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Losing lila, p.20
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       Losing Lila, p.20

           Sarah Alderson
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  ‘Come on, we need to explain to Dad,’ I said, tugging at Jack’s sleeve. ‘And we need to figure out how we’re getting Mum back.’

  Alex walked on past us both, his jaw set, still refusing to meet my eye. I might as well have been captured, I thought, for all the difference it would have made. I caught Jack’s arm as he was about to follow Alex.

  ‘Please, just let it go,’ I hissed.

  ‘Let what go?’ Jack asked innocently.

  ‘You know what! This thing about Alex and me. It’s nothing to do with you.’

  ‘You’re my sister,’ Jack growled. ‘He’s my best friend. And he brought you back here. I’m going to kill him. He should have been looking out for you, not . . .’ he struggled to find an appropriate word, ‘doing whatever the hell he was doing with you.’

  I should never have opened my mouth when he was comatose. I dropped my voice so no one could hear. ‘Jack, for God’s sake, don’t you think we have more important things to deal with right now?’

  Jack glared at me, his mouth twisting with the effort he was making to keep it closed. ‘OK,’ he finally said, ‘let’s go talk to Dad.’ He stood back to let me walk ahead of him down the stairs. ‘I’m still going to have it out with him, Lila. You’re my sister,’ he muttered to my back.

  Was he ever going to stop this? I paused and walked back up a step so I was in his face. ‘Jack, I know you think you have to look out for me and take care of me, but you really don’t. I can take care of myself. I think I’ve proved that. And don’t get me wrong,’ I continued, ‘I love you for wanting to look after me, but I love Alex as well.’ I heard my voice catch and tear as though love was a serrated word.

  Jack faltered on the step above me. ‘Love?’ he asked incredulously.

  ‘Yes,’ I glared at him. ‘Four-letter word, Jack. Different one to the ones you normally use. So, please, just let it go.’

  I grabbed hold of the banister and forced myself down the last three steps into the main cabin of the boat. Alex was sitting at a table, opposite my dad, who was nursing a drink. I hoped it was something stronger than water. My dad had his hand clasped round the glass and he was busy studying its contents as though he was trying to divine answers from the liquid. He didn’t bother looking up when Jack and I entered the room.

  It was a dazzling space, as sleek as the outside of the boat. There were black leather sofas, a stocked bar in the corner, polished wood cabinets around two walls and a white carpet so soft underfoot that it made me instinctively want to speak in a whisper. The engine was just a mellow thrum beneath us. There was no real notion we were moving, other than the receding coastline visible through the portholes. I wondered brief y what Carlos would say about where his money was going. He’d probably approve, though he might decorate the place with a few more pictures of the Madonna and a scattering of bikini-clad women. I hoped that Demos still had enough money left over from the purchase of this floating gin palace to lay his traps in Washington.

  I crossed to the bank of sofas on the other side of the room, as far away from my dad and Alex as I could get without climbing out of a porthole.

  ‘Hey,’ Jack said.

  My dad looked up and stared at him. ‘So, are you going to tell me what’s going on?’ he said, waving his arm to indicate the boat, me, Alex, and possibly, well, probably, the fact that both his children had just come out . . . in a manner of speaking.

  ‘Where do you want me to begin?’ Jack said.

  ‘Well, for a start – when were you going to tell me?’

  ‘About what?’ Jack replied.

  ‘About you. About what you can both do?’

  ‘Well, Dad,’ Jack sighed, ‘I only just found out myself.’

  My dad turned to look at me for the first time since I’d caused the pile-up on the freeway. ‘And you, Lila?’

  ‘I . . .’

  ‘How long have you known?’

  I took a gulp of air. ‘A few years.’

  His eyebrows jumped up to meet his hairline. ‘A few years? And you didn’t tell me? Why on earth not?’

  Why not? Good question. Because I thought I was a freak?

  ‘Because I didn’t tell anybody,’ I mumbled, ‘because I didn’t want anyone to know. And thank God I didn’t tell you.’ I could hear the accusation building in my voice, tried to control it, but it was bubbling over. ‘Because what would you have done? Cured me? Tried to fix me?’ I was yelling now.

