But they were wrong.
If Claire had seen a Nobody coming, she’d catch the Sensors before any of them could lay so much as a finger on her. They could try to pick her off from a nearby roof, but unlike Nix, Sensors could be tracked, noticed, seen. If they killed her, they’d be caught. The Society was as ancient as the Knights Templar and twice as secretive. They didn’t take the risk of exposure lightly.
Less than shadow. Less than air. That’s what you have to be to kill my Claire.
Nix smiled at the rhyme in his mind. The Sensors couldn’t kill this Null.
She was his.
So he’d take care of her.
Claire watched the yolk slide out of the egg, broken and dripping. Trying not to burn herself, she bent over the skillet and began to pluck the bits of shell out of the sizzling mess on the stove.
This is why I don’t normally cook.
That and the fact that normally she didn’t have anyone to cook for. In the three days since the police had called her parents home, Claire had made breakfast every morning.
Eventually, they’d eat it. Sit down at the table across from her, say her name, and eat her eggs. Eventually, Claire and her mother and her father would have a real family breakfast, like countless TV families before them.
But not today.
Absentmindedly, Claire’s mother brushed past her. Reached into the cabinet directly over Claire’s head. Pulled out a box of cereal.
“I … ummm … I made eggs?” Claire didn’t mean for the words to come out as a question, but they did.
“Hmmm?” Her mother’s response wasn’t a word so much as a sound, but it was something.
“I made eggs. For you. And Dad.”
And me, Claire added silently, but she didn’t get that far out loud.
“Oh.” Her mother didn’t put down the cereal box. “That’s nice of you, but really, cereal is fine. And you should be out, doing things.”
As in elsewhere. Bothering someone else. Claire’s hand slipped and she burned its edge but didn’t bother running it under cold water. Instead, she just sucked a breath in around clenched teeth and turned off the stove. The eggs were only half cooked, but she wasn’t really hungry anymore.
“Maybe I don’t want to go out.”
Claire’s mother wrinkled her forehead in the manner of someone mulling over a crossword or trying to remember her exact relation to a second cousin twice removed.
Claire perked up—slightly. Mouths were opening, words were being exchanged, and if she could think of the right thing to say, the absolute right thing, then maybe—
“Remember what the police officers said?”
The question stopped Claire’s maybe dead in its tracks. Losing her developing smile, she poured the remainder of the egg mess down the drain and hit the garbage disposal, drowning out all other sounds.
Remember what the police officers said?
Claire remembered exactly what the police officers had said.
There was no one there. There was a witness on your street during this so-called attack, and she saw and heard nothing.
Are you sure you screamed?
Are you sure you’re not just making this up?
And then later, to her parents, Does your daughter have an overactive imagination?
And that was all it had taken for her parents and the police to collectively decide that Claire spent too much time reading and not enough time around kids her own age. They’d patted her on the head and spoken to each other and generally ignored everything she’d told them until it became perfectly clear that of all the people involved in this case, she mattered the least.
Her parents weren’t pleased that they’d cut their vacation short, but they weren’t angry with her. They didn’t scold. They just held her hand and said “uh-huh” when she talked and then looked at their watches, as if time passed more slowly when Claire was involved.
They ate cereal for breakfast, while Claire’s eggs died a slow, painful death in the drain.
Moving mechanically, Claire flipped the garbage disposal off before responding to her mother’s question. “I remember what the police officers said, Mom. And I’m telling you—I didn’t make it up.”
“Of course not. No one is saying you did. Your father and I just think that you need to get back on the horse.”
Her mother was a fan of empty metaphors.
“You know, get back out there, do the things you love.”
Claire was tempted to point out that her mother had no idea what those things were, that if her parents had bothered to check in or—perish the thought—spend some actual time at home with their daughter, they might have seen the beautiful boy with the shining silver gun.
And, okay, maybe it did sound ridiculous, but they were her parents. They should have known her well enough to know that she wouldn’t imagine something like this.
But they didn’t know her. At all. And as much as she wanted to, Claire couldn’t find it in herself to hate them for it, or to point out their shortcomings, because it wasn’t as if they tried to ignore her. On the rare occasion her parents were home, they both actually tried quite hard to relate to her.
She just wasn’t very relatable. Her eggs were subpar. And Maria and Jackson Ryan weren’t the type who’d ever planned to have children. After fifteen years of Claire’s presence, they were still simply very nice people who had a great deal of trouble actively remembering that once upon a time, her mother had given birth.
“You have to get back out there, Claire.”
Claire heard something in her mother’s voice that went beyond the words. “You’re leaving again, aren’t you?” she asked.
“No. Of course not. We’ve probably been gone too much.”
Rationally, her mother knew this.
Emotionally, though, Claire had deep and abiding suspicions that her parents couldn’t quite put their finger on why it was they were supposed to stay.
And no matter how this conversation ended, no matter what she said, Claire knew that she wouldn’t be able to give them a reason.
“I guess I’ll go swimming.”
If her mother noticed the low and broken tone in Claire’s voice, she certainly didn’t give any verbal indication of it. “I think that’s a very good idea.”
This is probably the closest I’ll ever come to making her happy, Claire thought. And nearly getting myself killed by what she’s sure is my imaginary boyfriend actually made her frown.
Sometimes, trying to make people see her felt like attempting to dent solid steel by kicking it with her bare foot. At the end of the day, the steel was steel, and her toes were broken or bruised. Flushed down the drain, like unwanted eggs.