Authors: Sophie Littlefield
Prairie and Jess’s parents arrived within moments of each other as the EMTs were preparing Jess for the trip to the hospital. Jess’s parents weren’t as concerned about their daughter’s condition as they were about her reputation. Or rather,
reputation. Her father was a developer who hoped to run for office, and her mother was thin and overdressed and looked like she could freeze you with her stare.
“What were you doing in a place like this?” they demanded, as though the expensive apartment complex was a seedy motel.
“Does your niece make a habit of getting drunk in strange men’s apartments?” they asked Prairie, conveniently ignoring the facts that I was sober and Jess couldn’t track the EMT’s finger as he moved it from side to side in front of her face.
“Perhaps the girls should take a break from each other,” they huffed as we were leaving.
Prairie and I didn’t say much on the walk home. I started
to apologize a few times, but I didn’t know where to begin. It wasn’t that I’d been drinking, or that I’d been in a stranger’s apartment, or even that I’d lied to her.
It was that I’d been willing to gamble all of our safety for a chance to fit in. As I went to my room, murmuring a good night to Prairie and Chub, I wished I could take it all back.
But more than anything, I wished I had never found out I was a Healer.
HUB WOKE ME
up the next morning after he climbed out of his new big-boy bed and padded down the hall to my room, dragging his stuffed red dog. He liked to snuggle with me before we started the day.
“Clifford can go to school today,” he said, his voice unusually serious. I propped myself up on my elbow and blinked the sleep out of my eyes.
“Clifford can’t go to school,” I said gently. “He needs to stay here and take a nap at home. But there’s lots to do at school, right? Lots of fun stuff?”
“I want Clifford to come today,” he whispered, a sad pout taking over his sweet mouth.
And then he stared in front of him, his eyes going wide and shiny, and my heart skipped, because I had seen him do this before, and I knew what it meant.
“Bad farm,” he whispered.
“What?” I leaned closer, grabbed his hands and held them, trying to make him look at me.
“I’m going to the bad farm,” he repeated, a mixture of resignation and fear in his voice.
“Is the bad farm at school?” I asked, thinking of Play-Skool plastic horses, toy barns, skirmishes with playmates, time-outs in the corner. Chub had learned lots of new words lately, but it was still hard to understand him sometimes. “Was someone mean to you? Did you get in trouble? Did you have a time-out?”
“Trouble,” he repeated sadly.
“I’ll talk to Prairie,” I said. “She can talk to the teacher. Okay? Prairie’s going to make sure you don’t get in trouble.” I pulled him into my arms and held him close.
I didn’t have any idea what the bad farm was, but I did know two things. First, Chub didn’t like it. And second, if he said he was going there, then unless someone stepped in and did something, it was going to happen.
Because Chub was a Seer.
I had him dressed and sitting down with a waffle and juice by the time Prairie finished getting ready for work. It was our routine, one I took pleasure in. I had been Chub’s only caregiver when we lived with Gram—she wouldn’t so much as change a dirty diaper or give him a cracker—and even though he loved Prairie, it was still me he wanted when he was upset or tired or hurt. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t
really my little brother—especially since now we had documents saying that he was. Charlie Garrett was his new name, but we still called him Chub.
I handed Prairie her cup of coffee when she came into the kitchen, dressed in a silk blouse and a black skirt, pearl earrings and plain high-heeled black pumps. Besides her earrings, the only jewelry she wore was her antique ruby-and-silver pendant. I had one just like it; it had belonged to my mother. The necklaces had been handed down from Prairie’s and my mother’s great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, the one who had come over from Ireland in the eighteen hundreds, the one who had brought with her the gift of healing.
“I’m sorry,” I blurted before Prairie could say anything. “What I did was stupid and I didn’t think and I know I endangered us all and—”
“It’s okay, Amber,” Prairie said. She never called me Hailey anymore; she said the only way we could make sure we didn’t make mistakes in public was to use our new names all the time. But the name still stung, and I forgot what I was saying and stared into my own steaming coffee cup.
“Maybe we can try again …,” she went on, hesitantly. “You know, the sushi place. I can try to come home early tonight.”
I felt tears well up in my eyes. She was always like this—so patient with me, so understanding. Sometimes I thought it made things worse. “Aren’t you mad?”
She gave me a smile tinged with sadness. She was still as beautiful as the first time I’d seen her, but now she looked
tired most of the time. I knew she wasn’t sleeping very well. “How could I be mad? You helped that girl, maybe saved her life. That’s what the gift is for. You can’t turn your back on it—neither of us can.”
That might have been true, but it seemed like I was the only one who had been forced to heal lately. Prairie had healed Chub when he’d been hit by a stray bullet the night Gram was killed, but that was before I understood what I could do. Since then, it had been me, always
, who’d healed, who’d laid on hands and said the ancient words.
If Prairie had made her peace with the gift, why wasn’t
the one who was called to use it? It didn’t seem fair. I was the one who was in high school, the one who was under constant scrutiny, the one who had to find a way to fit in. Prairie was in her element in the lab, doing the work she loved, and I doubted that any of the geeks she worked with would notice if she had to step out of the office now and then to help the occasional accident victim or whatever.
