I’d finally found her, and she was safe, and she was trying to stay safe, and all I could think about was giving her shit? I don’t know why. I just know that, standing there, looking at her, I was relieved and I was happy, and I was feeling other things, and the best way to deal with all that seemed to be to tell her off.
The SUV made a right at the next corner, and headed along the side of the factory yard. Chloe waited until it had disappeared, before stepping out from her hiding place. When I moved forward, my shadow crossed the shed. She pivoted and lifted her fists. Good instincts, but a little late. I already had her around the waist and was pulling her behind the shed, my other hand over her mouth.
I bent to whisper, “It’s me,” and let her go.
She spun and there was this grin on her face. I knew it was just relief at finding us, but whatever I’d been going to say died in my throat and I stood there, staring, as she grinned up at me, looking like she was going to hug me or something. My scowl obviously checked that impulse.
“I am so glad to see you,” she said.
I snorted and looked away as I waved her behind the shed. She followed, then grinned up at me again, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
“Got that,” I said. “Stop bouncing, Chloe, and stand still before they see you.”
“They’re gone. That’s why—” As she looked behind me, she stopped smiling. “Where’s Simon? H-he’s okay isn’t he? I tried to hurry.” She tugged his insulin pouch from her pocket. “I know he needs this.”
Simon. That’s why she was grinning and bouncing. She thought Simon was here. As soon as she realized he wasn’t . . . No more grinning. No more bouncing. No more, “I’m so glad to see you.”
“That’s his backup,” I said. “He had another one in his pocket. He’s fine.”
“Around back. I smelled Tori so I thought it was a trap and—”
“Tori! Her mom— The car— We have to warn her.”
Chloe raced off through the yard. I stood there, trying to decipher what she’d just said. Something about warning Tori? No, she must have said “warn him.” Warn Simon. That’s what she was thinking about. Simon.
That’s what I wanted, wasn’t it? Someone for Simon, to get him out of Lyle House and to keep his spirits up. Keep him from getting sick while we hunted for Dad. Someone to make him happy.
She’d make him happy, and he’d make her happy, and that was good. That was what I wanted.
I ran after Chloe. I had to keep her safe. For Simon.
When Tori woke me up, I was deep in a dream about Chloe. We were on the bus from Buffalo to Andrew’s house, and I’d fallen asleep after showing Chloe the picture I’d drawn of her banishing the zombie in the abandoned building. So that’s what I dreamed of. Only it wasn’t Derek who’d come to her rescue this time—it was me.
In my version, I’d woken up first and seen the zombie. Like Derek, I’d tried to wake her up carefully and warn her. Like Derek, I didn’t succeed. Pretty hard to tell someone, “Um, there’s a zombie crawling over you” and notfreak her out. Unlike Derek, I hadn’t freaked back by shouting at her to calm down. My brother is a great guy, but subtlety really isn’t his thing. I’d done it right—holding her hand and assuring her she could handle it, and I’d stand watch and make sure the reanimated corpse didn’t hurt her.
Together, we banished the zombie. Afterward, she was shaking, and I held her and told her how brave she’d been, and she apologized for screaming, and I said that was okay, I’d been screaming too—on the inside—and that made her laugh, and she leaned toward me and I leaned toward her and—
“Simon.” Someone was shaking my shoulder. “Simon, wake up.”
I cracked open one eye, praying it was Chloe while knowing it wasn’t. There was no mistaking that screech. When I saw Tori leaning over the seat, I shut my eyes again. Maybe if I pretended to be asleep, she’d go pester Derek instead. I had a dream to finish.
“Simon! Come on. This is our stop.”
I sighed and opened my eyes. My sketchpad was still open to the picture of Chloe. I looked at it and felt a pang of regret that it hadn’tbeen me who’d come to her rescue the other night. I should have. I would have, too, if I wasn’t such a sound sleeper.
I stretched and glanced at the seat beside mine. It was empty.
I peered over the rows of seats. The bus had stopped. It was barely dawn and most of the passengers were sound asleep. When I didn’t see Derek’s familiar dark head at the back, I got to my feet.
I looked around. “They got off already?”
