See How They Run, Page 2Ally Carter
“My mother was a part of this?”
Ms. Chancellor nods. “And your grandmother. And your grandmother’s mother, and so on for a thousand years. Every girl born to one of the Society’s members was observed and, if she seemed an appropriate fit, she was introduced to the Society in her sixteenth year. In time, we grew. Our reach expanded. And through it all we watched and recorded history, gently guiding it on occasion.”
I think about the gunshot wound that miraculously became a heart attack. I remember the room full of dusty, ancient books and weapons.
“So you’re a secret society … of librarians?”
Ms. Chancellor laughs. “Among other things,” she says. But in my mind I’m remembering how she held the gun, how calm she was when she fired. “Every army in the world knows that knowledge is power — information, the world’s most lethal weapon. The women keep the secrets, my dear. We have always kept the secrets.”
“Did one of these secrets kill my mother?”
The lights are flickering, off and on. Ms. Chancellor glances behind us then reaches for me. “Come along, dear. I’m afraid our time is up.”
When Ms. Chancellor takes my arm and leads me away, I realize we’re going back the way we came.
“Stop,” I snap, jerking free of her grasp. I know how I look, how I sound. Ancient secret societies don’t have room for petulant children, but it’s too much, too fast. And it isn’t nearly enough. I want to stomp my foot, to scream, to cry. I need to curse my predecessors for their club and their secrets because they led to what happened to my mother. I hate this Society and every one of its members. Even the one who is standing right in front of me.
“You said someone wanted my mom dead because of her job.”
“I did say that.”
“So what was her job?”
“She was an antiques dealer,” Ms. Chancellor says.
“What was her job here?” I ask, my frustration boiling over.
“She was an archivist, Grace. An antiques dealer. Her job was collecting and retrieving rare and valuable artifacts that pertain to Adria or the Society.”
“Were these artifacts valuable?”
“Were they dangerous?”
Ms. Chancellor brings her hands together. “Anything of value can be dangerous if given the right conditions.”
“What did she find?”
Ms. Chancellor studies me, as if weighing which will harm me more, the truth or yet another lie. She’s too calm, too poised as she studies me. I have no idea whether or not to believe her when she says, “Honestly, I have no idea.”
“No!” I howl — rage and fear and dread bubbling up inside me and spilling over. “You have to know something! You have to.”
Instinctively, Ms. Chancellor steps closer, but she doesn’t put her arms around me. She knows better than to try to hold a wild thing.
“We will find it, Grace,” she says.
I’m weaker than I’d like to admit, because I find myself wanting to believe her.
She leads me back into the first big room. As we’re passing by the weapons, she says, “Making yourself sick won’t help matters. You both have a lot to learn, and you’re going to need to be at your best when we begin.”
“I don’t care. I want … Wait.” I stop. “Did you say both?”
The stained-glass window is overhead. Dust dances in the inexplicable beam of light, and that is where she’s standing.
I see the outline of her silhouette, and when she moves slowly forward, I know immediately who it is.
“Hello, Grace,” Lila says. “Haven’t you heard? We’re going to be sisters.”
I am my own worst enemy. But if there were to be a second place, it would go to this girl. Lila’s black hair is glossy and straight. Her nails perfectly polished, her back perfectly straight. She’s my Brazilian-Israeli best friend’s twin sister, but there is nothing of Noah in the girl in front of me.
Lila is the anti-Noah, which means she’s also the anti-me.
I spin on Ms. Chancellor. “Yes, Grace,” she says to my unasked question. “You and Lila will be joining us at the same time. Isn’t that wonderful? Learning about the Society is so much better with a friend.”
Lila is not my friend.
One look at the girl tells me she is thinking the same thing, but Ms. Chancellor practically beams. “I’m so excited for you both. Now go on. I’m sure you two have a lot to talk about.”
No, I want to say, but somehow I manage to bite back the word.
“I’m afraid I’m needed at the embassy. We will continue this soon,” Ms. Chancellor says before hurrying ahead of us.
Lila and I follow in silence, climbing the spiral steps to the door Ms. Chancellor showed me just an hour ago. But even if we’re quiet, my thoughts are loud. I can’t even try to hide my disappointment. My mom was supposed to make more sense to me now. This was her big secret. I am where she once was, on the verge of learning the things that she once knew. But as Lila and I start down the tunnel that will take us outside, I can’t help but feel my mother slipping further and further away. The woman I remember now simply feels like a lie, and there’s nothing new to replace it.
It takes a moment to realize Lila is talking, a moment more to realize she’s talking to me.
“You’re in the shocked-and-confused phase right now. It’s okay. I get it. The shock goes away after a few days, but the awe … the awe hasn’t gone away for me yet.”
“So you didn’t know …”
“What?” Lila looks at me. “That my mother belongs to an ancient league of secret lady assassins or whatever?”
“They aren’t assassins,” I say. Then I think about it. “Are they?”
“Oh, certainly.” Lila rolls her eyes. “Did you think their battle-ax collection is for when the librarians want to collect late fees?” She doesn’t wait for me to answer before she shrugs and says, “In answer to your question, no. I didn’t know. My mother told me a few weeks ago. Did yours tell you?” It takes Lila a moment to realize what she’s said. “I mean, before she died?”
