-60684-322-2

  [1. Love—Fiction. 2. Invisibility—Fiction. 3. Assassins—Fiction.

  4. Adventure and adventurers—Fiction. 5. Science fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ7.B26225Nob 2013

  [Fic]—dc23

  2012024390

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher and copyright owner.

  v3.1

  I’m nobody! Who are you?

  Are you nobody, too?

  —Emily Dickinson

  Contents

  Cover

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Epilogue

  Prologue

  One week earlier …

  Nine letters. Two words. He refused to think of them as a name. With detached objectivity, his steady hands set the thin white paper, with its evenly spaced black lettering, to the side.

  He’d done this before.

  One, Two, Three …

  He’d do this again. More needles, more knives. More evenly spaced black letters that carved themselves, blood-red, into the recesses of his mind.

  The only way you can make a difference in this world is to kill.

  From the moment he’d opened the envelope and seen the name, the pictures; from the moment he’d committed those nine letters to memory, the outcome had been a foregone conclusion. His target had been marked. Death was coming.

  So be it.

  1

  Have a great summer! Stay sweet! Have a great summer and stay sweet!

  Claire Ryan had been reading permutations of those words in the pages of her yearbooks for almost as long as she could remember, but for some reason—either optimism or stupidity, she wasn’t sure which—she’d thought that high school would be different. That she would be different. That by the end of freshman year, someone would have bothered to learn her name, invited her over after school, or at the very least asked to copy her geometry homework. But even the most egregious cheaters had remained as oblivious to Claire’s existence as ever, and by the first day of her fifteenth summer, all she had to show for the year was a perfect attendance record and a yearbook filled with sugary, meaningless clichés.

  Her classmates didn’t like her. They didn’t dislike her. They just didn’t care.

  It’s not them. It’s you.

  Claire pushed the thought aside and sat down cross-legged on the floor. Sliding the offending yearbook very nearly out of reach, she tried to focus on something else. Her hands found their way to her cell phone, and before Claire knew it, her index finger was dialing a familiar number, just to hear the sound of the outgoing message.

  She could almost pretend that “please leave a message, and I will get back to you as soon as possible” was Motherese for “I miss you, and your dad and I will be home soon.”

  Then came the beep.

  “Hey, Mom. I wanted to let you know that the last day of school was—it was great. And things here are great. I’m …” Claire cursed herself, but couldn’t stop the word from rolling off her tongue, “… great.”

  With the amount of time she spent reading and watching television, she really should have been a better liar, or at least a more creative one.

  “Anyway, I hope you guys are having a good time. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be—”

  Not again, Claire told herself sternly. If you say great one more time, I swear to God, I’m never speaking to you again.

  “I’ll be fine.” Claire was spared the trouble of having to disown herself, but barely. She waited one beat, maybe two, and then she ended the Message That Kept Going and Going by clarifying one last point that might have somehow escaped her mother’s notice. “Ummm … this is Claire. Love you. Bye.”

  The moment she hung up, her phone joined the yearbook on the floor, and she closed her eyes.

  Have a great summer! Stay sweet! Please leave a message after the beep.

  “Story of my life,” Claire whispered, and the fact that the words came out quiet instead of hard was her first clue that the time for wallowing might be nigh. There couldn’t be something wrong with everyone else in the world. Common sense said that there had to be something wrong with her. If she could just say the right things, do the right things, be a little more interesting …

  It’s never going to happen.

  Claire Ryan was a ghost, a nothing, a nobody. Invisible would have been an upgrade. Oxygen was invisible, but it got breathed all the same. Sound waves were heard. Even clandestine farts had the distinction of being smelled.

  Oh, God. I’m jealous of farts. Claire uncrossed her legs and fell backward, allowing her head to thunk viciously against her bedroom’s wood floor. I envy the noxious, gaseous excretions of the human backside. And my head hurts.

  It was a new low, even for Claire.

  I should lie here. I should lie here forever and never, ever get up.

  Claire pressed her lips together and kept a tight rein on that thought. After a long moment, she forced herself to open her eyes, sat up, and reached first for the phone and then for the yearbook. Two minutes of wallowing, once a year. That was all she got, the closest she could allow herself to the edge of the abyss without letting it devour her whole.

  I’m better than this.

  Claire’s throat tightened, but she refused to let herself cry. Instead, she climbed to her feet and walked, one foot placed lightly in front of the other, to the bookshelf underneath her window. She’d made this trip many times before, to place other yearbooks on the bottom shelf and to pull old friends off more honored places near the middle and top.