“So obviously they got off.” Tori bent to squint at her reflection in the window and swiped a hand through her short, dark hair. “God, I look like shit. First stop, a bathroom. I am not going anywhere looking like this.”
Someone tried to push past her and she turned on him. “Excuse me? Wait your turn.”
“If you’re getting off, get off,” the man said. “The bus won’t wait forever, sweetie.”
“I’m not your sweetie.” She fluffed her hair again, then headed down the aisle as she waved me forward. “Come on.”
I grabbed my sketchpad, jacket and backpack. Still half-asleep, I stumbled off the bus. As the doors closed behind me, I peered around the parking lot. It was dawn, but I didn’t see the sun yet, just gray fog, the streetlights barely piercing it.
“Who do you think? Derek? Chloe?”
As the bus driver pulled bags from the storage compartment, I walked toward the tiny bus depot. When I saw the snack bar sign, I smiled. Where there was food, I’d find Derek. Chloe must have gone with him. Good to see them getting along again. I hated it when they argued.
As I walked to the snack bar, I caught a glimpse of two figures along the side of it, nearly hidden in the fog. A tall guy and a short girl. The guy was leaning over her and she was looking up at him and—
The patch of fog lightened and I saw it was two strangers, a man and a kid, a father kissing the girl’s forehead before she headed off on the bus. Not Derek and Chloe. Good. I mean notgood, since I still had to find them.
“Oh my God.” Tori’s voice cut through the quiet. “They lockedthe bathroom? When does this dump open?” She strode over to me. “I can’t get in the bathroom.”
“Well, find Derek. He needs to break the lock.”
“Do you see him? Because I don’t, which means I have no idea where he is. You’re the one who saw them get off the bus. Which way did they go?”
“Who said I saw them get off?”
She shifted her bag to her other shoulder. “I said they got off. I didn’t say it was here.” She looked around. “Where is here, anyway?”
I spun toward the bus. It was pulling away. I ran after it, yelling and waving. The driver didn’t stop.
“So,” Tori said as she walked over to me. “Looks like we need a plan. That bathroom isn’t going to open itself, and I need to wash up.”
It’s Tori. I just read Simon’s so-called account of our “adventure” and I have one word for it: bullshit.
I know he wrote this for that comic book he’s doing with Chloe, which means he wanted to make himself look good. But that doesn’t mean he has to make me seem like a twit. Or maybe it does, because that’s the only way he’s going to come out of this looking like a hero.
I get the concept of creative license. But when it comes at the expense of my reputation as a reasonably intelligent girl, I draw the line.
So I’m taking over this story. While I don’t promise that it will be a completely unbiased account of events, it’ll be more accurate than this crap.
Let’s start over, shall we?
I was half-awake when the bus pulled into the station. I had no idea if it was our stop or not. The driver hadn’t said anything and, as I squinted out the window into the gray early morning light, I couldn’t see any signs.
I rubbed my eyes and looked back to where Derek had been sitting. The seat was empty. I looked forward to Chloe and Simon’s seats. Also empty.
Had they gotten off and left me? I wouldn’t put it past the guys. Chloe would argue, not because she cared, but because abandoning me would be the wrong thing to do. If she’d been as sleepy as me, they might have been able to bustle her off before she realized I’d been left behind.
I grabbed my bag and hurried down the aisle. As I approached Simon’s seat, I saw he was still there, just slumped over, sound asleep and drooling. Okay, maybe not drooling, but with a slack-jawed look that really wasn’t attractive.
“Simon? Wake up,” I whispered. Note whisperednot screeched. It was six in the morning, on a bus full of sleeping passengers. Even if I’d been awake enough to raise my voice, I know better.
He mumbled something and pushed me away. I stepped aside to let an elderly woman off before I shook Simon’s shoulder again.
“Simon! Come on. I think this might be our stop.”
He opened his eyes and turned, not to me, but to the empty seat beside him.
Chloe. Always Chloe with him and his brother. I know I sound like a whiny brat when I complain, but I think I have a good reason. I’d just discovered that I was a witch and my mother was a bitch—the murderous kind. I was now on the run with three kids who didn’t want me along.