Cassie went to the dining room that night, afraid to see Galahad but too curious to stay away. Julilla insisted on going with her, even though she was still convalescent and could’ve eaten in her room. They found seats with Doc and Rochelle, and Cassie listened to one of Doc’s pedantic explanations about skin rashes while pretending not to notice the air of tense expectancy that filled the room. David was at his usual table, bruised and bandaged, bragging about his foraging exploits and putting on a show of flirting with the girls. By contrast, Galahad sat like a stone at Mundo’s table between Alex and Kayleen. Cassie tried not to look at him, but she glanced his way often enough to see he was only picking at his food.
After dinner came the announcements. If she could just get through this, she could go back to her room with Julilla, hit the punching bag, and then try to get some sleep. She shifted in her seat, trying to look interested in what Mundo would say and feeling certain she wouldn’t remember any of it.
He gave the latest report on child kidnappings. Who cared? He said the Pharms were still watching May’s every move and to be careful about going to her shop. As if she cared about jewelry right now. And he mentioned that two Pharm representatives had been by earlier in the day, asking again about the laptop. Were they still after that stupid thing? Let them have it.
Then he said something that made Cassie sit up and take notice.
“As I told you last night, the alliance voted to try and infiltrate the Obits. Each group of twenty-five or more is to send someone to them, pretending to join their team, but to work as a double agent, reporting back to the alliance as often as is safe to do so. Only in this way can we know for sure if the group contains grownups. We will find out where these people are based, what they want our children for, and if they have a cure for Telo.”
There were murmurs among the group and several people nodded.
“Tonight, we have a volunteer.”
To Cassie’s horror, Galahad stood up, his jaw set and a defiant look in his eyes.
“He and Banquo from the Thespians will be leaving in the morning. I ask that if you believe in God, you pray for them. If you don’t believe, your good wishes will suffice.” Mundo turned to Galahad. “Do you have anything to say?”
Galahad gave a slight shake of his head and sat down.
“I will expect everyone to stay silent about this in order to ensure the success of the mission. Anyone caught squealing will be executed.”
This drew a moment of shocked silence. The Regents had never had such a harsh policy.
“Our survival is at stake,” Mundo explained. “Is that understood?”
Heads nodded and voices murmured agreement.
“Good.” Mundo motioned for one of his assistants to read the next day’s assignments.
While she read down her list, Doc and Julilla each grabbed one of Cassie’s hands.
“It’ll be okay,” Doc said.
“Be strong,” Julilla added. “You’re well rid of him.”
Rochelle said nothing, but watched with knowing eyes. She understood. How, Cassie wasn’t quite sure, since what does a twelve year old know about love? But Rochelle knew Cassie was dying inside, that this was a mission Galahad wasn’t likely to return from and that he had volunteered to get away from her, for his sake and hers. Cassie reached for her glass of water and swallowed hard to force down the bile rising in her throat. Was it too late to make him stop this craziness?
As if reading her thoughts, Julilla leaned in close. “You’re not losing him. You’re only losing the fantasy.”
* * *
Just before dawn, a tapping on the door woke Cassie from a restless sleep. She sat up and fumbled for the flashlight, but Julilla’s voice from the other bed stopped her.
“I bet it’s your boyfriend. You stay here.” She turned on the lantern and opened the door a crack. “Go away.”
Galahad’s voice was firm. “There’s something I need to tell her.” When Julilla hesitated, he added, “You know I won’t likely come back. Why not let me talk to her for a minute?”
Julilla stole a glance at Cassie, watching wide-eyed and solemn from her bed. “It’s your call.”
Cassie looked away, her feelings too conflicted for her to think of anything sensible to say.
Julilla opened the door. “Make it fast. And if you harm so much as her toenail, I swear to God you’ll be deader than your last girlfriend.”
A pained expression crossed his face. “Please, Julilla—”
“What is it you want?” Cassie said, surprised at how strong she sounded. How could she be in such control of her voice when everything inside was breaking into pieces? “Tell me. Then leave.”
