Later That Day
Cabot Stone plopped into an overstuffed armchair in her parents' brick-walled library and opened a medical book called Headaches, Brain Diseases, and Cranial Trauma. She was on the top floor of Cabot Industrial Services, where Greta and Jack Stone had built a comfortable loft apartment in the time they'd been away from the tropical hideout . . . and the children.
"We named the building after you," her father had said the night before when they'd snuck her in, "in case you ever came looking for us."
Cabot had supposed that was a nice gesture. But it seemed like they could have made a bit more of an effort if they'd really wanted to reunite.
Now Jack tentatively approached Cabot's section of the loft. He wore running shorts and a T-shirt that was still stained with sweat after his morning jog. His white-blond hair and ivory skin were similar in shade to Cabot's, though his cheeks were pink with exertion. He wore his hair a bit longer than Cabot's glorified buzz cut, and he brushed his moppy bangs aside to get them out of his eyes as he waited for Cabot to sense his presence. The reunion the day before had been tearful and joyous, but the talks last night had been painful. Accusatory. Cabot had three years of anger bubbling up inside that wouldn't go away overnight, and she'd given Jack and Greta a sharp tongue-lashing. They were acting appropriately meek this morning.
"Do you need anything, Cab?" Jack asked when she didn't acknowledge him. "Hungry? Thirsty? There's all kinds of food-"
"No thanks." Cabot immediately put up a mental block to protect her thoughts because of her father's ability to read minds. The block was something Jack and Greta had taught her to do when she was six. Cabot pictured it as a sliding wall inside her skull that slammed shut whenever she didn't want Jack to know what secretive or sneaky thing she was plotting. Back then, Jack had explained that he tried to never use his ability on his friends and family. But if people's thoughts were especially emotional-sad, angry, embarrassed-they sometimes forced their way into Jack's brain without him wanting them there. Greta had discovered early in their relationship that if she took a little time to focus on blocking her thoughts from Jack whenever he was within range, it was usually successful.
Cabot wasn't sure if her dad had continued in his virtuous ways, or if he was trying to read her mind right now. She wouldn't have been surprised-he'd changed a lot. It was shattering, to be honest-Cabot was beginning to realize she'd built her parents up in her mind, far beyond their true goodness. Her frown flickered with a flash of pain.
Jack lingered for a moment, shifting from one foot to the other, but Cabot seemed intent on the book she was reading. Eventually he left and went over to the desks on the far side of the loft, where Greta was working.
Cabot looked over, still frowning. Her parents talked quietly so Cabot wouldn't hear them-something they'd been doing on and off since she'd arrived. Each wore a GPS tracker in the form of a metal ankle band, provided by President Fuerte. The two could move about the city of Estero and live their lives however they pleased when they weren't called to assist the president with his crimes. But if they crossed the border into another country or waded more than a few dozen feet into the ocean, Fuerte's guards would descend upon them like a sudden hard rain-immediate and all-encompassing. They'd lose what freedom they had. In exchange for their abiding by these rules and staying inside the boundaries, Fuerte had kept the Stones and the other bad parents from being put in jail for their past crimes.
When Greta's cell phone rang, she turned her back to the library and answered it in hushed tones. But Cabot could just barely make out her mother's response: "Now is not a good time. We'll come to you. After . . . you know." Greta listened for several seconds, then reiterated firmly, "We'll come to you." She hung up and leaned toward Jack. "She sounds suspicious. But she can't come here." Greta glanced over her shoulder at Cabot.
Cabot swiftly dropped her gaze. Who was calling? Cabot had no idea. Greta had become extremely secretive. Both parents were so different now. Was it the new environment that had changed them? The loft and the home office, the phones and the appointments, versus the beach cabins with no schedule to follow or places to go? Was this how they'd been before Cabot had come along? Her parents were strangers.
