Where foundlings hide, p.20
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       Where Foundlings Hide, p.20

           KL Mitchelson
 

  Chapter Twenty

  The screens don’t automatically change like they did when Caleb spoke, and I wonder if it’s because he gave a distinct code to identify himself, but then the screens flicker and something close to anger rises in my throat when I see the garden of Evergreen, my bedroom, our living room. I hazard a glance at Caleb, but he has his back to me now, unaware of what I have found.

  Our house is empty of course, but I still hold my breath, waiting for something to happen on screen. Hot tears build behind my eyes. Evergreen was my haven, my sanctuary, and the Vedmak’s have desecrated it.

  I angrily snatch up the keyboard ready to trash their surveillance system. Maybe tapping out a random sequence on the keys will do it, or deleting one of the many folders that have appeared on the computer screen.

  I lean forward to peruse the options on the computer, then I highlight all of the folders. I am about to tap the ‘delete’ key when I see that all of the folders are labelled with the same word, ‘Decoy’, followed by the number ’1’ and then a sequence of 6 numbers which look like dates. I click on one at random.

  Then I am on every screen, my life playing out before me like a poor television programme. With a jolt, I realise that Lana is also visible.

  This is archived footage. I step towards the screens and I touch the image of my faux sister, my heart pounding in my chest. We must be about five or six in these recordings, both in matching outfits of pink, our hair styled in identical braids, the Foundling and her decoy. Bile rises in my throat and my hands start to shake.

  “You weren’t supposed to see this.” Caleb returns the telephone to its hanger.

  “You watched me all this time, even when I was young.”

  Pink spots appear on Caleb’s cheeks. “Not me, I’ve only watched you for the last couple of years.”

  “This isn’t OK.” My voice is shaky, uneven.

  Caleb shrugs. “I was given orders and I followed them. Only a few of us have access to those recordings.”

  “I thought the Foundlings were supposed to be hidden, I thought no one was supposed to know about the decoys. Why were you watching Lana and me?”

  Caleb sighs. “Lana was royalty; she was also the Gatekeeper. She couldn’t disappear like the others, so they kept her under surveillance.”

  I look at the screens and nausea rises in my throat. “They didn’t just keep Lana under surveillance.”

  Caleb’s green eyes search mine. “I realise how this must look, but we were just making sure you were both safe.”

  “By spying on us.”

  “I’m not going to apologise for the measures we took,” Caleb reaches for my hand. “I’ll always keep you safe, no matter what the cost.”

  As Caleb moves towards me, I realise a little too late what he’s going to do. His lips press against mine, warm and insistent. He slips his arms around my waist and pulls me closer, but I plant my hands on his chest as the uncomfortable tingling starts in the base of my skull. I don’t want my first kiss to be like this, this isn’t the right time. I’m not even sure it’s with the right person anymore.

  Caleb releases me like I’ve delivered an electric shock. He groans in pain, pressing a hand to his forehead.

  I step back, worried that I did something to hurt him. “What’s wrong?”

  He straightens up slowly and takes a breath. “Roma. She doesn’t approve. She’s yelling pretty loud inside my head.”

  My cheeks flush in embarrassment. “She was listening in?”

  Caleb nods.

  “Do I ever get a moment of privacy? I need to get out of here.”

  I storm back towards the door and Caleb rushes to open it for me. I don’t even thank him.

  Outside, the night has cooled and I breathe deeply, savouring the fresh air. Caleb tries to take my hand in his, but I shake it away and quicken my pace.

  We walk past the houses and back through the cluster of trees with an awkward air hanging between us. Back in the courtyard, Caleb turns to me looking uncharacteristically uncomfortable. “I need to smooth things over with Roma. Will you come with me?”

  I shake my head. “No. You’re on your own.”

  Caleb gives me a look of regret before trudging into the Atrium.

  A couple of weeks ago, I would have given anything for Caleb to kiss me, but not now, not since I saw the surveillance tapes of Evergreen.

  I long to get away from the Vedmak’s, away from prying minds that invade even the most intimate of moments and away from the archived footage of Lana and me.

