His mouth opened in shock, his body trembling. His eyes traveled up and down Callum frantically, as if looking for something.
A woman appeared behind him, her dark hair pulled back in a messy bun. She had the same olive complexion as Callum, although her human skin was a bit darker, and while she had similar dark eyes, hers were wide and crazy. She pressed her hand to her mouth, weird animal sounds coming from behind it.
“It’s okay, it’s me,” Callum said, his smile fading.
I sucked in a breath and for a moment, hoped for the best.
The tears could be because they were so happy to see him.
The shock could be because they never expected to see him again.
They were going to wrap their arms around him and tell him they missed him.
His father let out a choked sob and squeezed his eyes shut.
He couldn’t look.
“It’s still me,” Callum said desperately.
His mom wailed and I took a quick glance around. The human in the apartment across the hall was peering out his cracked door.
I stepped forward and touched Callum’s arm, his parents slipping into further hysterics when they saw me.
“Let’s go,” I said gently.
“Mom!” Callum exclaimed. He was on the edge of tears. “Don’t you . . .” He grabbed her hand in both of his. “It’s still me, see?”
She put her hand over her face to cry harder, trying to yank the other one from his grasp. He would have felt cold to her. Dead.
“Dad, look at me,” he said, giving up on his mom and desperately trying to get his dad to meet his eyes. “Just look!”
They didn’t look, either of them. His dad began making a desperate waving motion with his hands. His eyes darted down the hallway as he tried to shoo his son away.
“Go.” His voice was low, strangled, as he pushed his wife behind him. “If they see you here . . .”
HARC would arrest both his parents if they found Callum here.
“But—” Callum took in a shaky breath as his eyes found something behind them.
I stood on my toes to see past his mom. A dark-haired boy stood next to the couch. David, I assumed. His eyes were fixed on Callum, but he made no move toward his brother.
“Go,” his father repeated, taking a step backward into the apartment.
He slammed the door shut.
DISAPPOINTMENT PUSHED AT MY CHEST AS CALLUM BLINKED at the spot where his parents had been. Maybe I had thought he was right about them.
I held my hand out to him, but he was alone in another world and had forgotten I existed. I slipped my hand into his and he jumped.
“Let’s go,” I said, gently tugging on his arm.
He let me lead him through the hallway and down the stairs, but he kept looking behind him, even after the door was no longer visible. I was worried he’d dart away from me and try again, so I gripped his fingers tighter as we made our way out into the cool night air.
Callum stopped in front of the building, his jacket blowing open in the wind as he turned to look at me. He was so still, so calm, that I was scared to move for fear of breaking him.
But we were out in the open, surrounded by apartment buildings with curious humans pressing their faces to the windows. I could see David two floors up, his hands against the dingy glass, his mouth open wide.
So I gently pulled on Callum’s hand and he followed me when I broke into a run. We headed back down the long road and past the brightly painted houses again. I didn’t know where I was going, but when we approached the market Callum veered off the road. He pressed his hand to the back of his neck as he walked around the side of the wooden building and I silently followed him.
He reached out and touched the tips of his fingers to the wall, letting out a heavy sigh. “I need a minute.”
He’d closed his eyes but I nodded anyway, because I didn’t know what else to do. I should have already considered ways to comfort him. I expected this. Why hadn’t I thought about it?
Standing there staring at him was undoubtedly not the right thing to do. I wrapped an arm around his waist and pressed my cheek against his shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
A few tears fell as he opened his eyes and planted a soft kiss on my forehead. He cleared his throat as he pulled away from me and wiped his fingers across his eyes, his expression tinged with embarrassment as he tried to remove the evidence of his crying.
I thought it was more embarrassing to not be able to cry at all.
“We need to go get Adina, right?” he asked.
I took that to mean he didn’t want to talk about it. I couldn’t blame him.
His hand was shaking violently when I slipped my fingers through his. I took in a deep breath. It could be because he was devastated about his parents.
Or it could be because he was about to go insane.
Either way, I refused to let him see my fear. I held his hand tighter as we ducked out of the alley and hurried down the street. The tiny houses were lined up right next to one another in this part of town, an occasional apartment complex stuck at the end of a street. They were painted as well, some with colorful drawings, others with words. Fighting words. Words that would result in immediate arrest in Rosa.
Take Back Texas.
Texans for Freedom.
Callum squinted at them as we passed. “It’s weird here,” he mumbled.
He was right. I remembered nothing clean or colorful or rebellious about the Austin I grew up in. Something had changed.
The roar of the shuttle made me turn. It touched down at the end of Guadalupe Street, and we hid against the side of a house as five Reboots stepped out. They all looked the same in their black clothes and helmets, but I could see a long, dark ponytail sticking out of the back of one helmet.
“I think that might be her,” I said, peering around the corner of the house as the Reboots split up. The dark-haired girl headed down First Street and disappeared from view.
We took off after her at a slow pace, running behind the houses to stay out of sight of the other Reboots. We crossed onto First Street and I spotted Adina standing in front of a house, looking down at her assignment slip.
Callum slumped against a wire fence, breathing heavily as he clutched his arms against his stomach. “I don’t think I should go in there with a human.”
I hesitated, glancing from him to her. He was probably right. “All right. Don’t move, okay? Yell if you start feeling . . . weird. And be ready to run when we come back.”
He nodded, waving me off. Adina was at the front door of the house, knocking as I silently hurried across the lawn. She lifted her foot and smashed in the front door.