Cabot sighed and pulled out her phone. Her stomach twisted as she scrolled through notification after notification from the other group, unopened. She could read the first two lines of each text message without clicking on them. There were group text messages that included the other four forgotten ones plus Lada, Elena Golden, and The Librarian. But The Librarian hadn't replied or communicated privately with Cabot at all yet, and that made her nervous. Was her hero mad at her for ditching the team during this crucial time? Cabot cringed as a days-long headache pounded behind her eyes.
There were also a few individual text messages, the first from Elena, reaching out to make sure Cabot was okay. The next was from Brix, begging her to come back. And there were a couple from Seven, whose reaction after her shocking departure seemed more emotional than she'd expected. The two of them had grown closer in the past weeks, she supposed. They'd been a team on the treacherous journey from the hideout to Estero, and they'd bonded during the time they were held prisoner together at Martim and Troy's mansion. Seven had been present when Cabot made the decision to go with her parents. He hadn't tried to stop her, but she'd watched him turn and walk away, head bowed.
The short, unfinished text previews provided some comfort. Her friends missed her. But she didn't want to read the full texts—not yet. Because she wasn't sure how she was feeling about everything, and she didn't want to start crying and have her parents wonder what she was crying about. She had to keep her friends' presence in Estero a secret no matter what. Plus, she wasn't quite ready for her friends to know she'd read their texts yet, because it could trigger an avalanche of new ones. Cabot wasn't prepared for that.
She searched through her phone settings. Lada had mentioned in one of their training sessions down in the lower tunnels that they could configure their messages so the sender couldn't tell if they'd read them. None of the group had actually done that as far as Cabot knew—the training had been overwhelming for the others, but Cabot had retained the information. She found the toggle switch and tapped it, and felt instantly better. Having people know if she'd read their messages felt as intrusive as when the kids nosed around her tree perch back home. Cabot was intensely private . . . even though she didn't quite respect other people's privacy the way she wanted hers respected.
It had been tricky explaining to her parents how she'd come to be in possession of a cell phone, but she'd anticipated the question and was ready for it. She'd also kept up the lie that only she and Seven had come to Estero. She might love her parents and want to be with them, but she didn't trust them. And she wanted to protect her friends. All her mom and dad knew was that she and Seven had been in search of the missing parents . . . and that Seven would be leaving soon to go back to the hideout.
"Seven and I bought cell phones to keep in touch with each other," she'd told her parents the previous night when she casually asked if they happened to have an extra charging cord. "I remembered what you told me about your old cell phones, and I sort of knew how they worked from your description-though they do way more than you ever mentioned."
"A lot changed in the years we were gone," Greta said, sounding mildly like she didn't believe Cabot's story, but not challenging her-at least not yet. "How . . . did you pay for them?" She asked the question hesitantly, as if she didn't want to hear that Cabot had taken after her thieving parents.
"I learned how to make clothes out of bamboo back home and brought some with me to sell in case we needed money." The lies rolled off her tongue a bit too easily. "At first we had no idea how to sell anything, but then Seven and I stumbled across the Sunday street market downtown and watched what the vendors did. Seven had to stay hidden, but I went up the street hawking them. A group of monks bought the whole pile—I think they felt sorry for me, because I doubt they'll ever wear them." She shrugged. "Then I bought two refurbished phones and signed up for some 'prepaid plan' or whatever . . . Anyway," she said with a disarming smile, "the woman at the store showed me how to use them. It's pretty easy."
"Hmm," said Greta. Her eyes swept over her daughter's clothing. "Did you make that cute jumpsuit you're wearing?"
Cabot's heart skipped a beat. Mom was onto her. "No," she said with a laugh. "I'm not that good at sewing. I found it at this place called a thrift shop. I got some shoes, too. My parachute clothes were getting me a lot of strange looks."
Greta narrowed her eyes.
Cabot felt a sudden bolt of anger. "It's not like we had much left back home, you know," she said accusingly. "You never returned with the supplies. So I did what I had to do."
That worked. Greta cringed.
