Then there is nothing to do but wait, and listen, and pray.
Every minute is an hour and an agony. I wish, more than anything, that I could put my hands over my ears and hum, drown out the terrible soundtrack that's looping around me: the screaming, the thud of the nightsticks, the dogs snarling and barking. And the people begging, too, pleading as they are hauled away in handcuffs: Please, you don't understand, please, let me go, it was a mistake, I didn't mean to . . . Over and over again, a nightmare-song stuck on repeat.
Suddenly I think of Lena, lying safe somewhere in her bed, and my throat squeezes up and I know I'm going to cry. I've been so stupid. She was right about everything. This isn't a game. It wasn't worth it either--the hot, sweaty nights, letting Steve kiss me, dancing--it has all amounted to nothing. Meaningless.
The only meaning that matters is the dogs and the regulators and the guns. That is the truth. Crouching, hiding, pain in my neck and back and shoulders. That is reality.
I squeeze my eyes shut. I'm sorry, Lena. You were right. I imagine her giving a fitful stir in her sleep, kicking one heel out of the blanket. The thought gives me some comfort. At least she's safe, away from here.
Hours: Time is elastic, gaping like a mouth, squeezing me down a long, narrow, dark throat. Even though the basement must be ninety degrees, I can't stop shivering. As the sounds of the raid begin to quiet, finally, I'm worried that the chattering of my teeth will give me away. I have no idea what time it is or how long I've been crouched against the wall. I can no longer feel the pain in my back and shoulders; my whole body feels weightless, outside my control.
At last it is silent. I edge cautiously out from my hiding place, hardly daring to breathe. But there is no movement anywhere. The regulators have gone, and they must have caught or chased out everyone who was here. The darkness is impermeable, a stifling blanket. I still don't want to risk the stairs, but now that I am free, and moving, the need to get out, to escape this house, is rising like panic inside me. A scream is pressing at my throat, and the effort of swallowing back makes my throat hurt.
I feel my way toward the room with the couch. The window high in the wall is just visible; beyond it, the sheen of dew on the grass glows slightly in the moonlight. My arms are shaking. I can barely manage to haul myself up onto the ledge, scooting forward with my face in the dirt, inhaling the smell of growth, still fighting the urge to scream, or sob.
And then, finally, I'm out. The sky glitters with hard-edged stars, vast and indifferent. The moon is high and round, lighting the tree
The C"jurent. Tre are bodies lying in the grass.
The morning after the raids, I wake up to a message from Lena.
"Hana, you need to call me. I'm working today. You can reach me at the store."
I listen to it twice, and then a third time, trying to judge her tone. Her voice has none of its usual singsong, no teasing lilt. I can't tell whether she's angry or upset or just irritated.
I am dressed and on my way to the Stop-N-Save before realizing I've made the decision to see her. I still feel as though a great block of ice has been lodged inside me, in my very center, making me feel numb and clumsy. Somehow, miraculously, I managed to sleep when I at last made it home, but my dreams were full of screams, and dogs drooling blood.
Stupid: That is what I've been. A child, a fairy-tale chaser. Lena was right all along. I flash to Steve's face--bored, detached, waiting for me to finish my tantrum--to his silken voice, like an unwanted touch: Don't be upset. You're so pretty.
A line from The Book of Shhh comes back to me: There is no love, only disorder.
I've had my eyes closed all this time. Lena was right. Lena will understand--she'll have to, even if she's still angry at me.
I slow my bike as I pedal past Lena's uncle's storefront, where Lena works shifts all through the summer. I don't spot anyone but Jed, though, a huge lump of a man who can barely string a sentence together to ask you whether you'd like to buy a Big Gulp soda for a dollar. Lena always thought he must have been damaged by the cure. Maybe she's right. Or maybe he was just born that way.
I pull around to the narrow alley in back, which is crowded with Dumpsters and smells sickly sweet, like old, rotten trash. A blue door halfway down the alley marks the entrance to the storeroom in the back of the Stop-N-Save. I can't think of how many times I've come here to hang with Lena while she's supposed to be doing inventory, snacking on a stolen bag of chips and listening to a portable radio I snagged from my parents' kitchen. For a moment, I get a fierce ache underneath my ribs, and I wish I could go back--vacuum over this summer and the underground parties and Angelica. There were so many years when I didn't think about amor deliria nervosa at all, or question The Book of Shhh or my parents.
And I was happy.
I prop my bike against a Dumpster and knock softly on the door. Almost immediately, it scrapes inward.
Lena freezes when she sees me. Her mouth falls open a little. I've been thinking about what I wanted to say to her all morning, but now--confronted by her shock--the words shrivel up. She was the one who told me to find her at the store, and now she's acting like she's never seen me before.
What comes out is, "Are you going to let me in, F"jures nor what?"
She starts, as though I've just interrupted a daydream. "Oh, sorry. Yeah, come in." I can tell she's just as nervous as I am. There's a jumpy, hopped-up energy to her movements. When I enter the storeroom, she practically slams the door behind me.
