I stare at my gravestone. Locke Jenkins. They paid too much for it. More than they could afford. I wonder what slick salesman talked them into it. I reach out and run my fingers over the recessed letters. The L
is nearly as weathered away as the life I once had.
Closure. That’s what I came for, but now that I’m standing here, I think that letting go of the past doesn’t come in a single moment. Maybe the past has to fade away slowly like letters in granite. Worn away over time by wind, rain, and tears. Maybe that’s why they did it, ordered a ridiculously expensive gravestone for a small urn of ashes. Maybe that was their way of letting me fade away slowly.
I look at their graves to the right of mine. I wish I had brought flowers for them. What kind did my mother like? I can’t remember. Did I ever know?
I know it’s normal to forget. That’s part of letting go, but my memories are all I have, my only connection to the original me. On a daily basis, I search the details of my life, the conversations, the routines, the fears, the small in-between moments that connected one day to the next, all the voices that have come and gone in my life, still whispering to me. Everything that might help me to understand who I am now. A man, a boy, a something. I promised Jenna I would find out.
I glance up at a shadowy figure fifty yards away. He’s been following me ever since the train station. He stoops like he’s visiting a grave. He thinks that fools me? Watching my back has become second nature. But I play his game. Maybe he plans to mug me. That wouldn’t be a good idea. If he’s smart he’ll reconsider.
The phone tab in my pack vibrates, but I ignore it. I’ve had to wait for this world for so long, now the world will have to wait for me. My parents deserve that much. I keep waiting for a feeling that doesn’t come. A realization. Maybe even a message from the universe. I only hear a graveyard full of silence. Not even the sounds of grief. I know they cried plenty for me. I never got the chance to cry for them, and now it seems too late. The world has passed me by.
I fill the void with my own message instead, a whisper to my parents. “I’m okay.”
After 260 years it’s a pretty pathetic offering, but I know that’s what they’d want to hear. Or that I had just been elected president. I smile at the thought, remembering all the things they hoped I would be. They never would have guessed that I’d end up like this. My dad, at least, might be impressed, in a horrified sort of way.
Yeah. I’m okay. For them, I have to be.
I look up. The stranger who was following me is gone. Maybe he really was visiting someone here, his good-byes too late, just like mine. I head for the main gate of the cemetery, weaving my way through tombstones and memorials. The cemetery looks like it’s been abandoned for decades, the grounds in disrepair, weeds and rubble filling spaces where grass used to grow, but I suppose the dead don’t really care.
My phone vibrates again. Miesha’s called three times today, Jenna once, and Kayla once. Who’s next? Allys? When I—
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
I spin but my feet are already flying up, my pack sailing from my shoulder, a kick at the back of my legs sending me sprawling to the ground. I roll, but he’s already on me, his knee on my chest, rage in his eyes. His weight is nothing. I could toss him, smashing his skull into the stone cherub just feet away.
“Back off, man. I’ll give you three seconds. And then I’m going to seriously hurt you.” And I will. I’ve learned that giving people second chances can lead to disaster. Gatsbro taught me that.
He grins and that’s when I recognize him. A scar slashes his face from his temple to the corner of his mouth. In an instant a blade is at my throat, no time to react or push him away. He presses it against my skin with precise pressure. “Lesson one:
Never give the enemy a warning.” He pushes away from me and stands, shaking his head. “Get your miserable ass off the ground and let’s go.”
I stand, brushing the dirt from my coat. “I’m not going anywhere with you. I’m on my way to Manchester next. I’ve got business there.”
“You were told to go directly to Boston. Not here or anywhere else. You promised a Favor.”
“I don’t always do like I’m told. You better get that straight right now.” I walk over and retrieve my pack from the base of a tombstone. “I have things to take care of,” I tell him. “I’ll make good on my promise in a few days. Maybe less. It won’t take me long to find what I need to know in Manchester.”
Disgust fills his face. “I knew you were the wrong person for this.” He turns and walks away.
“Wait a minute!” I call and follow behind him. “Wait!” I yell again. He doesn’t stop. I double my stride so I’m walking next to him. “It’s only a Favor. What difference does a few days make?”
He stops abruptly and faces me. “Don’t bother showing up in a few days. By then he might be dead.”
I stare at his face, trying to read it. He’s exaggerating. He thinks I’m just a stupid seventeen-year-old kid. He doesn’t like me. I’m not sure he likes anyone. Except maybe this person he wants to help. When I agreed to return the Favor the Network had done for me, they didn’t tell me who the Favor was for or what it was they wanted me to do, but I assumed it was something small. For God’s sake, they don’t even know me. The Network thinks you have some special abilities that could do the job.
Just how much did Jenna tell them about me? Do they know? Is that the look on Mr. F’s face now? Revulsion? Am I making his skin crawl because of what I am?
“What’s your real name?” I ask. “I need to know that much.”
“For now, it stays Mr. F. You’ll know more when you need to know more.”
And he’s scared. This is more than just a Favor. Way more. What have I agreed to? I could back out right now. He’d let me. Probably even be glad if I did. To him, maybe I’m even less than a Non-pact. There’s always a pecking order, no matter how lowly you are.
“Let’s go,” I say.
And I walk away with an asshole who I’m not sure I trust and who’s way faster with a blade than any Non-pact should be.
Text copyright © 2013 by Mary E. Pearson
Mary E. Pearson is the author of six previous novels for teens, including The Adoration of Jenna Fox, The Fox Inheritance, and The Miles Between. She writes full-time from her home in Carlsbad, California, where she lives with her husband and two dogs.