Storm Page 44

He should have paid more attention in freshman Health.

’’Jesus, Nick I\m sorry I didn\ ’’ He didn\ what? He didn\ mean to poke his brother\s broken leg?

’’Stop apologizing.’’ Nick\s voice sounded breathy. ’’Look, I think my phone might still be in my pocket.’’

A phone! But Chris couldn\ force his hand to reach out. ’’Do you want me to untie you first, or ’’

’’I\m lying on my hands.’’ Nick gave a rough laugh. ’’And I don\ think moving would be a good idea.’’

Chris would give anything for a bare hint of light. ’’Okay. We\ll call Mike or Gabriel, and they\ll have us out of here in, like, five minutes ’’

’’Oh yeah? Where\s here?’’

That threw him. Chris didn\ have an answer. He didn\ even know how long he\d been unconscious.

He didn\ even know if it was day or night.

’’Stop thinking,’’ said Nick. His voice was losing the thready current of shock, and now carried a tremor of pain. He sounded like he was clenching his teeth. ’’Just find it.’’

Chris steeled his nerves. This time he traced the seam of the pants with the barest edge of his fingertips. The fabric was bunched and torn in places. Chris tried not to think of what that might mean.

At least Nick was conscious. Good, right? He should probably keep him talking.

’’Gabriel\s going to be pissed.’’

It took Nick a second to answer. ’’Why?’’

’’He\ll have to break his leg so people won\ be able to tell you apart.’’

Nick snorted. A laugh. Good!

Then he said, ’’This room is airtight, Chris.’’

’’How much air do we have?’’

’’A day, maybe.’’

Chris might have panicked about that, but then his hand found the gap of fabric that had to mean a pocket. Thank god they\d been at the dance and his brother was wearing dress pants. He couldn\ imagine fighting a phone out of a pair of jeans.

He flipped the device open. The blue display cast a sphere of light into the darkness, not stretching much farther than three feet. The glow caught Nick\s face and made his eyes dark and hollow. His shirt was unbuttoned at the neck, his tie gone. Bruises ran down the side of his face, and it looked like blood was caked in his hair.

’’Chris,’’ said Nick.

Chris shook himself. He dialed Michael\s number and hit Send. Thank god they had a phone. Some guy in a tech room somewhere would be able to trace the signal, and they\d send, like, a bazillion cops, and

The phone beeped. No signal.

Chris swore.

The phone went dark. He punched a button to make it light up again.

’’I knew it,’’ said Nick, his voice resigned. ’’I knew he wouldn\ be stupid enough to leave it on me.’’

’’At least we can see ’’

’’See what, Chris? Our prison?’’

’’Each other.’’ Chris had never heard his brother sound so bleak. He stared at him, hitting a button on the phone again when it went dark. ’’I\m going to walk around the edge in a minute, see if I can get a signal. But first I want to see your leg.’’

He braced himself for something bad. He\d never been a squeamish guy, but he\d never seen a bone come through skin before, either. It got worse when he realized Nick was holding his breath in grim fascination, too. He gritted his teeth and turned the phone.

No bones.

Instead, a splint. Old school and rustic, made of thin strips of wood, cotton bandages, and duct tape.

Chris had no idea what that meant. No frigging way Nick had done that himself.

’’He did that?’’ he said. ’’The Guide? Why?’’

’’Who knows,’’ said Nick. His voice was still strained. ’’I\d rather have a Percocet. See if there\s a way out of here.’’

Now that he had the cell phone light to work by, Chris walked the length of the room. The light didn\ penetrate far, and by the time he made it to a wall, his brother was left in total darkness.

’’You all right?’’ he called.

’’Just keep talking.’’

Of course then Chris couldn\ think of what to say. He just started narrating. ’’The walls are stainless steel, the floor concrete. Stainless steel shelves line the wall at one end.’’ Chris had yet to find a door.

’’Are there vents on the ceiling?’’

Chris pointed the phone up. ’’Yeah. But I don\ think the air is on.’’

’’We\ e lucky it\s not.’’

Chris pointed the phone at him, but still couldn\ see him. ’’You know where we are?’’

’’Not where. We could be anywhere.’’

Great.

’’Use your brain, Chris.’’ Nick paused. ’’Airtight, not a drop of water in sight. It\s the perfect room to hold us. No wonder we can\ get a signal.’’

Chris touched a hand to the wall, letting his fingers streak down the stainless steel.

Then he had it. ’’A freezer. Like a walk-in kind.’’

’’Yeah. And you know what sucks about these? One door. Easy to lock from the outside.’’

’’No way out.’’

’’Yeah,’’ said Nick. ’’Trapped.’’

CHAPTER 34

Becca woke to the smell of breakfast cooking.

That was so foreign it dragged her out of bed. She checked Chris\s phone.

No messages. None on her phone, either.

Her mom was bustling around the kitchen, frying bacon and pouring pancakes. Becca glanced at the clock over the microwave. It was barely after seven.

’’Mom?’’ she said, rubbing her eyes. ’’What are you doing?’’ Her mom hardly glanced up as she turned the bacon. ’’I\ll give you three guesses.’’

’’But why aren\ you still at work ’’

’’Well, it was a quiet night, so I left at six. Want some coffee? I thought I\d make us breakfast while I still had the work adrenaline thing going.’’