He came to the edge of the bed and looked down at her, as grim and unreadable as an official messenger of bad news. “I’m leaving something for you. It’s under your pillow in our room.”
Cassie scanned his face and waited for him to say more, but got only a blank look in reply. “That’s it?”
Julilla stomped across the room. “Well, you could’ve said that from the doorway and saved us all the drama.”
Galahad looked at her, every movement a study in calm resignation. “Maybe I just wanted to see her one last time. If that makes me some kind of criminal, shoot me.” Without another glance, he strode out the door.
Cassie made like she would go after him, but Julilla got to the door ahead of her and slammed it shut. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I—” she tried to think. “I want to see what he left me.”
“Bullshit. It’s probably a trick. Men do that, you know. When a guy thinks he’s about to lose a girl, he’ll lure her into a place where they’ll be alone so he can kill her.” At Cassie’s disbelieving look, she added, “Wait until he’s gone. If he really did leave you something, it’ll still be there.”
“But I— oh, fine.” She threw herself on her bed and buried her face in the pillow.
Julilla rested a hand on her shoulder. “Why are you being this way? You were doing real good before. Why are you acting all weak and girlie now?”
“I don’t know,” she said, her voice muffled by the pillow. But she did know. If there had been any hope they might reconcile, it was gone now. He wouldn’t come back from this mission. If he didn’t get killed, he would die from Telo. He had gone away because of her and now even if there was some way to make things right, the opportunity had passed. “It’s just so…final.” Cassie raised her head and swiped at her nose. “I’m sick of everything being final. Aren’t you?”
Julilla sat on the edge of the bed with a sigh. “Yeah,” she said. “I guess so.”
EXCERPT FROM CASSIE’S JOURNAL:
Jay is gone and it’s probably forever. I’m trying not to care, but it’s hard. He left me the keys to the penthouse, but that only makes it worse because everything there reminds me of him.
I took Julilla up there with me, making her the third person to know about it. She was impressed, and when she saw the cupboard of cookies, mustards and jellies, she said she too would’ve loved a guy who could give her all those things.
“I wasn’t doing it for food and feather pillows,” I said.
“I didn’t mean it like that. I just mean it’s pretty overwhelming.” She made a motion with her good arm that indicated the entire suite. “A place like this could make anyone think they were in love.”
I wanted to be angry and tell her I loved Jay before he showed me the penthouse. I wanted to tell her my love was as real as the sun in the sky and the stars at night, but I was too sick from the way my thoughts kept running on the same stupid hamster wheel to nowhere. So I told her to pick a snack and we went into the library.
While I made tea, Julilla examined the books. She got pretty excited over one called The Art of War, saying Alex had mentioned it once and could she borrow it. I said sure, since what difference did it make to me? When the tea was ready, I poured it into china cups and we talked.
“You know,” she said, “There’s a lot of space up here. We could make this a damn fine training room.”
“I don’t want anyone else knowing about it. I only brought you because you’re my friend. No one else, though. Not even Doc.”
“I didn’t mean like we’d bring the whole squad,” she said. “Just me and you. It’s nice up here and I bet we could get a lot of practice in, without the guys, the children, and everything else down there that distracts us.”
This made me smile. “Up here, it’s a whole different world. Anything’s possible.”
“It might even be possible you’ll get over being in love.”
“Does anyone really get over that?”
Julilla looked away and I think she was embarrassed. “It gets easier.”
For the first time I wondered what her past was like. I’ve been so caught up in my own stupid love affair and the growth hormone mystery that I never thought to ask what Julilla’s family was like, how she ended up with the Regents, and whether she had a love of her own. Maybe she’s like me and dumped someone because he turned out not to be who she thought he was. Or maybe there’s someone she’s still crazy about, rotting in one of the Telo pits.
How could I have been so selfish as to think I was the only one who had loved? Why do I think my pain is so special?
“Well,” I told her, “This place is ours now. We can make it whatever we want it to be.”