"Hot in here." I'm biding time, trying to shake loose all the words I planned on saying. I was wrong. Forgive me. You were right about everything. They're coiled like wires in the back of my throat, electric-hot, and I can't get them to unwind. Lena says nothing. I pace the room, not wanting to look at her, worried that I'll see the same expression I saw on Steve's face last night--impatience, or worse, detachment. "Remember when I used to come and hang out with you here? I'd bring magazines and that stupid old radio I used to have? And you'd steal--"
"Chips and soda from the cooler," she finishes. "Yeah, I remember."
Silence stretches uncomfortably between us. I continue circling the small space, looking everywhere but at her. All those coiled words are flexing and tightening their metal fingers, shredding at my throat. Unconsciously, I've brought my thumb to my mouth. I feel small sparks of pain as I begin ripping at the cuticles, and it brings back an old comfort.
"Hana?" Lena says softly. "Are you okay?"
That single stupid question breaks me. All the metal fingers relax at once, and the tears they've been holding back come surging up at once. Suddenly I am sobbing and telling her everything: about the raid, and the dogs, and the sounds of skulls cracking underneath the regulators' nightsticks. Thinking about it again makes me feel like I might puke. At a certain point, Lena puts her arms around me and starts murmuring things into my hair. I don't even know what she's saying, and I don't care. Just having her here--solid, real, on my side--makes me feel better than I have in weeks. Slowly I manage to stop crying, swallowing back the hiccups and sobs that are still running through me. I try to tell her that I've missed her, and that I've been stupid and wrong, but my voice is muffled and thick.
Then somebody knocks on the door, very clearly, four times. I pull away from Lena quickly.
"What's that?" I say, dragging my forearm across my eyes, trying to get control of myself. Lena tries to pass it off as though she hasn't heard. Her face has gone white, her eyes wide and terrified. When the knocking starts up again, she doesn't move, just stays frozen where she is.
"I thought nobody comes in this way." I cross my arms, watching Lena narrowly. There's a suspicion needling, pricking at some corner of my mind, but I can't quite focus on it.
"They don't. I mean--sometimes--I mean, the delivery guys--"
As she stammers excuses, the door opens, and he pokes his head in--the boy from the day Lena and I jumped the gate at the lab complex, just after we had our evaluations. His eyes land on me and he, too, freezes.
At first I think there must be a mistake. He must have knocked on the wrong door. Lena will yell at him now, tell him to clear off. But then my mind grinds slowly into gear and I realize that no, he has just called Lena's name. This was obviously planned.
"You're late," Lena says. My heart squeezes up like a shutter, and for just a second the world goes totally dark. I have been wrong about everything and everyone.
"Come inside and shut the door," I say sharply. The room feels much smaller once he is in it. I've gotten used to boys this summer but never here, like this, in a familiar place and in daylight. It is like discovering that someone else has been using your toothbrush; I feel both dirty and disoriented. I feel myself swivel toward Lena. "Lena Ella Haloway Tiddle." I pronounce her full name, very slowly, partly because I need to reassure myself of her existence--Lena, my friend, the worried one, the one who always pleaded for safety first, who now makes secret appointments to meet with boys. "You have some explaining to do."
"Hana, you remember Alex," Lena says weakly, as though that--the fact of my remembering him--explains anything.
"Oh, I remember Alex," I say. "What I don't remember is why Alex is here."
Lena makes a few unconvincing noises of excuse. Her eyes fly to his. A message passes between them. I can feel it, encoded and indecipherable, like a zip of electricity, as though I've just passed too close to one of the border fences. My stomach turns. Lena and I used to be able to speak like that.
"Tell her," Alex says softly. It is as though I'm not even in the room.
When Lena turns to me, her eyes are pleading. "I didn't mean to" is how she starts. And then, after a second's pause, she spills. She tells me about seeing Alex at the party at Roaring Brook Farms (the party I invited her to; she wouldn't have been there if it wasn't for me), and meeting him down by Back Cove just before sunset.
"That's when--that's when he told me the truth. That he was an Invalid," she says, keeping her eyes locked on mine and forcing out the word, Invalid, in a normal volume. I unconsciously suck in a breath. So it's true; all this time, while the government denied and denied, there have been people living on the fringes of our cities, uncured and uncontrolled.
"I came to find you last night," Lena says more quietly. "When I knew there was going to be a raid . . . I snuck out. I was there when--when the regulators came. I barely made it out. Alex helped me. We hid in a shed until they were gone. . . ."
I close my eyes and reopen them. I remember wiggling into the damp earth, bumping my hip against the window. I remember standing, and seeing the dark forms of bodies lying like shadows in the grass, and the sharp geometry of a small shed, nestled in the trees.
Lena was there. It is almost unimaginable.
"I can't believe that. I can't believe you snuck out during a raid--f K ra0em">
For the first time in a long time, I actually look at her. I've always thought Lena was pretty, but now it occurs to me that at some point--last summer? last year?--she became beautiful. Her eyes seem to have grown even larger, and her cheekbones have sharpened. Her lips, on the other hand, look softer and fuller.