When May finally made her way upstairs she found Em lingering outside the half-closed kitchen door, listening to the excited chatter on the other side of it. Her eyes – glassy, bottom lashes glittering – turned to May and the corners of her mouth twitched into the smallest of smiles.
“I thought I’d give them a bit of privacy,” Em whispered, hitching a thumb toward the voices. “Sounds like it’s been a long time since they’ve seen each other, right?”
May frowned, knowing she was lying.
“Em,” May breathed her name and took Em’s hand in both of hers. “You don’t have to-“
They jumped as the door swung open.
Rue stood on the threshold, her face splitting into a delighted grin. “There you two are! It’s so good to see you safe and sound! Come on now.”
She pulled the girls into the kitchen, cutting the conversation like a switch. Every face turned to them and, just like Rue, everyone lit up.
“You’re alive!” Priva cheered, pulling Em into a tight bear hug.
Em laughed. “Of course we’re alive, dork.”
“Are you both alright?” Connor asked from the other end of the kitchen island. “No one’s hurt?”
“We’re fine,” May answered, watching Em squirm and struggle against Priva’s boa constrictor grip and giggling.
She turned to ask Connor the same question just as Jeremy stepped up to her, startling her.
“Relax.” Jeremy lifted his hands. “I come in peace.”
His voice was soft and friendly and made May realize he had never spoken to her like that before. Her eyes searched his face and regarded the blooms of purple and yellow around his eyes and across his already-delicate looking cheekbones. His split lip looked painful, but he grinned at her anyway. “Don’t worry; it’s not as bad as it looks.”
A well of emotion swelled in May’s chest as she remembered every blow that had left those bruises on Jeremy’s face. “It looked pretty bad when it was happening. I’m so glad you’re okay – I can’t believe I just left you there.”
“You did exactly what you should have done,” he insisted with a tight shake of his head. “Thanks to you the team was able to act. They would have been fucked if you hadn’t warned them. Which is why I, uh…” his casual air slipped and suddenly he seemed awkward. Clearing his throat, Jeremy thrust his hand forward. “Thank you.”
It took a second for May to realize he was serious. Surprise turned to happy relief, and she smiled and took his hand, shaking it firmly. “You’re welcome, Jeremy.”
“On that note, I should probably check in,” Connor announced, pulling a nondescript cell phone from his pocket. He turned and made his way to the breakfast nook on the far side of the room and spoke under his breath to a voice on the other end. Knowing that he was communicating with a Loyal agent made May shudder.
“While he’s doing that, is anyone hungry?” Marina asked, surveying the group. The remaining members of WIND looked ragged and wilted with exhaustion. “I’ll make us something to eat.”
Jeremy, moving gingerly, started to make his way over to her. “I’ll help.”
“I don’t think so,” Rue clucked, pulling a chair over and waving Jeremy into it. “Your job right now is to rest. Marina, I’ll give you a hand.”
As the two women got to work, Connor finished his call. He gave Jeremy the slightest of nods and the battered redhead relaxed back into his seat.
Smiling softly, Connor gazed around the room, taking in what he could gleam of his sister’s life from the details. His eyes landed on the fridge and class photo of Myles held beneath a magnet made from a pinecone with plastic googly eyes.
“He’s gotten so big, Rini,”
Marina glanced over her shoulder. “Tell me about it. I feel like he was still in diapers a couple weeks ago.”
“He sure looks like dad.” There was so much heartache in Connor’s eyes, but he kept smiling anyway.
“He does,” Marina agreed. “He’s playing soccer now. He’s pretty good at it too. Oh, and he started taking music lessons a few years ago. Plays the guitar. He does not get musical talent from our side of the family, that’s for sure.”
“Must be from Marcus’ side.” Connor grinned.
A phone rang, making Marina jump.
She pulled her phone out from her back pocket and squinted at the name on her caller I.D.
“Speaking of Marcus. I’ll be back in a sec,” she said, stepping out of the room to answer the call.
“Oh, I need to give you this before I forget.” Priva dug through her pockets, unearthing a folded sheet of notebook paper. She handed it to Em. “This is a list of meet-up locations for the rest of our route, in order. If we get split up again, head to the closest address. These are the only places and people we can trust.”
“Don’t lose it,” Jeremy said, miming the action of putting something in his pocket. “One of you should always have it on you.”
“Got it,” Em confirmed, reaching down her collar and stashing the list in her bra. She gave May a wink, who responded with a deep blush and a playful shove.
“So, Jeremy,” May said, trying out this tentative new friendship that seemed to have settled between them. “Marina showed us a security camera picture you sent her so she knew which train we’d be on. How did you do that?”
“It’s called a screen cap,” he teased, smirking – playfully this time – as May put her hands on her hips and shook her head at him.
“Did you hack their security system?” she asked. “How did you learn to do that?”
Jeremy shrugged, then winced. “It’s just one of the surprisingly useful skills I managed to pick up over the years.”
“Who just ‘picks up’ hacking?” Then, as soon as she asked, May remembered. “Does it have anything to do with your ability?”
“Ha, no.” Jeremy chuckled. “It would be cool if I could actually do everything I’ve ever seen or read about, but that’s not how it works.”
The kitchen door opened and Marina hurried back into the kitchen.
“Sorry about that,” she said, fussing around the counter as she spoke. “That took longer than I expected.”
“Did they make it okay?” May asked, noting Marina’s far-off expression. “Marcus and Myles?”
“Oh, they’re still driving.” Marina gave her head a shake. “They were just calling to check in. Myles got carsick, poor kid.”
“Ew.” Jeremy pulled a face. Marina ignored him.
“So, how long do you guys plan on staying?” she asked, glancing around the room.
Rue sighed. “Not long, I’m afraid.”
“Will you at least be spending the night?” Marina looked hopefully at her brother. “It’s been so long since the last time we were together.”
Connor ran his fingers along the tight line of his lips.
“It would be nice to have a short break,” he agreed. The others nodded and shrugged their shoulders. “But only if you’re sure. I don’t want you to feel obligated to put yourself at risk any more than you already have”
“Not at all.” Marina grinned.
“One night off and then we’ll get back at it,” Em announced, as though her words were absolute. No one disagreed.
Em absentmindedly placed a hand lightly on the center of her chest and imagined the hammering of her heart.
“We have important work to do.”
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