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Losing lila, p.21
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       Losing Lila, p.21

           Sarah Alderson
 
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  I focused back on the wave, now about forty metres away, my panic rising to meet it. I tried to flatten it down, tried to imagine a flat, calm sea and, when that failed, water pouring down a plughole. And suddenly it obeyed, falling under my spell. I drew it downwards, flattening it out like a tablecloth someone had shaken out, and let it float down onto the top of the ocean.

  I stood staring at the water, where the wave had been, shaking. How had I done that? I had thought my power was under control and now it seemed I was even more out of control than ever and before had been bad enough. With this kind of power, I could cause natural disasters without even realising it. Maybe I shouldn’t look at the water. I squeezed my eyes shut, stuck my arms out in front of me and stumbled blindly towards the door.

  ‘Was that you?’

  I jumped about a mile at the sound of Key’s voice, almost putting myself into orbit. My eyes flew open. He was standing in the doorway glowering at me.

  ‘It was you,’ he said, shaking his head at me. He looked out at the ocean and muttered something under his breath.

  I chewed my lip. ‘I’m sorry. I don’t know how—’

  ‘Can you control it?’ he asked, cutting me off.

  There was no point in lying.

  ‘Lila, please try,’ he sighed. ‘I’m not so good at the whole steering a boat thing and Alex is too distracted to show me. So, please, it would help me out if you could concentrate on not throwing obstacles like that one in my way.’

  I nodded slowly. ‘OK, I’ll try.’

  ‘Oh, by the way, Lila, don’t get me wrong, the nurse’s outfit works and all,’ he flushed and stammered, ‘if you like that sort of thing, but if you do want to get changed then Alex put some spare clothes in the wardrobe of the master cabin.’

  ‘Oh, thanks,’ I said, looking down at my nurse’s uniform. It might have worked on Jonas, but it sure as hell hadn’t done a damn thing for Alex. I suddenly couldn’t wait to get changed into something else.

  ‘By the way,’ I said to Key’s departing back, ‘where are we going?’

  ‘Marina del Rey, near Santa Monica. Not that I’ve a clue how we’re going to dock a boat this size without anyone noticing us. But that’s where we’re meeting the others.’

  He left and I crossed back to the railing and looked out over the now flat expanse of ocean towards the shore. Was Alex going to leave once we got there? How could I stop him? Would he even want to be stopped? Or had he given up on me completely?

  I needed to get out of this ridiculous outfit then I’d try to talk to him. He couldn’t leave. We needed him. I needed him. Resolved, I walked through the door that Key had emerged from. It opened onto a huge cabin in the centre of which was a bed big enough for six people to sleep in. There were mirrors along one side of the room, a large flat-screen television, a desk and two armchairs.

  I guessed this was the master cabin and walked to the mirrors, sliding them open to reveal an enormous wardrobe, so large it would probably be big enough to contain even Suki’s shoe collection. In one drawer was a neatly folded pile of clothes – underwear, new jeans, a couple of dresses, some sweaters, some tank tops. All in my size, even the underwear. The initial butterfly assault gave way to cramps as I let the silky material slide through my hands.

  Then, with one quick move, I pulled off the stupid nurse’s dress and slipped on a pair of grey shorts. I was just tugging a black tank top on over my head when Alex walked in. He seemed surprised to see me, but not pleasantly so. He spun on his heel to leave.

  ‘Alex,’ I called. ‘Wait!’

  He turned round slowly, his eyes darting round the room, looking everywhere but at me. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you were here. I was looking for Key.’

  ‘You just missed him,’ I stammered.

  An expression that I couldn’t fathom passed across his face. It could have been longing, it could have been disdain. I felt like I was walking a tightrope, that I was balanced on a moment so fine that if I said or did the wrong thing, I would fall and it would all be over. Alex gave me a nod and just like that he turned away again and walked off.

  ‘Alex!’ I called after him.

  He turned slowly and when he did and I saw the set of his jaw, the hard line of his mouth and the coldness in his eyes, I felt like I’d been slapped.

  ‘Are you leaving?’ I blurted out.

  A shadow passed across his face. He shook his head. ‘No. I promised you I ’d never leave you again,’ he said, his voice strangely flat.

  The relief rushed through me like a hit of something illegal. He wasn’t leaving me. I’d got it wrong. But then the rush evaporated. I stared at him for a few seconds. He hadn’t moved from his position by the door.

