Chapter 17

If the world was in danger, it stood to reason that Lily and I had a lot of work to do.

Murphy’s Law was so full I’d had to wait for a seat at the bar. Everyone else had a laptop open in front of them, plugged into a power strip in the wall. I tried to look busy and important as I sent a few texts, but I only got dirty looks from people waiting for a seat.

“Not. Now.” Lily swung past me with a steaming coffeepot, and I pulled back just in time to avoid being smacked in the face with it. “My grandmother is in the kitchen.”

“Sorry, I didn’t know,” I said. “Where do you want me to go?”

Smiling, she topped off the cups of the people at the table closest to me, pouring with grace and precision. Obviously, she’d almost hit me because she wanted to.

“Clock tower steps. Twenty minutes. Get out.”

The stone clock tower served as the perfect testament to how far Ivy Springs had come. Connected to the old train station, it was now home to the chamber of commerce. It even had ivy climbing up the side. The clock hands moved via electricity rather than clockwork, leaving enough space that the top two floors could be rented for meetings or parties.

I sat down at the far left side of the steps and leaned back on my elbows.

Michael had made it very clear that we were running out of time. While he and Em continued to help my dad solve the riddle of the exotic matter formula, Dune and Nate would continue the computer and physical searches for any kind of records about Jack.

That left me to pair up with Lily.

“Kaleb?”

Nervous excitement. I opened my eyes to see the source. A blond girl I almost recognized. “Yeah?”

“I’m Macy?” She said it as if she weren’t sure herself. “We met downtown last summer? You let me drive your Jeep down Broadway.”

I’d let her park it, too.

“Macy.” If I leaned back another half an inch, I’d be able to see up her incredibly short skirt. Patting the space beside me, I grinned. “I remember.”

Her laugh reminded me of wind chimes. She lowered herself gracefully onto the step above me, grinning back and extending smooth, bare legs. “I’m shocked you remember anything about that night.”

“I remember watermelon lip gloss.” I winked and got the laugh again. “But I do not remember getting your number.”

“Maybe you should get it now.”

“Maybe I should.” I lightly touched her knee and was pleased to see the chill bumps form on her skin. I seemed to recall giving her chill bumps before. But that could have been someone else.

“Ahem.”

Macy and I looked up.

Seriously?” Lily asked. “You’ve been here what, five minutes? Don’t you have enough going on in your life? Do you really need to play to the stereotype?”

“At least I know how to play,” I shot back.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were seeing anyone.” Macy stood quickly.

I caught a glimpse of hot-pink underwear.

Lily caught me looking. She shook her head with just enough disdain to spark my anger.

“Oh, I’m not seeing her.” I inclined my head toward Lily. “I’m helping her out with something, for a friend. Kind of a charity case thing.”

I froze when Lily’s emotions hit. Not pissy mad but hurt mad. She said a couple of choice words and then stalked away, her long legs quickly closing the distance between me and Murphy’s Law.

I couldn’t afford to have Lily mad at me.

Plus, I kind of didn’t want her mad at me.

“Macy, it was great seeing you.” I pushed myself up to my feet, standing on my toes to keep my eyes on Lily. “But I gotta jet.”

I heard her say something about her number, but I didn’t turn back.

I replayed the conversation in my head to figure out what I’d said wrong. When I finally caught up to Lily, I reached for her hand, but I stopped just in time. She wasn’t in the mood to be touched by anyone. Especially by me.

“Lily, I was messing with you,” I said in a soothing voice, trying to calm her down. “There’s no need to take it personally.”

My attempt to calm her didn’t work. It made her madder.

“There isn’t?” She stopped and poked me in the chest, narrowing her eyes dangerously. “You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. You can’t make judgment calls on what I can take personally and what I can’t.”

I took a step backward to avoid her finger. “You made a judgment call on me and Macy, and you weren’t even there for two seconds.”

“That was an observation.” Now her hands were fisted on her hips. “I know what a hookup looks like.”

“There was no hooking up. We were talking. I hung out with Macy this past summer. We’re friends.”

“What’s her last name?”

I blinked. “What?”

“What’s her last name?”

“I… uh…” Suddenly, my mouth felt really dry. “It’s right on the tip of my tongue.”

“Mmmhmmm.” Lily spun back around and started for Murphy’s Law.

“Wait-”

“No!” The word exploded as she threw it over her shoulder without looking at me. “Go back to your fancy house and scroll through the contacts on your phone. I’m sure if she was good, you’ve got her number in there somewhere. I’ll be somebody else’s charity case.”