She doesn’t sound embarrassed. After all, Lila is the kind of person who isn’t afraid of the truth and doesn’t have time for regrets.
I shouldn’t either, I realize, but all I can say is, “No. I never knew.”
Maybe my mom died too soon. Maybe she didn’t think I belonged here. Maybe it’s just too hard to work something like an ancient family legacy in over breakfast. But no matter why, the fact remains that my mother never told me, and my mother never will. There was a time that would have made me cry, but that’s the good thing about being dead inside, I guess. Dead people don’t feel pain.
Then something occurs to me — something that has nothing to do with my mother.
“Does Noah know?” I ask, and Lila laughs.
“Noah doesn’t have a clue. About anything. Ever. It is safe to assume that Noah is perpetually clueless.”
I don’t know where the words come from or why I say them now. Aloud. To Lila. But I can’t take them back, and it’s too late. Lila’s already looking at me like I’m even crazier than she’d been led to believe.
“What do you have to worry about?”
“Well, let’s see … Three years ago the prime minister ordered my mom’s death, but I accidentally killed her instead. Didn’t remember it, though. And then a few weeks ago the prime minister tried to have me killed, but he ended up in a coma, so we have absolutely no idea who else wanted my mother dead. Or why. Or how it might all tie into the shadowy secret society that my ancestors evidently founded a thousand years ago. So I have worries, Lila. I have plenty.”
The look Lila gives me is so cold it’s like maybe I didn’t say a thing. And maybe I didn’t. I’m starting to wonder when Lila shrugs.
“Fine. Evade my question.” She reaches for the ladder and climbs outside.
I want to yell at her a
nd pull her glossy black hair or force her to break a nail. Most of all, I want to go to Noah and tell him how annoyed I am that his twin sister and I are going to be in the same secret society. But I can’t do that, of course. Because … secret society. I have one more secret now. One more mystery. One more set of lies. But I’m not lying to myself anymore, and that has to count for something.
The sun seems too bright once we make it to the street. I’m still standing, squinting, when Lila says “Don’t look behind you,” which means, of course, I start to turn, but Lila grabs my arm. “Keep walking.”
Lila loops her arm through mine. It’s the way the fashionable women always walk together down the chic streets near the palace. This feels so European, I think before realizing that we are in Europe. We probably look like confidantes. Friends.
Looks can be deceiving.
“What is it?” I ask.
“There’s a big guy with a scar on his face watching us. I think he’s …” She makes a quick glance back. “Yes. He is following us.”
How many times in my life have I thought I saw the Scarred Man? Too many to count. For years, it was just another by-product of my messed-up mind, my fear. My crazy.
Now it’s just one more thing I have to feel guilty about.
After all, the Scarred Man is no longer the Scarred Man. Now he’s …
“Dominic.” I force out the word.
“What?” Lila asks.
“His name is Dominic. He used to be the prime minister’s head of security.”
“Do you think he saw us leave the tunnel?”
I know he saw us leave the tunnel, but that’s not something I can tell Lila. I jerk to a stop and turn around. Dominic is across the street, standing perfectly still. Watching. He doesn’t smile and doesn’t wave. He doesn’t even try to hide or act natural. There’s no denying what he’s doing. He is tracking me.
Lila says something in Hebrew I don’t understand. Or maybe it’s the Portuguese equivalent of creepy.
I should tell her that I know him. Sort of. I should let her know that he and I are … something. Not friends. Not family. We have whatever bond forms when you spend three years shouting from rooftops that the Scarred Man killed your mother. We are bound by whatever it is that lives on long after someone saves your life. Or maybe he’s here because my mother was his first — and maybe only — love.
I killed the love of his life, I realize with a start. And, suddenly, Dominic’s glare has an entirely new meaning.
“Sorry, Lila. I’ve got to —”
I have to get away from here before the guilt makes me throw up all over Lila and her perfectly polished toes.
“Where are you —”
“Bye, Lila. Just tell Noah I said … bye.”
Then, before my new sister can see through me, I’m gone.
I run until my lungs want to burst and my legs turn to noodles. I hear nothing but the pounding of my feet against the hard-packed dirt. I feel nothing but the stinging slap of the tree branches and thorny vines that swipe against my face and scratch my legs. But I can’t stop. I have to go faster, higher, stronger.
I have to outrun the past.
Even after I break free from the brush that covers the path I keep running until I literally cannot run anymore. I skid to a stop, kicking at pebbles that tumble down the cliff and splash into the sea. Only then can I let myself breathe.
At the top of the cliffs, the air that blows off the Mediterranean is warm and wet. It pushes my hair from my face as I stand here, hands outstretched, desperate to fly. But I can’t fly. And I won’t jump. No matter how much I want to, regardless of how deep I know the water off the shoreline is.
I am not supposed to jump off the cliffs anymore. I’m not supposed to take chances or tempt fate. Besides, my grandfather and Ms. Chancellor have been watching my every move for days. If I come back to the embassy with bruises, they’ll see them. If I pick at my food they’ll ask why. And so I stand on this ridge, high above the city, hiding in plain sight, pretending to be an ordinary girl.