"You're more clever than ever," Jack murmured. "Are you sure your ability isn't the same as your mother's? Her superintelligence has gotten us out of countless scrapes."
"I was smart way before I was ten," Cabot said, noting the age that supernatural abilities tended to appear. "I really don't think I have any supernatural power at all." She'd begun saying that out loud so that the words wouldn't hurt so much. But her face fell. It wasn't getting easier. Would she feel like she was missing out for the rest of her life, or would that emptiness go away eventually?
As she scrolled through her texts, opening them now and reading them wistfully, she smiled at the kind sentiments. Nobody was mad. Birdie seemed slightly annoyed, stating the obvious—that they really needed her-but everyone else expressed their best wishes for her.
After a while she put her phone away and pressed her fingers against her eyelids, where the pounding headache always seemed to settle. The medical book in her lap had her believing she probably had an inoperable brain tumor, or something even more horrifying like a brain-eating amoeba, and would have an untimely death.
"Mom!" Cabot called out, suddenly remembering what Birdie had said about medicine. "Do you have any headache medicine? This headache keeps coming back. It's been days."
Her mother jumped up a little too eagerly and rushed over with a pill and some water. She noticed the book, open to a page on brain tumors. "Oh dear," Greta said. "Please don't get carried away with that book, sweetheart. Your headaches are likely due to hormonal changes that come with adolescence. I highly doubt it's a brain tumor."
"Hmph." Cabot turned the pill in her fingers, studying it with a frown. "Do I chew it?"
"No-that will taste terrible. You swallow it."
"This big thing? That seems unnatural." Skeptical, Cabot slipped the caplet into her mouth. She took a sip of water as her mother instructed, then tried to swallow, but the pill just floated around. When it bumped against the back of her throat, she gagged and almost vomited it out. Eyes watering, she tried again and finally got it, feeling it scrape partway down, which was awful. She coughed a few times, then muttered, "Why pills?" She was confounded that anyone would think taking a huge pill was the best method of feeling better.
The medicine didn't work. Nothing had made the headaches go away completely, though Brix's head massage the other day had helped. Cabot thought about asking her parents for one, but she wasn't feeling quite that close to them yet.
She eased out of the chair to get a wet washcloth—a cool compress over her eyes sometimes lessened the throbbing for a few minutes. Her head pounded even worse when she stood up. She stumbled into the bathroom, leaving the light off because it would only make her eyes hurt more, and leaned on the counter, propping herself up with her elbow as she reached for a clean washcloth and listlessly turned on the water. A wave of heat rose inside her skull, and her eyeballs felt like they were exploding.
When Cabot glanced up and caught her reflection in the mirror, she gasped. Two glowing green eyes stared back at her. They flickered, then grew stronger. Confused, Cabot whirled around, but no one else was there.
The glowing eyes belonged to her.A Green Glow
Cabot stayed in the bathroom awhile, gripping the edge of the counter and staring at herself in the mirror. The sharp pain in her head faded fast, as if the green glow finally breaking through her corneas had relieved the pressure that had been building for days.
Had the headaches been caused by this? Her heart began thudding. Could this possibly be an indication of something . . . supernatural? At last? Glowing eyes were definitely not natural in humans. But what did they indicate? Her vision didn't seem to be enhanced. It was still just as dark in the bathroom as when she'd entered, so this wasn't a seeing-in-the-dark thing like what Tenner could do. She ran to the window and peered out between the skyscrapers of Estero, wondering if she could see extra far, but that wasn't the case. Swiftly she looked around the room, but everything seemed ordinary to her. What was the purpose of the glowing, then? It had to be something! Had her eyes turned into lasers that could cut glass? Clearly not, or they would have cut the mirror and the window. They didn't cut the wall or the shower surround or the door, either, she realized with a bit of relief. What a horrible ability that would be! She put her hand in front of one eye to see if the glow was giving off heat, but that didn't seem to be happening.
Copyright © 2023 by Lisa McMann. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.