  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Ender’s Game. The Secret Garden. I Capture the Castle.

  Claire closed her eyes and ran her hand along the spines of the books on the outermost row of the top shelf. Like a blind man reading Braille, she let her fingertips explore the cracks and lines on the books’ edges until she felt the ziggin
g zag she was looking for, the near-velvet texture of a tome read so often that the paper on the cover had been worn to soft, threadbare nubs.

  Anne.

  Claire pulled the book gingerly from the shelf. She opened her eyes and took a ragged breath.

  Anne of the overactive imagination. Anne, who took it as a personal insult when people spelled her name without the E.

  Knowing she was too old for the book, but not really caring, Claire settled back down on the floor and opened it to the middle, confident that wherever she started, she’d know exactly where the story picked up.

  An orphan girl, desperate for a family. A family who’d hoped for a boy. Dares and dramatics and the indignity of having red hair.

  Claire actually felt her body let go of the harshness of reality. Her mouth curved upward. Her throat relaxed. And as she lost herself in Anne of Green Gables, she thought for maybe the thousandth time how lovely it would be to be the kind of girl who could smash a slate over the top of a boy’s head in a fit of temper, how nice it would be to have someone misspell her name.

  Clair or Clare, it wouldn’t matter—so long as they said or wrote or thought it at all.

  Nix slipped in and out of the crowd, weaving his way down the street with imperceptible but deadly grace. His was the light touch of a warm breeze, the flow of a silent, colorless, odorless liquid. Water over the edge of a dam. A black adder ready to strike.

  No one saw him. No one noticed. And if they had, moments later, his dark hair and light eyes, his scars and tattoos would have been forgotten. The small, arrow-shaped needle in his left hand would have disappeared from their minds, like a footprint from dry sand. The closeness of his body to his target’s, the sleight of hand that allowed him to slip the poison straight into the senator’s vein would never have registered to any passerby as more significant than an empty cup blowing haphazardly down the street.

  “Eleven.” Nix whispered the word into the air, knowing that the outside world would never hear or recognize the number for what it was.

  Nix’s sharp cheekbones and jet-black hair should have been striking. Nix should have been memorable. But he wasn’t. He was nothing. He was Nobody.

  And he never got caught.

  “Senator Evan Sykes was rushed to the hospital last night after suffering a major heart attack in his hometown of Des Moines. Doctors attempted a double bypass, but the junior senator from Iowa did not survive the procedure.”

  Claire’s insides lurched as the newscaster’s baritone segued from talking about Evan Sykes’s untimely demise to his surviving family and potential successors, and then, just like that, the morning news was ending on a local interest story about a water park for dogs. Claire reached for the remote and turned off the television.

  Death of a senator. Water park for dogs.

  Watching the news was supposed to be Claire’s way of staying grounded in reality, but she could feel the rest of the world slipping farther and farther away. If a senator ranked on par with dogs on slip ’n’ slides, Claire didn’t even want to think where she stood. For a moment, she was tempted to call her parents again. Sooner or later, they’d pick up—the laws of probability were on her side—but Claire could sense the need to wallow circling the walls of her mind, and she wasn’t about to give it entry.

  No.

  She was going to have a great summer. She was going to be sweet. And sooner or later, she’d be sweet enough, independent enough, something enough that either someone else would notice, or she’d stop caring what other people thought (or, more accurately, didn’t think) at all.

  Determined, Claire put on a bathing suit. She pulled a pair of board shorts on over the bottoms. And, head held high, she and a copy of The Hollow Kingdom made their way to the community pool, ready to take on the world.

  2

  Nix’s quarters at the institute were eggshell white and completely bare. The Society’s scientist du jour believed that the less a Nobody was exposed to the outside world, the more potent his powers became. Deprive him of all contact with the energy that ran unseen through everyone and everything, and his ability to pass through the world unnoticed increased.

  It was the latest in a string of theories that Nix detested.

  He was nothing.

  Nobody.

  Putting something on his walls wasn’t going to change that. It wasn’t going to change him. Who he was. What he could do. Nobodies went through life unable to leave their marks on another person. Maximally unimportant. Metaphysically deficient.

  That wasn’t the kind of thing that scientists could understand.

  At seventeen, Nix wasn’t the kind of person who had any particular desire to be understood. Most days, he didn’t feel like a person at all.

  You’re less than air. Less than shadow.

  He put his back to the wall and stopped breathing. He’d learned this lesson so often that it was branded into his mind, the voice in his head a mixture of his trainers’ lectures in stereo.

  No matter what you do, no matter where you go, people will always look through you. They will affect you, but you will never affect them.

