The figure sitting there was hidden behind the sheets of the New York Times. A pot of tea or coffee sat waiting for the nearby cup. Finally, he folded the paper closed, then neatly in half, turning his attention to the pot in front of him.
Coffee. As he poured it, its aroma filled the small garden, bleeding into the sweet perfume of the roses blooming nearby.
That same icy touch crept over my skin until it froze me in place.
He looked the same—not as when I’d last seen him, but the first time, at East River. His dark hair had grown back, and his form had filled out either with care or age. He was no longer lean, half-starved like the rest of us had been at the end, but strong. Still, the tidy button-down shirt, the crisply ironed slacks, and the preppy sunglasses masking his eyes were pure Clancy Gray.
It wasn’t right. This wasn’t right. He didn’t deserve to be here, looking so healthy—so content. After everything he’d done, after so many good people had died instead of him, because of him, he got this small, carefree slice of bliss.
As if my thoughts had reached out to him, he looked up and smiled.
“Hi,” Clancy said, setting his cup back down onto its saucer. “Ruby told me to expect you.”
When I first met Clancy Gray, it had been like stepping into a dream.
At the time, none of us had known the careful way he was orchestrating things at East River. How he played each of the kids there, including the four of us, like notes in the grand symphony of chaos he was secretly conducting in his mind. We had been so exhausted when we’d arrived, hungry and desperate for even a few minutes of safety. Clancy had all but literally opened his arms to us, shining that perfect smile, every tooth straight and white. Everything about him perfect.
The kids at East River had worshipped him. He’d made sure of it. That was his thing, of course—pinpointing exactly what each individual person needed and wanted more than anything, and giving it to them. A thought would appear in your mind, and you would just accept it as your own. If the hairs rose on your arms when you caught him watching you, your first instinct was to chastise yourself for being a bad friend to someone who had given you so much. After all, if so many other kids adored and respected him—what was wrong with you that you had a problem with him?
But there was something wrong with his eyes. They were like cold rain, and when the mask slipped, you felt that ice sink down to your soul.
Even now, without his abilities, or the memory of his years as a monster, there was still something in his gaze that just wasn’t wholly there. Maybe it had been taken from him, the way we’d all had pieces of who we might have been stripped away. Maybe he’d never had it in the first place.
He lowered his sunglasses, staring at me over them. I took a step forward, embarrassed of every hard, quickening beat of my pulse. It wasn’t fair to hate someone so much, to despise them for the pain they caused your friends, and to still feel frightened enough to want to crawl out of your own skin and run away.
You’re here for Ruby, I reminded myself, clutching my hands behind my back. Ask him and then go.
Static ran through my fingers, only to release with a hard snap as Roman stepped up behind me and touched his hand to mine.
“Ah,” Clancy said, turning back to his plate. His tone had lost some of the imperious quality it used to have, but it was still as carefree and confident as anyone born with too much money and too much privilege. “I can tell you used to know me. Huh. Ruby mentioned the two of you were friends, but she never brought up the fact that you and I had met. She told me that I should be patient with others so they know they don’t have to be nervous about saying the wrong thing.”
“Ruby’s giving you advice now?” I asked.
He reached for his coffee again. “Yes. She’s good at it. Even my mom listens to her. Wow, I’m being rude—do you want any of this? I can get a few more cups from inside.”
As hungry as I’d been a few minutes ago, my stomach was too tight to get anything down. I shook my head.
“We’re good,” Roman told him.
“Well, at least have a seat,” he said. “Or stand if you’re in a hurry, I don’t mind.”
Another thing that hadn’t changed about Clancy: he still talked way too much.
Roman looked to me, waiting to see what I wanted to do. After a deep breath in, I nodded, moving to the chair directly across from Clancy. Roman followed, standing behind me. One hand curled over the back of my chair. His knuckles brushed my shoulder, a grounding touch as nerves fired throughout my body.
I folded my arms over my chest, sitting back. “So you recognize me? You know who I am?”
“From the news, yes,” he said, giving me another close look. “Both good and bad reports. I suppose none of the bad is actually true, then?”
“No, it’s not,” I said. “Your security might not be so quick to believe me, though.”
