Never Fade Page 83

“It’ll get infected,” I reminded him.

“She would drive a saint to murder. Like, ten-stab-wounds-to-the-torso murder.”

“Good thing you’re not a saint.”

He stood at that, thrusting a towel and bucket of warm water toward me, giving some kind of vague motion toward the spread of sick kids behind us. “I’ll be back in five minutes. Be useful and try to get them drinking water.”

I went down the lines of kids, waking them out of fever dreams, bringing a plastic cup of water to their lips. Short of forcing their mouths open and pouring it down their throats, there wasn’t much I could do to get them to swallow. I did the best I could cleaning off their faces with a rag, asking a series of questions that began with, “Are you in pain?” and ended with, “Do you feel worse than yesterday?”

Only one of the kids was able to answer. Yes, she had whispered, yes. To every question, an aching, soft yes.

A sharp cough drew my eyes across the way to where a familiar head of shaggy hair was struggling to escape from the baby blue blanket over him. He was attempting to get up onto his elbows, his chest heaving with the effort. It was his fluttering, shallow breaths that worried me—the way his arms shook supporting his weight.

“Stop,” I said, making my way over to him, “please—it’s all right, just lie back—”

Liam’s eyes were wide, rimmed with red and bruises still fading. His arms gave out under him, and without any thought to it, I caught him by the shoulders and carefully lowered him back down. His eyes never left my face; the blue was paler somehow, brighter and glassy with fever.

“Careful,” I murmured. After touching his burning skin, my hands felt as cold as they were empty when I pulled them away.

“What’s going on?” Liam whispered, struggling to swallow. “What’s…happening?”

“Chubs just went to get something,” I said softly. “He’ll be right back.”

Liam nodded slightly, closing his eyes with a soft sigh. I started to reach over to brush the curling ends of his hair off his forehead when he turned toward me and forced his lids open. “You’re…awfully pretty. What’s your…name?”

The words wheezed and whistled out of him in a heart-stopping way, but I was caught so off guard by how coherent he was, it took me several precious moments to respond.

“Ruby,” he repeated in the warm, caressing tones of his Southern lilt. “Like ‘Ruby Tuesday.’ That’s nice.”

Then Liam’s expression dissolved completely. His brows drew together in a look of intense concentration, his lips repeating that one word over and over again, soundlessly.


I knelt down next to him, sliding the bucket over. I braced one hand on the ground beside his upturned palm.

“Ruby,” he repeated, his light eyes cloudy. “You… Cole said… He told me we had never met, and I thought…I thought it was a dream.”

I brought the rag up to his face and began, with gentle strokes, to clean the dirt and soot away from it. It was okay like this, I reasoned. I wasn’t touching him directly. The stubble on his chin rasped as I brushed the rag against it. I focused on the small white scar at the corner of his lips. I focused on not pressing mine to that spot, no matter how much it felt like I was fading into him.

“A dream?” I pressed, hoping to keep him talking. “What kind of dream was it?”

It wasn’t… No, it wasn’t possible. I had seen people become confused after I’d messed with their memories, a bit muddled on the details, but I had gone through and picked every instance of me clean from Liam’s mind. I had replaced myself with thin air and shadows.

A faint smile formed on his lips. “A good one.”


“I need… Are the keys…?” His voice was getting softer. “We’ll go get… I think Zu is—She’s in the aisle with—The one with—”


“I don’t want those guys to…to see her. They’re going to hurt them, both of them—”

I pulled back, but Liam’s hand somehow found mine on the ground, and his fingers latched onto it, pinning me there. “What guys? Zu’s safe; no one is going to hurt her.”

“The—Walmart…I told her, I told her to go with… She went with—No, where is she? Where’s Zu?”

“She’s safe,” I promised, trying to pull my hand back. His grip was persistent, like he was trying to force me to understand something, and the more he struggled, the harder it was for him to catch his breath. I took my free hand and pressed it to his cheek, leaning over his face. “Liam, look at me. Zu’s safe. You have to—you have to relax. Everything will be all right. She’s safe.”

“Safe.” The word sounded hollow. He closed his eyes on it. “Don’t go again,” he whispered. “Don’t go…where I can’t follow, please, please, not again…”

“I’ll stay right here,” I said, rubbing a thumb along his cheekbone.

You have to stop this. You have to leave. Right now.

“Don’t lie,” he mumbled, at the edge of sleep. “This is…a place we don’t have to…”

My vision blanked out with an array of spots and a pounding rush of blood as I shot up onto my feet. I pressed a hand to my mouth, waiting for my sight to clear, trying not to trip over the kids nearby. I knew what he had been trying to say. I had heard those words before, had said them myself, but there was—It wasn’t possible—

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