Just your average teenager who recently learned she shot and killed her own mother.
“Grace!” My name comes flying on a breeze that smells like smoke. When I close my eyes I hear glass shatter, a woman scream.
The cries haven’t changed in years, but now I know what they mean. Now I know she’s not trying to make me run. She’s trying to make me stop — to put down the gun I’m holding. She is trying to tell me that it’s okay and that the Scarred Man — that Dominic — isn’t trying to hurt her. But it’s too late. In every sense of the word.
I shake my head, try to clear away the smoky haze. But the words come again.
I clench my hands together so tightly that my nails almost draw blood.
The voice is too deep, too close. Too real. And that’s what makes me spin. As I do, the rocks beneath my feet shift. I’ve ventured too close to the edge and I can feel the ground beneath me giving way, crumbling, and soon I, too, am falling. The wind rushes up to greet me, and for one split second, I am free.
But then a hand reaches me. It grasps my arm and I’m jerked back. Instead of stone, I slam against a hard, broad chest, and then we topple to the ground. Arms come up to hold me, squeezing me so tightly I can’t fight. I am frozen. Trapped. Then the boy beneath me rolls, forcing my back to the ground as he looms overhead, making certain there is no place left for me to fall.
I don’t understand what Noah says next, but I’m pretty sure it’s in Portuguese and probably vulgar. He’s breathing so hard and we’re so close that I can actually feel his chest rise and fall. Even though we’re lying on the ground, it’s like he’s run a marathon — like he’s still running. Chasing after me.
He curses again and then spits out, “What were you doing, Grace? What were you thinking?”
He isn’t angry, I can tell. He’s terrified. Even after he leans back and lets me go, his hands are still shaking.
“You told me you’d never jump off of here again. You promised!”
“I wasn’t jumping,” I say — but Noah doesn’t believe me. He wants to, but he can’t.
It’s not his fault that he’s not stupid.
I try again. “I wasn’t going to jump, Noah. I swear.”
When he leans toward me, I can’t help myself; I scoot away.
“You’re lying,” he says.
“No. I’m not. I just come up here sometimes. To think.”
“To think about what? Jumping?”
“No!” I stand, and the wind blows in my face again. There are no more traces of smoke. The air is salty and brisk, slapping me awake. Still, it’s almost like a dream when I say, “My mom, okay? Sometimes I come up here and think about my mom.”
“Oh.” Noah eases back.
“What are you doing here, Noah?” I ask, suddenly worried that maybe Dominic isn’t the only person who has been watching my every move. Maybe I’ve just been too sloppy to notice.
“What am I doing here?” Noah throws his hands out wide then rests his elbows on his bent knees. “Well, I haven’t seen you in a week. You are my best friend. And sometimes I like to check and make sure my friends aren’t dead. There. Did I cover it all? I think I got it all.”
It sounds good, but I’m not buying it, so I ask again, “What are you doing here?”
Noah pushes to his feet and hastily brushes the dust off of his khaki shorts and dark T-shirt.
“What am I doing here?” he snaps. “What do you think I’m doing? I followed you! I saw you running down the street like a madwoman, so I followed you, because …”
He trails off, unwilling or unable to go on, so I finish for him.
“I’m a madwoman.”
“Because I was worried about you, okay?” Noah looks at the sea then back to where I stand, dusty and wind-blown. My arms
and legs are scratched and probably bleeding. “Can you blame me?” he asks.
I can’t, but I don’t dare say so.
“I’m not going to leave, you know,” Noah says when my silence is too much. “You can’t run me off. It’s too late for that. We’ve done international espionage together. We’re bonded for life.”
I laugh in spite of myself, because even though Noah can’t make me happy, every now and then he makes me forget to be sad. And sometimes I try to tell myself that it’s enough.
Then he looks at me again, joking aside. “What is up with you?”
“Where were you? What made you so upset?”
I want to tell him — I really do. Noah is good and kind and safe — a diary in human form — and I want to pour out all of my secrets. But they’re secrets for a reason, and Noah can never, ever know. Not about Lila or the Society or the Scarred Man or me. Especially me. It’s taken sixteen years for me to find a best friend; I can’t risk losing him now.
“Nothing, Noah. I’m fine. Really.”
I turn from the cliffs and start toward the rough path that leads to the street below. But before I get far, Noah reaches out and grabs my hand. As he spins me toward him, he is heartbreakingly serious.
“Just don’t jump, Grace. Okay? Please don’t jump.”
“Yeah. Okay,” I say, and move again toward the path, but Noah keeps my hand too tight in his own and pulls me closer.
“I mean it. Don’t get yourself … hurt. Okay?”
I’ve only lived on Embassy Row for a few weeks, and already Noah knows this about me — that I’m reckless, that I’m dangerous. That I can never be trusted. And that’s the problem.
“I’m not going to jump, Noah,” I say, but even I don’t really believe me.
He doesn’t question my word, though, as we start down the path that is even wilder and more overgrown in the heat of summer. He doesn’t even question my sanity.
He just says, “I saw the Scarred Man today.”