Never Fade Page 57

I nodded, continuing to scroll through the list. There were only about a thousand or so active listings of kids, many of them without pictures. These, I assumed, were the lucky ones who had been added to the online IAAN registry by their unsuspecting parents for updates and instructions from the government, but who had avoided being collected and brought into a camp. They had either found a great place to hide or had mastered the art of living off the grid. I kept scrolling.

Dale, Andrea. Dale, George Ryan. Daley, Jacob Marcus.

Daly, Ruby.

The picture was of a ten-year-old me, eyes wide under a ratty mess of wet, dark hair. That’s right, I thought. It had been raining the day they brought us in.

“What the hell?” I held it up for him to see. “Four hundred thousand dollars for a reward?”

“What—Oh, that.” Chubs plucked the tablet from my hands and said grimly, “Congratulations, you’re officially a big score.”

“That’s—I just—Why?”

“Do you really need me to break it down for you?” he said, sighing. “You escaped from Thurmond with the help of the League, and are, oh, by the way, an Orange.”

“What are all of the listings?” I asked. “I’ve never been in Maine or Georgia.”

He held the screen up for me to see. “Look closer.”

Sighted outside of Marietta, Georgia, moving east. J. Lister.

At least five of them were from J. Lister, otherwise known as the teenager in the driver’s seat next to me.

“I would have done more, but you get penalized for spamming the network with false tips. I try to do that for you and Lee whenever I can, to throw off the other skip tracers.”

“What about Zu?”

“Same,” he said. “But not nearly as much. It looks bad when you’re only updating for the same kids and not thinking about distances and all that. I can’t post that I saw you in Maine and, two minutes later, post I saw her in California. I have a story for her figured out, though. As far as the skip tracers know, she’s somewhere in Florida.”

“Do you think she and the others actually made it to California?” I asked. “There haven’t been any updates in the PSF network the League had access to. I checked last week again, and still nothing.”

“I…” Chubs cleared his throat. “I’d like to think she did. Once we find Lee, we’ll just have to go see for ourselves.”

The others were in our line of sight out of the front windshield. Vida was attempting to take down the tent by beating it into submission. Jude was simply stretched out on his back in a grassy patch of earth, staring up at the sky, the compass resting on his chest. It was cold, but the sunlight was out for the first time in days. He was regarding the sky with a kind of amazed wonderment.

“What do you think he’s looking at?” Chubs asked, craning his neck forward over the wheel to follow Jude’s gaze up. “Is that kid mentally…sound?”

“I would guess his brain is about ten thousand miles away from here, crafting the tale of this heroic adventure,” I said. “But yeah. He’s a sweet kid. Hyperactive, totally unwilling to accept reality, but sweet.”

“If you say so,” Chubs muttered.

Vida let out a strangled scream, uprooting one of the pikes holding the tent in place. She reached down and flipped the whole structure over onto its side and smashed her foot into it for good measure. “Why am I the only one working?” she yelled. “Helloooo?!”

Chubs was already bursting out of his door before I had a hand on mine. “Could you not destroy my tent, you incompetent, ungrateful wretch?” he bellowed.

“I’m incompetent?” Vida’s voice went hoarse. “Who’s the stupid ass**le who threw away the instructions?”

With one quick glance to make sure Vida wasn’t going to impale Chubs with the pike she held in her hand, I reached for the tablet and switched it back on.

For two, three, four agonizing seconds, all I saw was the slow spin of a gray circle as the device loaded itself. It snapped to the home screen with a small beep; a tiny menu that ranged from EMERGENCY to DATABASE to UPDATES. Above that was a digital map of the United States, one that looked like it could be used for actual navigation.

That wasn’t what I needed it for.

My stomach was clenched into a tight fist of anxiety, but my fingers were steady as I typed in the name.

Gray, Clancy.

And then, the pain released with a single long breath.

No records found.

It was another four hours to Nashville, with Chubs and me splitting the driving duties. Seeing him behind the wheel instead of the seat behind me was strange enough, but his relaxed, confident posture there made him look like a different person. I was forcing myself to adapt, trying to come to terms with the fact that this Chubs was not the one who had been taken from me. How could he be, after everything?

Aside from his reaction to Vida’s baiting and insults, he was calmer—outwardly. Every now and then I would look over and see a shadow flit across the sharp lines of his face. Tell me, I would think, but the thick clouds would pass overhead, peeling back to submerge the road in brilliant sunlight, and he’d look like himself again. At least until it came time to eat.

In the past, Chubs had complained and railed against just the idea of stopping to have one of us go in and buy food from a store or restaurant. It had always been Liam who went out to buy it, with Chubs’s loud protests trailing behind him like a nagging shadow.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies