Silent, Silas reached into his coat pocket and held out a squat, tattered book. She didn’t reach for it, and after a moment, he set it between them. “I saved this for you,” he said, his voice hiding something. “Along with a box of things you set by for when this was over. It’s all from the year we prepped for this. We have some of your early talismans, too. Your life is not lost. Everything is there. You can remember who you were.”
Her jaw clenched, and she forced it to relax. She picked the book up, feeling the worn leather against her fingertips, knowing how supple it would be if she opened it. But this book wasn’t her. She was so far from it now it would be like looking at someone else. “Thank you, but no,” she said, handing it back.
From the back, Allen’s voice rose in anger, saying, “Screw you, Fran. You know shit.”
Silas folded his hands around hers, sealing the book in her grip. “Keep it for a while,” he said. “Stick it on a shelf. You may want it later.”
She was too tired to argue, so she wedged it in an inner coat pocket, vowing to throw it out as soon as she had the chance. “Is this my psychologist talking?” she said, trying to at least pretend that everything was okay, and he leaned across the distance between them, cupping a hand on her cheek and smiling. The hint of pain she’d always seen there was gone.
“Your friend,” he said.
Her gaze fell and he pulled away when the door to the back room swung open and Allen strode in, ticked. She could guess how the conversation had gone. Fran still didn’t trust her. Hell, she wasn’t sure she could trust herself. Peri’s emotions grew more and more erratic. Silas had said he’d been her anchor, but it made her feel utterly alone. He wasn’t her anchor now, and after this long without one, she wasn’t sure she wanted one. She wasn’t sure she wanted anything anymore.
“Fran can eat shit and die,” Allen said, clearly angry. “Peri, you did good. Better than good. Opti is on the run and we’re picking them up as we go. You’re going to come work with Silas and me here at Overdraft to bring in the stragglers, and everything will go back to normal.”
It was getting harder to breathe. She didn’t feel like she’d done anything at all. “Can I go?” she said suddenly, and both men stiffened in surprise. “I mean, there’s no reason I can’t go back to my apartment, right?” she amended, and Allen got a lost look on his face. “I need to think for a while,” she lied, just wanting to leave.
“Um, we were going to meet up with Fran in about half an hour,” he said slowly. “Lunch, that’s it. Are you hungry?”
“She just realized what this whole mission cost her,” Silas said. “You really think she wants to eat? God, Allen, use your brain.”
“Hey! I’m just making sure she’s not hungry,” Allen said belligerently, and Peri stood, cutting short his retort.
“Can I borrow your car?” she said, and Allen fished his keys out of his pocket. “Thanks,” she said, taking them from his slack fingers. Jaw clenched, she headed for the door, the weight across her shoulders growing heavier with every step.
“Are you coming back?” Silas questioned, and she hesitated.
“I, ah, sure. I just gotta get a few hours of sleep,” she lied, rubbing her forehead. It hurt. “Tell Fran thank you for the job offer.”
Allen scowled at Silas, his expression shifting as he turned to her.
“I can drive you.”
“No, I want to be alone.” Head down, she went for the door. “See you tomorrow.”
Fat chance of that, she thought, but it was something to say.
“She shouldn’t be alone,” she heard Allen say. “What if she drafts?”
“Then she forgets,” Silas said. “Give her some time. She’ll be okay.”
The Opti logo in the stained-glass window mocked her, and it was all she could do not to punch it. Angry and depressed, she stiff-armed the door open. The bright light was a shock. She’d forgotten the sun was up.
“But she’s a drafter. Drafters are never alone.”
“She is,” Silas said, and Peri’s heart lurched at the truth of it. “She can handle herself. You want to make her mad? You just keep following her.”
The door finally shut behind her, cutting off their heated conversation. Peri hesitated in the cement-and-pillar silence as she scanned the parking lot. The bordering trees were finally starting to leaf out—except for the one in the corner. It was as dead as she felt, reminding her of her favorite tree at her grandparents’, the one sheltering a long-forgotten grave. Depressed, she took her phone from her back pocket and left it on the planter where they’d find it. Her chest hurt. She felt so alone, and being with other people made it worse.
There was a huge space in her where Jack had been, a space that had once been warm but now held only bitter ash. Behind it was a gap of about a year that she’d probably never have back. She hadn’t even missed it until now, hidden by Silas, obliterated at her request by Allen. A year to fall in love, maybe. And she’d destroyed it.
Chin rising, she strode to Allen’s car, feeling the wind cut under her coat as she fastened it shut. The leather upholstery was cold as she got in behind the wheel. Putting the car in drive, she spun it around and cut across the fading lines for the exit.
The sudden tears caught her off-guard and she blinked fast as she pulled into traffic, making a right because it was easy. She didn’t know where she was going, but she knew she didn’t want to go to that ground-floor apartment. Her gut was so tight she felt sick. Everything she remembered was Opti, and Opti was corrupt. She didn’t remember the past that everyone kept telling her about. The past she remembered was one of hurting people and ending lives—and of feeling powerful doing it.