Never Fade Page 44

“I don’t know, sweetheart,” Andy said, “but I think they hoped like hell they would. You get down to nothing—no money, no work, no house—and hope is all you tend to have left, and even then, it’s a rare commodity. I doubt anyone believes the lies these days, but…what can we do about it? We have no information to work with, only rumors.”

It hit me then, how equally important it was for me to find Cole’s flash drive as it was to find Liam. All along, I had been thinking of it as this little plastic device, not sparing much thought to the value of what was locked inside of it. Finding Liam mattered to me, meant everything to me, but finding Cole’s data…that would help everyone. That had the potential to reunite families, loved ones.

“I’m going to get every kid out of every camp,” I said. “I’m not going to stop until they all get home.”

Andy nodded, keeping his eyes on the road ahead. “Then we’re more than even.”

The conversation died out, and the radio came on. I watched the sunrise, the colors lighting the horizon a mellow pink, feeling sick to my stomach with exhaustion. But still, I couldn’t fall asleep.

I pulled Liam’s leather jacket up over me like a blanket and felt something slip past my hand, out of one of the pockets. The two train tickets the woman had bought floated lazily to the ground, one facing up, the other down.


The word had been scribbled several times over by pen on the back of one of the tickets, the letters wild and jagged, and with each stroke, darker and deeper.

I picked them up, checking the other ticket. SAFE


Apparently I hadn’t had as firm of a grip on that woman as I thought. It was stupid of me to feel so frightened and anxious when she was hundreds of miles away, but I couldn’t stop myself from picturing the worst. How she could have warned everyone about the terrors in her backseat. She could have gone into that train station and run or called us in to every nearby skip tracer. She could have had the reward, the satisfaction of knowing we were off the street and out of her hair.

But instead, she had done this. Andy had done this.

I ripped up the tickets before Jude could wake up and see them. I didn’t want to give him the false hope that these people were anything other than lone candle flames in a sea of never-ending black.

Jude was still singing—literally singing—the praises of his new hero, Andy, when we saw the first signs for Wilmington. Just after he’d dropped us off near Richmond, he’d given us detailed instructions on the right highways to avoid on the way down. I’d been too flustered and annoyed with the delay to thank him at the time. Now, every clear road our little stolen car flew down filled me with a sharp pang of regret.

Wilmington kissed the Atlantic on one side and a river on the other. It surprised me to see how similar it was to the parts of Virginia that I knew—the style of the houses, the way the neighborhoods were laid out. Even the way the sky grayed out over the roofs, darkening until the clouds finally burst and it began to rain.

The address Cole gave me, 1222 West Bucket Road, Wilmington, North Carolina, was in a little neighborhood called Dogwood Landing, not too far from what I assumed was a university campus. It was a quiet part of the city, surrounded by frosty woods and filled with a good number of empty lots and crooked, weathered FOR SALE signs. I picked one and parked the green Volkswagen we’d stolen after parting with Andy in front of it.

“Is that it?” Jude asked, peering closer at the nearest house.

“No, it’s a ways down, I think.” I took a deep breath, wondering how it was possible to feel excitement and dread in the same breath. “I want to approach from the back in case anyone is watching the front.”

That had been the reason why Liam and the others hadn’t gone straight home after escaping Caledonia, right? I was torn about it. Alban’s advisers were always reminding us how overstretched the PSF forces were, but Liam was a priority catch. What were the chances that the government would still have someone posted here, watching Liam’s parents a good nine months later?

God. Liam’s parents. What the hell was I going to say to them?

I signaled for Jude to follow me around the side of one of the houses. Most were on the smaller side, just one story, with gray slanted roofs, brick faces, and white trim. I pulled Jude closer behind me as we made our way through the trees, following a small dirt access road that ran alongside the houses’ backyards.

Liam’s house was nestled deep into a pocket of trees set a ways off from the other houses on the block. It was a similar creature to the other homes around it, with sweet blue shutters and a long driveway leading up to the garage. What I really needed was a view of the front.

I held Jude back and forced him to crouch down beside me, and we watched. We looked for surveillance cameras, for footprints and tire tracks, for the undercover PSFs to come strolling around on patrol.

“It looks…” Jude began, hesitating.

Empty, my mind finished. It looked like no one was home, and the way the gutters were clogged with fall leaves and grime made me think they hadn’t been back in some time.

“Maybe they just ran out to do some errands?” he offered.

“At four in the afternoon on a Thursday? Seems sketchy,” came a new voice behind us.

The girl was a snake. It was the only explanation for how silently she slithered up through the leaves.

“Leader,” Vida said, nodding as she crouched down behind us. “Judith.”

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