  I took a deep breath. ‘Are you staying,’ I asked, ‘because you promised or because you want to?’

  He hesitated, his lips pressing together. And in that moment of hesitation it all became clear, like someone had dropped detergent on the oily mess of my brain. He didn’t want to stay.

  I ground my teeth. I wasn’t going to cry. I wasn’t going to cause a scene. It was fine. I could handle this. But Jack was right, if he didn’t have feelings for me anymore, he should just go. In fact, he could go to hell. I didn’t need him.

  ‘You can go. Just go,’ I said, my voice catching. ‘I release you, or whatever it is, from your promise. You don’t need to stay with me. I’m fine by myself. I can look after myself. I don’t need you.’

  As soon as I said the words, I wanted to slap my hand over my mouth. I wanted to press a rewind button. I waited while the seconds stretched out, desperately wanting him to laugh and pull me into his arms, telling me to stop being stupid. I waited for him to whisper in my ear that he loved me, that I’d misheard, and that Jack was an idiot. But he didn’t. He simply nodded in understanding.

  ‘Look, I’ve got to go help Key,’ he said, his face blank, his eyes shuttered. ‘We’re nearly there and I’m not sure he knows how to dock a boat.’

  And he turned, and just like that, he walked away and I crumpled to the floor and started to cry.

  35

  ‘Boo! It’s only me.’

  I sat up from the misery pit I had carved into the bed, and kicked away the barricade of scrunched-up tissues. Suki had burst in on me and was standing like a daddy-long-legs in the doorway, wearing four-inch heels and what looked suspiciously like a designer dress.

  ‘You have missed me. I can tell, Lila.’ She skipped towards the bed, but halfway across the room I saw her falter. She tipped her head and started to scowl.

  ‘Why are you crying? Wait!’ she demanded, closing her eyes and resting the back of her arm dramatically against her forehead. Her golden eyes flashed open again. ‘You did what? Why would you say that to him? Are you stupid? Are you totally crazy?’

  I started to get off the bed. I didn’t want to have this conversation. I wanted to find Demos. We needed to start formulating a plan to get back onto the base.

  ‘What did she do?’ Nate said, suddenly popping up behind her. ‘What happened?’

  ‘Lila here broke up with Alex. That’s why he was so moody when we arrived. Not because he was missing you, Nate.’

  ‘I didn’t break up with him,’ I interrupted.

  ‘She told him to leave,’ Suki informed Nate as they both took up position on the edge of the bed.

  ‘Why would you do that?’ Nate yelled, gaping at me like I was mad.

  ‘Because she’s stupid. And stop that, Nate. Alex is not going to be interested in you now just because Lila dumped him.’ Nate started to protest then shut his mouth.

  ‘I’m not stupid,’ I muttered lamely.

  ‘Well, why else would you tell Alex to go anywhere? What will we do for eye candy now? Were you thinking of Nate at all? Were you thinking of me? I think you’re incredibly selfish, Lila.’ She began to pout and Nate put an arm round my shoulder..

  But she was right – I was self sh. I flopped backwards onto the bed. The sheets were damp
from where I’d soaked them with tears. ‘You weren’t here – I didn’t have any idea of what was going on in his head. I didn’t know what he was thinking. He told Jack . . . well, he didn’t tell Jack . . . I don’t know. I don’t know anything.’

  He didn’t love me anymore. I couldn’t say it out loud. Right now I couldn’t deal with processing this fact, not on top of everything else.

  ‘Of course he still loves you,’ Suki said, rolling her eyes.

  I bolted upright. ‘He does? Are you sure? What’s he thinking?’ The relief was like a toxin hitting my nervous system.

  Suki pirouetted round to me. ‘He’s thinking about what to pack and what the fastest way out of here is.’

  ‘What?’ I shrieked.

  ‘He’s thinking about what to pack and—’

  ‘I heard you the first time.’ I leapt off the bed. ‘Why’s he packing?’

  ‘I’m sorry, Lila, are you being stupid on purpose? He’s packing because you told him to leave. I just told you this. Seriously, did the Unit remove your brain or something? You did tell him you didn’t need him. And so did Jack. Why would he stay?’

  ‘But I didn’t mean it,’ I wailed.