  ‘What are you talking about?’ my dad asked quietly, looking totally dazed.

  ‘Isn’t that what you want to do? Fix us? Like we have a disease?’

  I saw the confusion clear. ‘No, Lila, it’s not like that.’ He paused then his voice became softer. ‘You should have told me.’

  ‘What, like you told us about Mum?’

  He winced. ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘I know about Mum being a psy. That she was telepathic.’

  She is. Is. Is. Is. Not was.


  I turned at the sound of Jack’s voice. He was staring at me. Oh crap. I’d sort of forgotten to share that little detail with him.

  ‘Lila, what are you talking about?’ Jack repeated.

  ‘She was telepathic, Jack. Mum could read minds.’

  Jack’s reaction was similar to the one I’d had when Demos told me: total disbelief, followed by shock. He blinked a few times, shook his head, then stared at my dad then at me.

  ‘How do you know this?’ my dad asked under his breath.

  ‘Demos told me.’

  ‘Demos?’ At the mention of his name, my dad’s expression shifted then darkened, a muscle pulsing under his eye.


  ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ Jack burst out.

  I twisted to him again. ‘When? When exactly would I have told you? As you keep pointing out, you were in a coma.’ I hoped he wouldn’t pull me up on the fact that I had managed to communicate quite a lot of other stuff while he was unconscious.

  ‘What else did Demos tell you?’ my dad interrupted. He looked at me for a second before his eyes flashed to Jack.

  ‘He told me about him and Mum.’

  ‘He told you what?’ My dad’s voice was shaking.

  ‘Just about how they met . . .’

  I couldn’t continue. I wasn’t sure I knew what to say. Well, I know he loved her and that maybe he still loves her and that he’s trying to rescue her and oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you, she’s still alive. Nope. Not that.

  ‘He didn’t kill her, Dr Loveday,’ Alex broke in. ‘Melissa’s alive. Your wife is alive,’ he said quietly. I let out the breath I was holding.

  My dad just stood there, like the air was being vacuumed out of him. He blinked at Alex. ‘What? What are you saying?’

  ‘She’s alive. The Unit have been holding her this whole time.’

  My dad turned to look at Jack and me, seeking confirmation that Alex had gone mad and was spouting crazy conspiracy theories. I didn’t know whether to nod or shake my head. So I just stayed absolutely still.

  ‘The Unit aren’t who you think they are, Dr Loveday,’ Alex continued. ‘Jack and I were recruited by the Unit deliberately. We had no idea what they were really doing. Like you, we thought they were trying to stop Demos. That’s why we joined up in the first place, as you know.’ He gave a little shrug and I longed suddenly to go over to him and take his hand. But I stayed where I was, watching my dad’s face turn worryingly pale. Alex kept talking. ‘But we’ve since found out it was all a lie. Everything the Unit told us was a lie. Demos never killed her. They framed him for the murder and took Melissa, and since then they’ve been trying to contain others like her, people like Lila.’

  ‘Why? Why? I don’t understand,’ my dad finally managed to croak out.

  ‘Because,’ Alex said, ‘they’re trying to understand the genetic code that makes her and Lila and Jack and all the others the way they are.’

  ‘Yes, of course, they want to fix it,’ my dad int
errupted Alex, ‘but they aren’t . . . they can’t be containing people . . . why would they be? That’s impossible. What you’re saying . . .’

  ‘They’re containing them so they can carry out research. So that they can create weapons. New weapons.’

  My dad actually looked like he was going to laugh. I recognised the signs. The corner of his mouth was twitching into a smile.

  Alex’s face stayed impassive as though he was explaining an algebra formula. ‘Genetic warfare, so to speak.’

  The smile vanished. My dad shut his eyes and shook his head. ‘I’m sorry . . . I don’t . . .’

  ‘All we are,’ I interrupted, ‘are lab rats for Stirling Enterprises. That’s what Mum is.’

  My dad switched his attention to me.

  ‘Dad,’ I said, ‘they’re experimenting on us. Trying to figure out ways of making people telepathic or telekinetic and . . . whatever . . . and then once they’ve figured it out, they’ll sell the secrets to the highest bidder.’