“Security?” Clancy repeated, cocking his head to the side. “No, those men are my mother’s assistant and driver. Why in the world would we need security?”
“Because you’re…” Oh, damn.
“Famous,” Roman finished.
Clancy laughed at that word. The sound crawled over my skin. “I guess? Having the first documented case of memory loss as the result of the cure surgery will do that. Mother always has coworkers coming in to run tests to see if anything’s changed.”
I bit my lip, clenching my hands together in my lap. I needed to be careful here. His mother had constructed this new identity for him. He didn’t remember anything about his past life beyond that she was his mother. Nothing about his father being president, nothing about his ability, and nothing about the chaos he’d caused.
I’d been wondering how Lillian explained his memory loss to him. A side effect of the surgery, huh? It must have been exhausting trying to keep him from finding out the truth. Someone’s full-time job, at least.
“Every once in a while, someone tries to snap a photo of me while we’re out to eat, but I don’t really get it. If people want to know how I’m doing, all they have to do is call us and ask. It’d be my pleasure to tell them that, no, I still don’t remember my childhood or what it felt like to be a Green, but I’d be more than happy to read them the thesis I’m working on for school.”
“Yeah,” I said, humoring him. “And what’s that?”
Another too-easy smile. “The Intersection of Faith and Violence in the Early Years of the Plymouth Colony.”
There was a faint twinge of something in my mind. I brushed it aside. I’d have time to analyze his tone and perpetually condescending smile later, when we were way the hell away from here.
“You said Ruby mentioned that we would be coming,” I said. Reaching into the back pocket of my jeans, I pulled out the photo of the four of us, bending it so only Ruby and part of Liam were visible. “Is this the girl you’re talking about?”
“Well, yeah,” Clancy said, resting his hand against the table. I glanced up at Roman, but he was watching the way Clancy was absently stroking the handle of the butter knife. “That’s Ruby. She’s a friend of mine from childhood. The only one who cares enough to still visit. How do you know her?”
Hearing him call Ruby a friend made me want to lean across the table and punch him. As if sensing that, Roman nudged me again with his knuckles. It felt like a question.
I pressed my right hand to my shoulder, disguising the movement as I leaned against the table. “She took care of me for a while,” I said. “When was she last here?”
“Ruby was here about a month ago, but she stops by regularly. About every three months or so, sometimes more frequently,” Clancy said.
That often? My hand slid down my arm. I had no idea she’d ever gone to see the Grays one time, never mind what sounded like a dozen visits. Liam wasn’t controlling, but he could be protective to a fault. Given the direct role Clancy had played in his brother’s death, I’d wager Clancy was the person he hated most in the world. The idea that he’d be f
ine with Ruby coming down here, where she could be spotted, to spend time with this reformed cockroach…
Unless she didn’t tell him, either.
“You’re worried about her, too, aren’t you?” Clancy leaned forward, resting his arms on his legs. “She just seems so…lonely, you know? Exhausted and sad, like the weight of the whole world is on her shoulders and everything has become unbearable. She opens up to me sometimes—about feeling trapped, or alone. It makes me wonder if I’m her only friend.”
“No,” I said, more coldly than I meant to, “you’re not her only friend.”
“I didn’t mean to offend you. She so rarely talks about the people in her life, it was a natural conclusion to draw. But to get back to your original question, the last time she visited, she told me she was leaving and wouldn’t be back for a long time. That people might stop here looking for her. Did she really leave in that big of a hurry?”
How stupid was my little heart—of course she hadn’t meant me specifically. She’d been talking about any of us who might notice when she was gone.
“Yeah,” I managed to get out. “She up and vanished. We’re concerned.”
“I don’t blame you,” he said, running a hand back through his hair. “It feels like it was inevitable, somehow. Like what she really wants, more than anything, is to just be alone.”
The static was back, growling in my ears again. “She didn’t tell you where she was going?” I asked, feeling that last bit of hope slip away.
He shook his head. “No—but she did leave me a number, in case of an emergency.”
“You could have started with that,” Roman said.
“I wanted to make sure you weren’t here to hurt her in any way,” Clancy said, giving him a sharp look.
No one has ever hurt her more than you.