Everyone was silent, until Jamie said quietly, “None of us ever claimed to be the good guys.”
Daniel’s brow furrowed. “I’m a good guy,” my brother said.
But you’re not one of us, I thought.
Daniel followed Stella back up the stairs, probably to find out what had actually happened this afternoon. I wasn’t entirely sure what she’d say, but I was entirely sure that I didn’t want to hear it. And I didn’t want to think about Daniel hearing it.
I sat down in the living room, toed off my shoes, and I looked at my reflection in the flatscreen TV. My face was blank like an empty plate. I caught a flash of movement behind me and turned. Jamie leaned against the door frame. He didn’t speak.
“Are you mad at me too?” My voice sounded dead.
“Mad at you?” He seemed surprised by the question. “No,” he finally said. “I’m not mad at you.”
But he was still standing there, looking at me in a way I couldn’t describe but didn’t like. “Then what?”
“I’m scared of you,” he said, and left the room.
I’LL NEVER FORGET THE WAY Stella looked that afternoon, standing at the foot of the stairs with her things.
Her black hair hung in limp waves over her shoulders, and her eyes—there was something wrong with them. I’d seen her worried, and scared, and horrified, but she was none of those things today.
The four of us had been planning to head out for the lecture, but when I descended the stairs behind my brother and saw Stella’s red-rimmed eyes, I knew that it would not be the four of us after all.
“I’m leaving,” Stella said. She sniffed, but there was steel in her voice, not tears.
“Us too,” Daniel said. “Come with—”
“No, I’m leaving,” she said, cutting my brother off.
Daniel looked stunned for a second. “But we’re so close—”
“We aren’t,” she said sharply. “I just couldn’t see it till now.” My brother looked like he was about to speak again, but Stella wouldn’t let him. “You haven’t been here. You haven’t seen—” She stopped, and flicked a glance in my direction. “Whatever I was hoping for, it’s too late.” She bit her lip, and without looking at him said Jamie’s name.
I hadn’t been expecting that. “You too?” My voice shook.
His eyes bounced between me and Stella, and after what seemed like forever, he said, “I want to figure this shit out more than anyone, but maybe—Mara—”
“Mara’s sick,” Daniel said, and I didn’t correct him, even though I didn’t agree. “We need you to help her. To help us.”
Jamie didn’t answer him. He just stood there as Stella waited for him by the door.
I couldn’t believe it. Didn’t want to believe it.
“Take care of yourselves,” Stella said, in a voice so quiet I almost didn’t hear her. The anger had gone out of her, and she looked tired as she said to my brother, “It was nice to meet you.”
“You too,” he said. “Where are you going to go?”
Stella lifted her shoulders in a shrug and smiled sadly. “Home.”
I didn’t want to watch her and Jamie leave. I slipped past my brother, who didn’t stop me, and ducked into the den, closing the door behind me. Mostly.
“She’s not herself,” I heard my brother say.
“That is an understatement,” Jamie said back.
So he was still there.
Then he said, “She’s getting really scary, man.”
“I know,” Daniel said.
“I don’t think you actually do. That was some cold shit.”
“Look, all we have to do is find the guy responsible for what’s happening to her. This is a problem that has a solution, but we need you to get it.”
To anyone else, my brother probably sounded exasperated. Condescending, even. But I could hear the nervousness in his voice.
“I think we need to at least entertain the possibility that—” Jamie stopped and took a deep breath. “What’s plan B?”
Daniel spoke after what seemed like an eternity. “There is no plan B.”
Jamie stayed, in the end. We were silent as we soldiered on to Columbia as a threesome. Stella’s departure had made everyone uncomfortable, though none of us admitted it. Jamie was particularly shaken. Since fleeing Horizons we had never split up. It was part of his strategy—splitting up gets you killed. But now I kept wondering if he wished he had split with her.
Other than that I had no feelings at all. I blindly searched inside myself for some reaction to what had happened on the subway and I found nothing. Or no, not quite nothing. Before I’d cut myself, before Stella cut the implants out, I could have thought and wished and wanted anything, and nothing would have happened. Dr. Kells had made sure of it.
But after? Now?
I was myself again. Thinking something can make it true. Wanting something can make it real. And I didn’t regret it anymore. I’d wasted so much time wishing I could be different, wishing I could change things, change myself. If given the chance, I would’ve shed myself and become a different girl. Slipped on a name like Clara or Mary, docile and gentle and smiling and kind. I thought it would be easier to be someone else than to be who I was becoming, but I didn’t think that anymore. The girl who wanted those things had died with Rachel, buried under the asylum I brought down. And I realized now, for the first time, really, that I didn’t miss her.
It didn’t matter that I was different. I didn’t need to understand why. I didn’t need a cure or even answers anymore, though we were so close to getting them. There was only one thing I needed.
I knew Noah wasn’t dead, because that was something I wouldn’t just feel—that was something I would know. So I would turn everything and everyone inside out until I found him, and I would start with Abel Lukumi today.
Daniel linked his arm in mine as we descended the rain-slick stairs to the train. When you have no one else, you still have your family.
The unmistakable perfume of the subway—a mixture of coffee, bodies, cigarettes, and fish—greeted us as we swiped MetroCards through the turnstiles. It was half past four, and the platform was packed with people: a shy teenage boy holding a cello case that looked like it might topple him, a girl with platinum blond hair woven into a braid crown, wearing patent-leather pants. A lost-looking bird hopped near the information desk or whatever it was, picking at the remains of a grimy sandwich. As soon as I noticed it, I was swept beneath a wave of overwhelming, indefinable sadness. I stopped where I stood, jerking Daniel back.