Never Fade Page 79

He shook his head, keeping his eyes low to the ground.

“Tell them how you’ve been getting supplies,” I said, letting frost chill the words. “What happens to the kids in the White Tent when you need another pack of cigarettes?”

I could hear footsteps shuffling up through the loose rubble and debris from the collapsed wall, but I kept my eyes focused on the pathetic boy cowering on the floor.

“I…trade them.”

“With the PSFs?” I pressed.

He bit his lip and nodded.

The silence came crashing down around us—startled cries, wordless screams, weak protests, and one word, repeated over and over again: Orange.

“Someone take her out!” a boy shouted. “Take the shot! She’ll do that to all of us—”

“You know what I am now,” I called up to them. “But that also means you know that every word that just came out of his mouth is true. You’ve been lied to all this time and treated like you were worthless and incapable of making your own choices, but it stops tonight. Right now.” I turned to look back at Knox, who stared numbly at his upturned hands. “I want you to leave tonight and never come back—unless,” I began, looking up at the faces above me, “any of you have a problem with that?”

There was some part of me that must have known that a good number of them stayed silent out of fear. The boys who had protested before fell silent the moment my gaze moved across them, their hands strangling the guns in their hands. You all agree, I thought. You do and always will.

It was so simple. All of it. Those same boys nodded and drifted back into the shadows; all I had to do was push the right images into their minds, shifting quickly among the four or five of them before they knew what I had done. I looked down at Knox, my lip peeling back in disgust as I flooded his thoughts with visions of my own: him struggling out in the freezing snow, him coughing, weak, unable to defend himself as he moved farther west, disappearing forever. I wanted him to experience every bit of disorientation and pain and fever that Liam had. I wanted him swallowed up by the world that created him.

I watched him stand up, cutting his hands on the rough ground. He moved slowly, staggering out through the kids crowded around the collapsed wall. For one brief moment, I thought that they would turn him back and then turn on me, but the girl in front, Olivia, took one giant step aside. She crossed her arms over her chest, watching him go with cold, unflinching eyes. A noise rose from the rest of them as they followed suit, clearing him a path—a hissing, spitting, snarling noise that conveyed what most words couldn’t. Then, the ones perched safely above us echoed it back, letting months, even years, of pent-up anger and fear and hopelessness escape with it. The intensity of it was suffocating; I reached up and pressed a hand to my throat. My pulse raced beneath my fingertips.

He was there, and then he was gone. I felt the rage that had powered me follow him out the door, fading like old memory, disappearing into the black night. I thought about it—calling him back in, I mean. It suddenly didn’t feel like enough. He deserved so much worse. Why had I even given him a chance when he hadn’t found it in his damn black soul to give one to the other kids around him?

Vida limped over to me, watching me with wary eyes. She kept a clear distance between us, her hands fisting her torn pants. Looking at me like she had never seen me before in her life. I was about to ask her what was wrong when I felt an arm loop through mine and turn me around.

Chubs’s lips were pressed into a tight line, his eyes hidden by the reflection of firelight in his glasses. It was amazing to me that after everything that happened that night, I still had the strength to untangle myself from him and pull away. He tried to grab me again, to steer me outside and away from the eyes burning into my back.

But I wasn’t afraid of these kids or what they could do to me now that they knew what I was. If I could have found the words, I would have told him. I would have said that before I hadn’t been strong enough to keep our group together. I hadn’t had enough control, enough power, to keep him and the others safe from the world trying to rip us apart. Now I did.

The mood in the room had shifted, was shifting—in that moment, I felt so connected with everyone in that run-down warehouse that I could practically taste their relief like cold, sweet rain on my tongue. It was some time before I realized they were waiting for me to make the first move.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jude push in through the crowd, his chest heaving from his run. The Chatter was lit up in his hand, vibrating loud enough for me to hear. I saw the only confirmation I needed stretched across his face in a grin.

But his eyes shifted then, and it was obvious he wasn’t seeing me anymore. Only the wreckage, only the fires still clinging to the cement. Only Mason, his blank, empty gaze still fixed on something beyond our seeing.

“It’s okay,” I told him, breaking the silence. “We’re okay.”

And it didn’t matter if the others truly believed what I said. They all followed me out anyway.


IF YOU CAN HEAR THIS, you’re one of us. If you’re one of us, you can find us. Lake Prince. Virginia…

The sound of Clancy’s voice pouring out of the small boom box’s speakers made every single hair on the back of my neck stand at attention. Olivia had set it at the edge of Knox’s stage, and Jude had charged the batteries just enough to ensure we would have five minutes of solid listening.

“Why is this still broadcasting?” I asked. “I thought it was being sent out of East River?”

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