  She jutted out one hip and put a hand on it. ‘Is Alex a mind-reader?’ She waited a beat then answered for me. ‘No. And good job he isn’t because he might have left you already if he could hear all the mentalness going on in there,’ she said, pointing at my head.

  ‘You told him you didn’t need him?’ Nate suddenly yelled. ‘Why’d you tell him that?’ He was looking at me aghast. ‘We so need him. How else are we going to rescue your mum?’

  ‘I know.’ Suki pursed her lips. ‘We completely need him. Who else comes up with the plans?’

  ‘Demos?’ Nate answered, looking confused.

  Suki frowned at him. ‘Yes, but he isn’t hot, Nate. We’ve talked about this.’

  ‘I didn’t mean it,’ I said quietly. I couldn’t believe Alex had actually taken me seriously. He had to know how much I needed him. ‘I need to fix this,’ I said, looking at Suki for a solution. She closed her eyes again, biting her top lip. Then her eyes popped open wide.

  ‘. . . Jack! You didn’t tell me about Jack . . .’ she gasped.

  ‘Jack what?’ Nate was bouncing on the bed.

  Suki turned to him, beaming. ‘Jack is like us too. He can do magic with his body.’

  Nate’s eyes lit up like candles. ‘He can? Wow!’ He jumped off the bed. ‘Let’s go see him.’

  ‘No. No, wait.’ I grabbed Suki’s arm as she was about to run after Nate. ‘What can I do? How do I fix this?’ I shook her by the shoulders.

  Her eyes suddenly went round. ‘Hang on. You shoved him!’ she shouted. ‘I can’t believe you shoved him.’

  ‘She shoved him?’

  I turned to glare at Nate.

  ‘Yes. And she’s always running off on him.’ Suki shook her head at me. ‘We’d treat him much better if he was ours—’

  ‘Suki!’ I yelled. ‘Please. Help me!’

  She pressed her lips together and shut her eyes. ‘I’m not sure what you can say, Lila. But I do know you might want to start with sorry. And you might want to hurry because he’s already on the deck. He’s just saying bye to Jack. And—’

  I didn’t wait to hear the rest of the sentence. I was already sprinting down the hallway. I jumped down the steps, pounded down the other hallway and into the main cabin. Demos and Harvey were standing just by the stairs talking with Alicia. They looked up sharply when I ran in.

  ‘Lila,’ Demos said in greeting.

  ‘Hi, hi,’ I said, rushing past them. I took the stairs two at a time. I had to stop Alex first.

  I hit the deck and threw my leg over the side ready to climb down the ladder to the jetty. But then I paused. Alex was nowhere to be seen.

  36

  ‘You going somewhere?’

  I spun round. Alex was standing behind me on the deck. There was a bag by his foot. I took it in and then looked at his face. It was wary. But that was better than blank. It was better than cold. That’s when I noticed Jack skulking in the corner. He avoided my eye, nodded stonily at Alex and disappeared down the stairs. I stared after him then turned back to Alex, my hands shaking.

  ‘Suki said you were leaving.’

  ‘I’m not,’ he answered.

  I breathed slowly out. ‘Then why the bag?’ I asked, pointing at it.

  He winced a little. ‘I was about to leave. But Jack asked me to stay.’

  Jack? I looked up at Alex. Jack had asked him to stay? I didn’t understand. ‘There’s no other reason you’re staying?’ I asked, biting my bottom lip. I could give lessons in subtlety.

  ‘What other reason might that be?’

  I looked up and felt momentarily dazed. Alex had taken a step forward and all I could take in was the arctic blue of his eyes, and his lips, half-parted, the ghost of a smile dancing at the edge of them.

  ‘Me?’ I half choked the word out.

  He took another step forward. ‘I didn’t think you wanted me around anymore. I didn’t think that you needed me.’ His eyes sparked and my breath caught.

  I grabbed for his hand, feeling the spark travel into me. ‘I didn’t mean what I said, Alex. Of course I need you. I can’t believe you don’t know that. I need you so much that when you’re not around me, it hurts. It actually hurts, physically. Here.’ I poked myself between the ribs, where I could feel my heart hammering. ‘I can only do this because of you. I’m only here because of you.’

  He was shaking his head softly. ‘So, why did you tell me to leave?’

  ‘Because I heard you talking to Jack.’

  The furrow between his eyes appeared. ‘You heard that?’

  I nodded. ‘You didn’t argue with him when he told you to leave. And I thought you told him you didn’t love me. I thought that’s why he told you to go.’

  He suddenly shook his head, turned away. After a second he looked back at me. ‘Lila, you fool, of course I told him I loved you. That’s why he told me to leave.’

  ‘Oh.’ I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. ‘You just were so cold with me. And the nurse’s outfit didn’t seem to make any kind of impression. Whatsoever. So I thought . . .’ I looked at the ground. ‘I thought you were only staying because you had promised me and then . . . when I asked you, you didn’t deny it.’

  ‘You didn’t give me a chance to,’ he said, shaking his head at me. He took a step nearer. ‘And believe me the nurse’s outfit made an impression.’ He took another step towards me, so he was just a few centimetres away. ‘A very big impression.’

  I had to tilt my head up now to look him in the eye. He was smiling. My stomach ping-ponged. I was seriously glad I’d kept the nurse’s outfit – had stuffed it into one of the drawers – and not tossed it overboard.

  ‘So, you’re staying because of me?’ I stuttered.

  ‘Of course because of you.’ He put his hand under my chin. He was smiling a slow, easy smile now. I felt the shudder run from my knees up to my shoulders and exhaled. The boat rocked and I pushed myself up onto my tiptoes with the next wave and let my lips touch his.

  For a few minutes we didn’t move. All I was aware of were Alex’s hands, one resting in the small of my back, pulling me against him, and the other holding my face gently. And his lips. I was aware of his lips. Like they held the answers to every bit of knowledge in the whole wide world and suddenly I wanted to be the oracle and know it all.

  Eventually, we broke apart for air, both of us breathing hard, the air around us almost crackling. I peeled backwards in his arms so I could look up at him. His eyes were back to the way they were before. No more coldness, no more ice. The amber flecks were glowing. The frown line had vanished.

  ‘Alex,’ I said, ‘it’s not just me that needs you.’ I thought about Nate and Suki and smiled. ‘We can’t do this, any of this, without you.’

  Alex narrowed his eyes suspiciously at me. ‘Have you been talking to a
certain Japanese girl by any chance?’

  ‘Maybe,’ I said, scuffing the deck with my bare foot.

  He shook his head with a grimace. ‘That girl . . .’

  ‘No, don’t be mad with her.’ I took his hand. He was frowning again. ‘Alex, hear me out. You can’t think we don’t need you. Jack’s an idiot. And you’re an idiot too if you think that. You did all this.’ I pointed to the boat. ‘You figured out the plan with Carlos and you’ve rescued me about a hundred times. And I don’t think we can rescue my mum without you. Who else is going to figure out how?’ I saw the worry and the tension wash across his face and tried to ignore it. ‘And I’m sorry I keep running off,’ I said, speaking so fast that I was breathless. ‘I swear to you that’s absolutely the last time.’ I took a deep breath, trying to slow down. ‘I should have thought about you and how it would make you feel, but I didn’t. I was self sh. But I had to go back for Jack. I had to.’

  ‘I understand,’ Alex interrupted. ‘I was just so scared that I was going to lose you. Do you realise how important you are to me? I had to watch you go – I couldn’t stop you – and I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again. Do you have any idea what that feels like?’

  I pressed my lips together. Yes, I knew what that was like. Once upon a time I’d thought I would have to leave Alex and that I’d never see him again. And it had been one of the worst feelings I’d ever experienced.

  I nodded. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. Alex opened his mouth to speak and I shook my head to stop him.

  ‘Alex, just listen to me. I need you to understand. When I thought my mum was dead . . . her funeral . . . and the days after, I only got through it because of you, because you were right by my side taking care of me. And when my dad took me to London, the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning, and through every day at that sucky school, was the thought that one day I’d get to see you again. Just knowing that you were out there was enough. So, even before this, even before you actually started rescuing me from bad men with big guns, I needed you. I’ve been impulsive and crazy and taken chances my whole life because I’ve always known that you’ll be there when it goes wrong. Which it does. A lot. Remember the lake? The sledging incident? The tree in the backyard? And we haven’t even got onto almost being captured by the Unit in a Seven-Eleven or getting shot at in Joshua Tree. And every single one of those times you’ve rescued me. Every time you’re there. You’re like my safety net.’

 
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