Nate shifted his weight from one foot to the next, his little jaw flexing. Several long moments passed, and then he said, “Deal.”
I was so surprised I might’ve needed to sit down.
He didn’t look remotely happy when he’d agreed, but he’d agreed, and I wasn’t giving him a chance to change his mind. I quickly grabbed some canned green beans, some kind of sausage, and bread.
“If you do anything to scare the others, they’ll bolt,” he said when I faced him. “They’ll stop trusting me, and they can’t survive out there.”
“I won’t do anything. I promise you that.”
Nate blew out a ragged breath. “Aren’t you worried that I’d hurt you? That someone else will? You don’t know me. You don’t know who I’m leading you to.”
The fact that he was asking that lessened any worry that I did have, but I met his stare as I zipped up the bag and reminded myself that I was, in fact, a badass Trojan. “I won’t let you or anyone else hurt me, Nate. If anyone did try to, I can promise you that will not end well for them.”
His eyes widened a little, but then he nodded. “Okay.”
Slinging the straps of the backpack over my shoulders, I smiled. “Okay.”* * *How Nate moved in and out of the community quickly became obvious the moment I realized he was leading me through a maze of cramped alleys in between abandoned homes, toward the same road Eaton lived on and all the way to end of it.
Hidden behind a car, we watched a Luxen patrol the chain-link fence that separated the community from a wooden area and the city.
The moment the Luxen had disappeared out of view, I looked over at Nate. “You know their schedule, don’t you?”
He nodded. “It’s like intervals, give or take a few minutes.” He rose. “Follow me.”
The fact that some kid without the aid of a watch could figure out exactly when the guards would be in a certain area was more than a little concerning. Filing that away to discuss with Luc when he returned, I followed Nate in the moonlight, across the cracked road and over a small patch of overgrown grass. Nate led me straight to a section of broken fence that was partially obscured.
Another thing that needed to be addressed.
We hurried through the trees, my eyes adjusting to the scarce moonlight. I had no idea how Nate was able to navigate, but I imagined it had a lot to do with repetition. He tripped a few times, though, over exposed roots and uneven ground.
The moment we cleared the woods and I could see the looming city, my stomach tumbled.
“This used to be a public park,” Nate explained as he strode forward, the weeds reaching his hips. “There were trails and stuff, and a lot of people used to run them. They’d have concerts here sometimes.”
Dead lampposts rose out of the grass, and every so often I’d see a shape of something underneath grass that might’ve been a bench. “Did you go to them?”
“Some of them.”
We reached the end of the park, and I could feel the ground change under my feet, shifting from grass to cement. What I guessed might’ve been a parking lot had been converted into a temporary campsite. Tents sat every so many feet, some half-collapsed and others rippling in the wind. A chill swept down my spine as we walked past them and onto one that must’ve been a busy street at one time.
Cars sat untouched in the middle of the road, some with the doors wide open and windows blown out, while others looked virtually untouched with the exception of the wear and tear of the years of exposure. Papers and pieces of cloth drifted across the street, stopping only to be caught by the wind once more and carried toward darkened storefronts. I kept picturing a pack of wild dogs erupting out the shadows, but that didn’t happen as Nate led me down a street.
Tall, dark shapes stretched into the night sky, silent and foreboding, but for a moment, I could almost imagine dozens of lights glowing from windows of the skyscrapers, the hum of traffic and people going about their lives.
And I thought of home.
My heart squeezed. I tried not to think of my old life, one in a bustling city full of sound and people and normalcy. Or at least the facsimile of normalcy, but seeing what had become of Houston made me wonder if there would be more cities like this, and it made me miss … before. Not that I wanted to go back to being blind to what was happening or to who I was or to be without Luc, but there was a simplicity that I missed, along with my friends and …
A knot of emotion lodged in my throat. God, I missed her, and those feelings hadn’t become any less confusing or easier to deal with. I hated her and I loved her. Just like I hated my fake life in Columbia but also loved it.