  Nix’s chest began to burn, and with silent, ritualized savagery, he slashed at himself, uneven fingernails carving jagged red lines into his stomach and arms. Beads of sweat rose on his bare skin.

  If you let yourself, you could love—but no one will ever love you. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t. That thing, that intangible thing that other people have that lets them form connections, that lets them matter—

  You don’t have it.

  You are never going to have it.

  Nix began to bleed. Darkness rimmed his line of vision. It wasn’t enough.

  It was never enough.

  You’re no one. You’re nothing, and that is very, very special.

  Sated and soothed by his outburst, Nix slid to the floor, sinking smoothly and effortlessly into lotus position. He sat his bloody, upturned hands on his knees and closed his eyes.

  I am everything. I am nothing. I am powerful. I am forgotten.

  His words, not The Society’s. His handlers couldn’t do what he did. They had never tasted his kind of power. The Society of Sensors had been studying metaphysics for thousands of years; its members had taught him what he was, what he would always be—but his trainers had never been nothing themselves.

  I am shadow. I am air.

  Forbidden thoughts. He breathed them in and out, and for the first time since returning from his mission, he spoke, his voice low and rough, but musical in the way of a gravel-voiced siren singing the blues. “I am Nobody.” His lips curved upward, his breathing even. “I am Nix.”

  He was unchanging.

  He was constant.

  And whatever his next assignment held—back alleys, visiting dignitaries, monsters dressed as men—he was ready.

  For number Twelve.

  “Excuse me, could I get a towel, please?”

  Claire signed in at the front desk, dotting the t in her name in a manner almost grand enough to pass for a circle. She could do this. Hot day, cool pool, good book. What more could a girl ask for?

  “Could you please hand me a towel?” She spoke a little louder this time, determined to catch the attention of the boy working behind the sign-in desk. The boy in question ran his hands through his hair (blond and gelled and respectably thick) and stared straight past Claire with the kind of complete nonchalance only possible between the ages of fourteen and twenty.

  “Ummm … excuse me?” Claire felt like she was shouting, but the boy didn’t so much as blink. Brandishing The Hollow Kingdom like it was a flare, Claire stood on her tiptoes. Suddenly, the boy snapped out of it. Moved to grab a towel. Smiled. And handed it—

  To the girl standing behind Claire.

  I don’t really need a towel. I can air-dry. That’s what the sun’s for, right?

  Giving up, Claire turned to go into the pool area, but the towel thief turned at the exact same moment, and the two of them coll
ided full force.

  “Oh, I’m so sorry,” Claire said, her apology reflex kicking into overdrive.

  The girl she was apologizing to tossed red hair over one shoulder and tilted her head to the side. For a moment, she stood ramrod straight and so still that Claire thought she was broken. Then the girl brought one hand up and slowly ran it over the side of her own face. Claire watched, feeling like she was intruding on some kind of sacred ritual; the girl lifted her other hand up, palm first, and let it hover just over Claire’s face, then her arms.

  Maybe I really did break her, Claire thought.

  “Are you okay? I’m so sorry.…”

  The red-haired girl didn’t register Claire’s words. Her hands fluttered back down to her sides and in a completely impassive voice, she whispered a single, haunting word.

  “Nothing.”

  Claire took a step back. The girl reached for her cell phone. And then she turned around and walked back toward the parking lot, the coveted towel still slung over her arm.

  “Okay,” Claire said, under her breath. “Now that was weird.”

  Determined to shake it off, Claire scanned the deck and found an open lounge chair angled between the baby pool and the diving board. It was, without question, the loudest, wettest, least desirable chair on the deck, but in her contrary moments, Claire liked liking things that went unappreciated by others.

  Settling back into the chair, Claire offered her face up to the sun and closed her eyes. She breathed in and out, letting the din of the pool fade into the background, pushing the red-haired girl and her accusation—Nothing—out of her mind. The hum of Claire’s brain waves settled into the requisite pattern for an old standby, perfect for sunbathing and guaranteed to keep overthinking at bay.

  Situations, Claire thought, waiting for one to take hold, enjoying the feel of the sun on her face, her body, the length of her limbs.

  Situation: What would it be like if you got hit by a car, and you desperately didn’t want to go to the hospital, but the person who saw it happen—a total stranger—was dead set on seeing you checked out by a doctor? What if it were a mother, with several small children, who couldn’t help but mother you, too, and pursed her lips when you said you didn’t want to go? What if it were an undercover FBI agent, and you had somehow stumbled into an integral part of their case?

 
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