Now wasn’t the time to worry about it, though. I topped off Prairie’s coffee for the road, and she and Chub left for the day. I’d been so caught up in my apology that I’d forgotten to mention Chub’s problem at school, and I hoped the teacher would bring it up herself. If not, I’d tell Prairie tonight when she and Chub got home. Still, after I kissed Chub goodbye and gave Prairie a hug, I felt guilty and restless and frustrated all at once.
* * *
But it was Wednesday, the best day of the week—because on Wednesdays, I got to talk to Kaz.
This was another thing I kept from Prairie. And though I felt guilty about it, I didn’t feel guilty enough to stop. I guess Kaz felt the same way, because his mom didn’t know about our calls either.
Kaz was my boyfriend. Sort of. His mom, Anna, and Prairie had been friends for years, since he was a baby. Anna and Kaz had helped us a few months earlier, taking us in when we were on the run, and standing by us as things got more and more dangerous.
Somewhere along the way, Kaz and I had become more than friends. When Prairie and Chub and I left Chicago, Prairie and Anna told me and Kaz that they were sorry that we wouldn’t be able to stay in touch, but we had to leave
behind, including everyone we had ever known. No one from our old lives could know where we were.
Kaz and I had obeyed part of the rule: I’d never told him where we’d moved, and he hadn’t asked. For all he knew, we were living in California or in Canada or even at the North Pole. But before I left, we’d figured out a way to talk so no one would know.
I couldn’t call him at home. We had learned to plan for the worst at all times—which meant we had to assume that his house was being watched, that the phone lines were tapped. We couldn’t even use cell phones, because they could be tracked.
We could have used our emergency phones, the prepaid cell phones each of us—me, Prairie, Anna, and Kaz—carried with us, the ones that were to be used only if the unthinkable happened. But Prairie checked the phones once a week and replaced them once a month. If I used mine, she’d know.
So that was out.
But Kaz had a summer job at the public library branch near their house, and on Wednesday afternoons, his task was to prepare the new children’s books to go into circulation. That meant he had to enter them into the system and cover them with special protective bindings. It usually took a couple of hours, and he worked in the office that belonged to one of the reference librarians, because she didn’t come in on Wednesdays.
And every Wednesday, I called him on that phone.
It was a windowless office, and there was no way anyone could be monitoring incoming calls for the entire library. I used my own cell phone and made sure that when the bill came, I was the one who paid it. That was easy enough to get past Prairie once I convinced her that I was old enough to learn about personal finances. Gram had never used a bank, but kept her money locked in an old desk drawer in her bedroom. I had never even had a bank account, and Prairie was happy for me to take on the responsibility.
No one bothered Kaz on Wednesday afternoons. With the office door closed, no one even remembered he was there. We talked for only half an hour at a time—caution had become a habit for both of us—and we never, ever talked about
the future, because we both knew that it would be a pointless conversation.
After Prairie left for work, I took a long, hot shower and blow-dried my hair. I tried to read a book for a while but I couldn’t focus on the story. I dusted and vacuumed, and at noon I fixed myself a sandwich. Then all I had to do was watch the minutes crawl by until one-thirty.
Finally it was time. I took my phone and a glass of iced tea out onto the balcony, where I had a great view of the pool. By the time I dialed the number, I couldn’t keep a smile off my face.
But when Kaz answered, it was clear something was very wrong. I heard a clatter and a sharp intake of breath, and when he spoke, I knew something terrible had happened.
I was so shocked I couldn’t answer for a second, my heart hammering. I gripped the phone tightly. “What, Kaz? What happened?”
“There was an exterminator here all week—no one thought to check—they’ve gotten to the phones—Hailey, I had to sneak in here and if they find me—”
“An exterminator?” I interrupted, trying to make sense of what he was saying. “But how would they—”
“Think about it, Hailey—think about what they do. If they believe I’ve talked to you, they will find a way to go through every single outgoing and incoming call, for every line in this whole building. I’m going to hang up now and—” His voice cracked. “And we can’t talk anymore.”
I knew he was right. If they’d found Kaz, they’d use him any way they could to get to me and Prairie. But I couldn’t accept it, couldn’t accept the thought of never hearing his voice again. Now that I’d lost Jess and Charlotte, Kaz was all I had left—the only person in the world who cared about me besides Prairie and Chub—and the idea that this was the last time we’d speak, this was
“But how will I, how will
, I mean, they can’t just …”
“I’ve got to
. Hailey. Don’t you understand—we
to. There’s no other choice.”
There was a crash and then an unfamiliar voice, a man speaking in clipped tones without emotion.
“We found him. Room 421. Start trace—”
The phone smashed into the cradle as Kaz hung up.
He hadn’t been quick enough—because I’d kept him on the phone.
Everything was wrong, and it was my fault.
OR SEVERAL LONG MOMENTS
I didn’t move. I disconnected and stared at my phone—just a few ounces of plastic and metal, and yet I had used it to destroy every bit of security, of safety, that Prairie and I had worked so hard to create, and to bring danger straight to Kaz.
If only I’d hung up when he told me to …
If only I’d hung up …
But even that might not have been enough. We had hoped that they would never find us. We had wanted to keep Anna and Kaz completely out of it. When Prairie and Chub and I had driven north from Chicago a month ago, we had hoped that they would be forgotten, that the people searching for us would never find the humble bungalow in the middle of Chicago where we’d once taken shelter.