  He continued to stare at me blankly.

  ‘Imagine it – crazy people able to read your mind.’ Suki’s face flashed before me. ‘Armies of men who can move tanks with a glance.’ I took a deep breath. ‘Imagine what might happen if the knowledge fell into the wrong hands. Which it’s going to.’

  The blankness started to fade. Finally my lesson in how a new world order would be created was sinking in. ‘And thanks to your research, Dad, they’re already well on the road to making that discovery.’

  I watched my dad’s face crumple. ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘They’ve been stealing your research,’ I said. ‘All the time you thought you were helping, well, guess what? You were. Only not quite how you thought you were.’

  ‘No. That can’t be right,’ my dad said, shaking his head.

  ‘She’s right,’ Alex reassured him.

  Something suddenly seemed to penetrate through the fog of his denial. ‘Melissa’s alive?’ my dad whispered. There was a sense of wonder in his voice. I watched as a smile started to break on his lips. But then it vanished into a tight-lipped scowl. He turned to me sharply. ‘How long have you known this for?’ The anger in his voice took me by surprise, pressing me backwards into my seat.

  ‘Just for a couple of weeks,’ Alex answered for me. ‘Since Demos caught Lila.’

  I saw my dad do the maths, then watched in amazement as his face started to blaze. ‘How could you not tell me?’ he shouted at me. He looked at Jack. ‘We need to turn this boat around right now and go back there. We need to call the police. We need to . . . I need to . . .’ He made suddenly for the stairs. ‘What are you all waiting for?’ he shouted.

  ‘Dad!’ Jack called, catching him by the arm as he strode past.

  ‘Dr Loveday . . .’ Alex was suddenly in front of them both, blocking the stairs. ‘I know this is a shock to you, but you need to hear us out. We can’t go back just yet. We’ve been working on a plan this whole time to get Melissa out of there and to bring the Unit down, but when we found out they were moving Jack, Lila acted sooner. It’s thrown the plan off course a little.’

  I glared at Alex. So he was blaming me, then.

  ‘But we will go back for her,’ Alex continued, his voice soothing. ‘Soon. We promise you.’

  ‘No. We need to go back now!’ my dad roared and tried to edge past him.

  Alex blocked him easily. ‘We can’t, Dr Loveday.’

  My dad threw back his shoulders and stared up at Alex. I could see he was suddenly wrong-footed. The boy he’d known since he was just a kid was now the one giving him orders. My dad, the doctor, was not in charge. Alex was.

  ‘We’re waiting for Demos and the others,’ I said.

  ‘Demos?’ My dad stared at me in bewilderment.

  ‘Yes, Demos,’ Alex said, throwing me a look. I could tell he’d wanted to ease my dad a little more gently into that surprise. Your wife’s alive and her ex-boyfriend didn’t kill her and . . . oh yes . . . h e’s actually going to be helping us.

  ‘Why?’ my dad asked. ‘He—’

  ‘Because we need him,’ I interrupted. ‘He’s the only way we’ll get Mum out of there.’

  I realised, as I said it, that it had come out wrong. My dad and Alex turned to look at me, both of them shooting me looks that could kill.

  I shrank back in my seat, pressing my lips together. I hadn’t meant to imply that Alex wasn’t any help at all – that he was irrelevant and we only needed Demos – but from the look on his face that was exactly how he’d taken it. He nodded at me slowly as if he suddenly understood something, shook his head softly and then turned and walked away.


  The boat pulled into a point with a deck even more impressive than the one at the stern. Two sunbeds were laid out with a stack of white towels piled on the ends of them, as though two bronzed supermodels were about to appear in their bikinis and start posing for a photo shoot. But there was only me, wearing a stupid nurse’s outfit that made me look like a stripper. Behind me was a lacquered wooden door leading inside to what looked like a mini gymnasium, but I wanted to be outside, somewhere I could think. This situation with Alex was just getting in the way of the only thing I really cared about – getting my mum back.