The hurt came through again, tinged with jealousy this time. It couldn’t be because of the girl, so it must be because of… my house. I’d called her a charity case, but I hadn’t meant it at all, much less that way.

“Hey.” This time I did grab her arm, turning her around. “I don’t have money.”

Lily’s laugh reminded me of smoke and honey. “Right. Your family has it. You have to wait a few years before your trust fund rolls in.”

“That’s not true.”

“Oh, so you get it when you turn eighteen,” she said coldly. “Good for you.”

“Listen.” Irritation began to slide toward anger. “I told you our house has been in my dad’s family for generations. We didn’t buy it, and, yes, he inherited it, but only the house, not the money for the upkeep. And we need a lot of money for that.”

“So your mom makes a movie and pockets five million bucks. The name Grace Walker commands at least that much.”

“Yeah.” I had no idea why, but I was overcome with the need to tell Lily the truth. To let go and stop hiding. “But that doesn’t help us much right now. My mom is in a coma.”

She drew a sharp breath.

“No one in the media knows. Not that I think you’d say anything, but… we’ve kept it under wraps. People probably just think she’s somewhere tropical, drinking pi?a coladas and having a full body lift.” I closed my eyes and waited for the anger to go away-the anger at the situation and the anger at myself for telling Lily anything.

“How long?” she asked.

I opened my eyes to search her face. I didn’t feel pity from her, or hear it in her voice. There was only empathy. I was usually the one providing that.

“Almost eight months.”

She took my arm and pulled me toward one of the benches that lined Main Street. “Sit. You don’t have to tell me anything. But… sit.”

We both sat. Now that I’d opened up to her, it was like I couldn’t stop. I just kept talking, no matter how much I wanted to shut up. “It happened right after Dad died. It wasn’t an accident or anything like that. We don’t know what’s wrong with her. Exactly.”

“What do you mean, ‘exactly’?”

“She didn’t come downstairs one morning, so I went to her room to find her. She was in her bathroom. On the floor. There were… pills. They were all around her.” I blew out a sigh, trying not to see her now. Trying not to relive the fear and the pain. “My mom doesn’t even drink.”

Lily didn’t say anything. It was the perfect reaction.

We sat in silence for a few moments as I tried to figure out how to explain things, and how much I wanted her to know. “Jack told Emerson he took Mom’s memories of everything that was keeping her alive. Her memories of Dad.”

“And you.”

I wanted to believe that. The doubt had only grown in the past months, that somehow Mom hadn’t loved me enough to stick around. I knew deep down it wasn’t true, but the lie showed up at the most inopportune times. Like when a bottle, or a girl, was handy.

“When Jack took Emerson’s memories, he replaced them,” I explained. “But Mom is just… empty, I guess. Jack claimed that made her suicidal.”

Traffic passed by on Main Street, and I listened to the comforting, familiar sounds of a small town closing out the day. Keys jangling in store locks, car doors opening and shutting, faint snatches of conversations about dinner plans.

“Em told me about Michael,” she said, “when he was dead. Your dad was, too. That’s so strange.”

I didn’t mention that Em had been dead pretty recently as well.

“But Michael and your dad are both alive and well now.” Her hand moved toward my arm, but then she changed her mind and quickly pulled it back into her lap. “You have to hold out hope that one day your mom will be okay.”

Not only did she believe what she was saying, she wanted me to believe it. The honesty in her voice was wrapped with a warmth I wanted to lean on. “Thank you.”

“You’re really only fifty percent jerk, you know. Maybe forty-nine. But that other fifty or fifty-one? That’s solid. And I bet it’s because of your mom.”

I couldn’t respond. I gave in to instinct, taking her hand and squeezing it gently before letting go.

After a full minute of silence, Lily cleared her throat. “I’m glad we had a touching moment and all, but you should be aware of the fact that I still don’t like you.”

“Not even the fifty percent that’s solid?” I fought the desire to laugh.

She kept her focus on the street, but I could see her lips twitching from the corner of my eye. “Don’t push it.”

“Fine, then.” I kept my focus on the street as well. “I don’t like you, either.”

“Good,” she said, sounding authoritative. “You think we can work on this ‘finding crap’ thing for a few minutes before dark? My calculus homework isn’t going to do itself.”

I gave in to my smile. “Let’s go.”

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