  I wonder how far away I would need to go before the Vedmak’s were unable to read my thoughts, before I had one moment that was mine alone. I gaze at the perimeter of the grounds and an idea occurs to me. Imagining the purple cloak, I race towards the tall fence. It could be the fence of any English garden - iron-wrought with an intricate pattern of twists and swirls - only it’s twenty feet tall. I have no idea where I’m going, or what lies beyond the safety of the Household, I just want to run, to clear my head a little. I kick off the shoes and scoop up the hem of my dress.

  The pattern in the fence is wide and smooth in places, so it provides good footholds.

  At the top, I swing my leg over and easily find my footing on the other side, but when I try to climb down, the hem of my dress catches. I pull at it and the fabric tears, making me lose my balance. I start to fall and I brace myself for the impact with the ground, but it doesn’t come.

  Strong arms catch me, moulding around my back, warm and strong. “I’ve got you.”

  I find myself staring into a pair of dark, unfamiliar eyes that seem to sparkle in the light of the holographic stars above. I inhale sharply.

  My rescuer sets me on my feet. He is young, maybe around Caleb’s age, and very handsome. He has a flock of thick dark hair that curls around his ears, a straight nose and a slightly downturned mouth. He regards me with a serious expression. “You know, the gate’s right there.”

  I can’t speak, my mouth is too dry and I can’t stop staring at him.

  He raises an eyebrow quizzically. “Are you OK?”

  “I…yes, I’m… they wouldn’t have opened the gates for me.” I say quickly, unsure of whether or not this is actually true.

  “Why not?”

  “I’m not supposed to be out after dark.” I say, looking past him at the line of trees that fringe the grounds, even the silver sheen cast by the stars is unable to penetrate the thick canopy of branches.

  The boy’s eyes flicker to the crown on my head. “You’re a member of the royal family.”

  “I am…” Something stops me from telling the lie, from introducing myself as Princess Acacia, something about the way he is looking at me. “…in so much trouble if I don’t get back inside. Can you help me?”

  The boy gestures back to the fence. “Do you want me to help you back over, or…”

  My face flushes with embarrassment.

  “…maybe use the gate this time?”

  I nod, trying not to get lost in those dark eyes.

  “Why is it that I’ve never seen you before?” He asks, starting in the direction of the gate. His voice is even, conversational, like he doesn’t really care. “The Vedmak’s are always parading up and down the royal road.”

  “They keep me locked away.” I shrug.

  He raises an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t surprise me with your lot.” He nods towards the Household as we edge around the perimeter, his combat boots echoing in the night, and I wonder whether or not he’s being purposefully offensive.

  He stops suddenly and I almost collide with him. He stares at me and I see his brows twitch. “You’re different,” he remarks. “To other Vedmak’s I mean.”

  “Why?” I try to hold his gaze, willing myself not to blush.

  “Something…softer about you, less haughty…I don’t know,” he shakes his head, frowning a little. “Come on.”

  As he starts towards the gates again, I see a glint of steel at his si
de. It reminds me of Nicholas. “You’re not a Vedmak.”

  “Is that a joke?” He calls over his shoulder.

  I falter, the blood rushing to my cheeks. “No…um, like I said, I don’t get out much.”

  “No, I’m not a Vedmak. I’m a Smith.”

  “Like Nicholas?”

  The boy turns and looks at me incredulously. He is beautiful, despite the look of scorn etched on his face. “Yeah, like Nicholas. Just a little less in charge.” He waves in the direction of a tall tower.

  As the gates screech open, he scans the line of trees behind us, his posture taut, like he’s waiting for something to spring from the darkness. I see the muscles in his jaw clench, the shadow of stubble on his chin, his eyes blinking almost lazily as they find mine.

  I look hastily away, my cheeks blazing because he caught me staring.

  He sweeps an arm in the direction of the now-open gates. “Your gilded cage awaits.” He says, straight-faced.

  “Thanks for walking me home.” I know it sounds lame as I say it, and I feel the heat rising in my face again.

  The boy nods curtly and disappears into the night without another word.

 

 
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