  Above me was another deck. I skirted the edge of the boat, looking for a way up, and found a little metal ladder. I gripped it tight and scrambled up. Once on the second deck, I flopped onto a cushion and buried my head in my knees, feeling utterly defeated and undone. That’s when I heard their voices. It was Jack and Alex. I tiptoed to the edge of the deck and peered over. They were directly below me, partially obscured by the overhang of the deck.

  ‘You don’t know that. You’re guessing!’ Jack was yelling.

  ‘Jack, we can’t trust her.’

  ‘Who are you to tell me that I can’t trust my own girlfriend?’ Jack said something else that I couldn’t hear. It sounded like a four-letter word. Not love.

  Alex’s voice was starting to get louder. ‘Until we know whether we can trust her, you can’t involve Sara in this.’

  ‘But it’s fine for you to bring my sister into it,’ Jack snapped back.

  ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

  ‘You shouldn’t have brought her back here.’

  I leaned further over, straining to hear Alex.

  ‘You think I could have stopped her? You know her as well as I do.’

  ‘Apparently not.’ I winced.

  ‘Jack, come on. We had this out already. I’m not explaining myself to you again.’

  ‘She’s my sister, Alex. You were supposed to be looking after her. Not taking advantage of her. She loves you . . . she says she loves you.’

  ‘I know.’

  I know? That was his answer? What about I love her too? What happened to that answer?

  ‘Do you love her?’

  Good question, Jack.

  My hand gripped the railing to stop myself toppling over. I strained so hard to hear that my ears almost bled, but whatever Alex said in reply was muffled by the engine and the wind. I twisted my head and tried to force the wind to move, to go and batter some other boat. I needed silence over here. The wind dropped, but whether that was just us shifting direction I couldn’t tell.

  Jack’s voice sounded clearly again. ‘You should just walk away, then.’

  What? I lurched forward then flopped down into a heap on the deck, my legs like worn-out elastic. Why was Jack telling him to walk away? What had Alex said? Had he said no, he didn’t love me?

  ‘I promised her I wouldn’t leave her,’ Alex said tersely.

  There was a moment’s pause. I tilted my head to catch Jack’s answer, feeling myself start to hyperventilate. ‘. . . if you really want to do the right thing now too, you should leave. We don’t need you anymore. It’s not your fight. It’s my mum. It’s my sister.’

  I staggered upright and launched myself towards the ladder. I was going to jump down from the deck and push Jack overboard. Then I’d s
how him the hundred-year freak wave – see how he could heal from that. But I froze with one foot on the top rung. I didn’t move. I didn’t jump down and throw Jack overboard. Because Alex didn’t love me anymore, so what was the point?

  I remained where I was, one leg swung over the side of the boat, immobile, staring out at the ocean, wondering how I was ever going to move again. How I was going to get down in fact. The paralysis was total. Alex didn’t love me. Alex wanted to leave me. He was only staying because he’d promised me – out of a sense of duty not out of love.

  And then anger surfaced like a piranha – angry, biting and frenzied. I swung my leg back over and started pacing the deck furiously.

  The anger was aimed mostly at Jack – but there were spits of it licking like flames towards Alex. I was mad with him too. What had happened to inviting the ass-kicking? To inevitability? To I love you? Why had he suddenly stopped loving me? Because I went back for Jack? Because I messed up his plan? It was so infuriating. What was I supposed to have done? Let the Unit take Jack? What was wrong with him that he couldn’t understand why I’d done what I had?

  I was so busy stamping up and down the deck that I didn’t at first notice the wave coming towards us, the wall of water rather – twenty metres high – that had swelled into view. I stopped mid-pace and stared at it, not quite computing what I was seeing. Where had it come from? The rest of the ocean was flat except for the twenty-metre-wide mini tsunami that was headed straight for us.

  I had a moment’s elation, wild disbelief, that made me gasp out loud. I did this. I made this happen. Then I realised we were all going to drown.

  I tried pushing it. I squeezed my eyes shut and gripped the rail, begging God and whoever else might be listening to help. The molecules felt fluid and slippery. It was like trying to grip a greased pole with my hands tied behind my back. I couldn’t get hold of anything. From underneath the roar of the engine I heard someone yell.

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