Becca dropped into the kitchen chair. ’’In a minute.’’

Her mom gave her a knowing smile. ’’Rough night?’’

Probably easier to let her mom think she\d knocked back a few beers with Quinn and was sitting here hungover. ’’Too rough.’’

Becca stared at Chris\s phone, willing a text to come in.

It wasn\ very obedient.

She couldn\ take it anymore. She flipped open the phone and scrolled through Chris\s contacts until she stopped on Michael.

Did Chris make it home OK?

The response took fewer than thirty seconds.

Who is this?

Of course he wouldn\ know. She mentally kicked herself and sent back her name. This time his response took a moment longer.

Was Chris with you last night?

She wrote back,

I haven\ seen him since the storm.

Then she waited, but Michael didn\ respond. She sent a few more texts asking about Chris, all of which went unanswered.

Her mom set a cup of coffee on the table beside her. ’’Who are you texting?’’

’’Some guy.’’

’’Some guy?’’ Her mom sounded too interested. ’’Want to tell me about this \some guy\?’’

’’Not like that.’’ Maybe she could borrow her mother\s car after she went to bed for the day.

Her mom started putting bacon on a plate, then layered the pancakes on a large platter. Becca wasn\ surprised to find food coloring smiley faces on hers. She didn\ know who was going to eat all this food.

Someone knocked on the door.

Becca\s heart leapt into her throat. Chris? Hunter?

Her mom frowned and put the mixing bowl in the sink. ’’Who knocks on the door at seven-thirty on a Saturday?’’

Becca shoved out of her chair and nearly ran down the hallway to the foyer.

’’Slow down, Becca,’’ said her mother. ’’Are you expecting someone?’’

Becca ignored her and threw open the door.

Then she stopped short. ’’Michael.’’

His jeans and boots were filthy and caked with mud, along with some darker spots that looked like dried blood. Something big had bitten his right forearm and hadn\ wanted to let go. Scrapes encircled his wrist and traced the tendons along the back of his hand. A nasty cut started over one eye and led into his hairline, backed by a harsh bruise.

’’What happened?’’ she whispered.

His eyes were wary and guarded and almost feral, and Becca watched him glance from her to her mother and back. ’’I think I need you to tell me that.’’

’’Becca,’’ said her mother. ’’Do you know this boy?’’

Her brain stumbled over the word boy, but Becca nodded. ’’Yeah. Yes. I do.’’ She struggled to find a way to explain Michael and how he looked. ’’He\s well ’’

’’Come inside.’’ Her mom pulled the door wider. ’’Let\s go in the kitchen.’’

’’No,’’ said Michael. ’’I can\ stay here. I just need ’’

’’You just need to get in here and sit down.’’ Her mom gave him a once-over. ’’How long ago did this happen?’’

’’Look,’’ he growled. ’’I\m fine ’’

’’Get in here.’’ Her mom stood back and pointed to the kitchen. ’’I\m not sending a kid back on the road looking like you do.’’ Her mom was in full ER nurse mode using the voice she typically saved for drug addicts and unruly street kids with war wounds.

’’I\m not a kid,’’ he snapped. Becca winced.

But her mother stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder. ’’Come on. At least have a cup of coffee and an aspirin.’’

Maybe it was touching him that did it. Michael seemed to deflate a bit, and Becca could feel his hesitation in the air.

’’Come on,’’ her mom said again. ’’I think I left the stove on anyway.’’

Then she was bustling back down the hall, and Michael was stepping across the threshold. He bent to work his boot laces. There was another scrape on his side, another line of blood. She winced and wondered if she should offer to help him.

He glanced up. ’’Why do you have Chris\s phone?’’

’’He gave it to me. At the dance.’’ She paused, feeling her throat tighten. ’’You haven\ seen him?’’

Michael stepped out of his boots and straightened. It stole an inch from his height, and seeing him standing there in his socks made him just a little less intimidating.

’’No.’’ His voice was a bit softer, a bit less gruff. ’’I haven\ seen any of them.’’

She stared up at him, holding his eyes. In that moment, she figured out what was behind all that anger and aggression: fear. Vulnerability. Her mom had called him a kid on the porch, and for the first time, Becca realized he wasn\ that much older than she was.

Michael must have seen her expression soften, because he walled that emotion back up and looked away. ’’This is stupid.’’ He reached for his boots. ’’I should be looking ’’

’’Hey.’’ She caught his forearm. Michael was the only person who might be able to help. ’’Come sit down. Maybe we can figure it out.’’

’’How do you take your coffee?’’ her mother called.

Michael glanced down the hallway, then back at Becca.

’’I won\ think you\ e any less of a jerk if you act like a normal human being and have a cup of coffee,’’ Becca said. ’’I promise.’’

He sighed. ’’Black,’’ he called.

Figured.

In the kitchen, her mother directed him to stand at the sink. ’’Let water run over those bites,’’ she said. ’’Puncture wounds like that can be a problem. What, did you have a run-in with a dog?’’

’’Something like that.’’ He did as her mother had directed, but Becca saw him glance her way.

’’She\s a nurse,’’ Becca said. ’’You\ e probably lucky Mom\s not wrestling you into the ER.’’


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