16 - The Coastal Hope

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There was a way to Mikie. A certain air. And the day Garrett fell to the floor screaming about the heat, that air changed. Instead of the stillness, the mask she wore, there was static. Frazzled electricity. Reem could see it everywhere. In the way she moved, the way she spoke. How she refused to see him in the evenings. How when Pax barked at her in the morning on her runs, she jumped. It wasn't like Mikie. Wasn't Mikie at all. Not to be this afraid. And he didn't know how to fix it.

There was a conversation in the truck. He'd left it there. Unsaid. Unasked and unanswered. He told her she should try to trust people more. He'd spoken at the wrong time. He could see the words etched into her eyes. She'd tried. And she trusted the wrong person. And for that, the pit of guilt in his stomach grew with every passing day. They had to get out of there. If not for his own sanity, for Mikie's, and for Andy's life. For all of them. They needed out.

He sighed, hands stuck in soapy water, scrubbing test plates clean. There were words in his head now. Words like electrophoresis, phrases in Latin he didn't like the sound of. Strings of syllables that he was slowly picking up meant something. Like proteins and cellular functions—and not for cell phones. But for people. For living things.

They stole binders at night, he and Mikie. Stuck in the labs there was nothing to do but read. Each file shared the same thing. There was a line on the fourth or fifth page of everyone's stats. Typed out in fine print that noted the regression. Not the progress. It was a truth that was only revealed by the use of a single word. Some days he saw it so often he almost convinced himself it was wrong. That Hailey had simply forgotten the meanings of them, the words. That she confused progress for setbacks. That she wasn't thinking clearly.

And then he remembered that was their lives now. No one was thinking clearly. And that was their problem.

He couldn't because if he was, he would have run by now, let the Virals rip him limb from limb instead of staying in this hell. Mikie clearly wasn't. Her hands shook all the time. Every time Reem spoke to her her eyes got wider, deer in the headlights. She was terrified. No one thinks clearly with that kind of fear. No one. And Andy? Hell, the poor kid was doing her best to simply stay invisible. She clung to her backpack, as if ready to run at the drop of a pin. Occasionally he'd spy her in a lab next door, a busted walkie-talkie to her lips. She'd mumble into it, release the button, and listen to the static.

It'd been three days, going on four, since Garrett dropped. Reem was getting sick of how jumpy they all were.

"Can we please talk?" he whispered in the silence of the lab.

His hands were pruney from the soapy water. He hated washing Hailey's dishes. And they were dishes with samples from who knew how long ago. Specimen he had to scrub off. He hated scrubbing things. He hated all of this. How the fuck did he end up with these people here? Why in God's name did he ever agree to this idiotic plan?

Because he didn't believe it would amount to anything. And he didn't want to watch the girl who threw herself into a Viral nest die at the hands of a deranged one. At least not without a fight. He hadn't trusted her with Maria. In reality, he shouldn't have trusted her at all. Not if he knew she was going to turn into this mess.


He could hear Mikie flipping through the notes again. Trying to devise a way to curb whatever it was Hailey had injected Garrett with. It's all she ever did these days, despite how many times her mother dropped by to assure her that Garrett was progressing well and that she didn't need to have her nose buried in the books anymore. His fate was irreversible. That's what she was saying. There was no cure for this. No reversal. They couldn't go back in time, no matter how much Hailey's house made them feel like they could. It was difficult, he realized as the days crawled past, living between realities.

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