“I’ll go put on my bathing suit.”
And just like that, Claire was back to routine. The house may as well have been empty. She may as well have been alone. And if she got picked off on the way to the pool, if she wasn’t crazy, and the police and her parents and everyone who counted were wrong about everything …
What did it really matter?
Situation: What would happen if an assassin came to kill you—and you let him?
Claire picked up her bathing suit—the white one that she’d left on the floor for the past three days, a constant reminder of what had happened—and walked to the bathroom with it crushed in one hand.
I guess my routine has changed, she thought. Before, she’d always gotten dressed in her room.
Tears sprang to Claire’s eyes, and she fought them. Given her current situation—her parents, the police, the boy who wanted to kill her—it was ridiculous to break down just because she was changing clothes in the bathroom.
She squeezed her eyelids tightly together, but it didn’t help. Tears trickled out the sides, and she bit down on the inside of her lips, trying to keep the rest of the downpour in.
Someone tried to kill me, and I’m going swimming. I’m going swimming, because it doesn’t matter. I’m going swimming, because I don’t matter. I’m going swimming, because that’s what Claires do. We swim and we daydream and we read and we wait for someone to care, and they never, ever, ever do.
Her teeth lost their grip on her lips, and once freed, her lips trembled. Bathing suit still in hand, Claire slammed her fist onto the bathroom counter. And then she slammed it down again. And again.
She tried so hard not to get upset. She tried so hard to find the fun, to be happy, to be sweet. To not ask for things. To not make a nuisance of herself. She tried so hard to build her own little world and love it and not mind so much that the rest of the world left hers alone.
Does your daughter have an overactive imagination?
Claire glared at the mirror, the policeman’s question echoing in her mind. “Yes. Yes, she does. She has to. Don’t you understand that? She has—I have to!”
This was why Claire didn’t wallow for more than two minutes a year. It was so much lonelier this way. So much harder to believe that it would ever change.
Somewhere out there, there’s a boy. He looked at me. He saw me. And sooner or later, he’s going to kill me.
Mechanically, Claire began undressing, her body still shaking with the whirlwind of emotions she spent her life holding back.
She put on her swimsuit.
She reached down and did the clasp.
And then, tears still streaming down her face, she put on her oversized sunglasses, layered a worn yellow sundress over her swimsuit, and walked down the hallway and out the front door without telling either of her parents good-bye.
She’s coming out her front door. She’s closing it behind her. She’s walking down the sidewalk. She’s turning away from the unmarked van.
Nix catalogued Claire’s movements in simple, mechanical terms, but even from nearly a block away, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. The way she moved, her weight on the tips of her toes, like she was continually trying to make herself just a little bit taller. The slight slouch in her shoulders that rendered that effort useless. The rhythm of her steps, the color of her skin.
Even knowing that an entire team of Sensors was in the vicinity, Nix couldn’t bring himself to look at anything else. He told himself that it was vigilance, that he was a fox and she was a rabbit, and like any good hunter, he was tracking her every move.
But the truth was, she was breathtaking.
He could almost understand why the universe had chosen her to be the type of person who could command love with a snap of her fingers.
She’s walking toward me. Her footsteps are erratic, like she can’t decide whether to walk or run. I wonder if she knows I’m here. I wonder if she knows I’m watching.
I wonder if she knows she’s dead.
He decided not to wait for her to come to him. Slipping out of the bushes, Nix faded and walked toward her. She was wearing sunglasses, hiding her soulless eyes from the world, but he could still see them.
He could see everything, all of her, and he drank it in like a drug.
His heart began beating faster—
Less than shadow, less than air. That’s what you have to be to kill my Claire.
He flicked his wrist, and the needle appeared in his hand. His was a specially made poison—untraceable, invisible, unreal.
Just. Like. Him.
She was within ten steps of him now. He picked up his pace, his arm ready, his fingers shaking with anticipation.
And then she did it again. She whipped her head up like she’d been electrocuted, and she looked directly at him. Her mouth dropped open in a little O, her body trembled, and then she did the most amazing thing.
She picked up her pace.
And then they were running at each other, closing the distance between their bodies in a heartbeat. But his arm, the one holding the needle, wouldn’t move, so he did the only thing he could think of to do.
Instead of slipping poison into her veins when she came within range, he ducked his head and just kept on running—straight toward her. Faded, he should have been able to pass through her body as easily as the door to his room, but he knew that he wouldn’t.
You have no energy. You can’t affect anyone. Faded, you can’t even touch them.
In a fit of impossibility, their bodies collided. Nix’s target went flying through the air and onto the grass, her sunglasses falling from her face. In an instant, he was on top of her.
So much for his plan to take her by surprise.
Down the street, the unmarked van started its engine, and Nix knew that he had to move fast. The Sensors probably couldn’t see him through the fade, but chances were good that they had a lock on her. And if they were moving, that meant that they were coming to take her away.
“You’re mine,” Nix said fiercely. “I’m the one who kills you.”
His skin hummed every place that their bodies touched, like a tuning fork, adjusting to the perfect pitch.
She was doing this to him on purpose. To make him weak. Because she could.
“Who are you? Why are you doing this?”
Her questions seemed so human, but he couldn’t let himself forget, even for a second, that she was a monster.
A monster who said she wanted to know who he was.
“Nobody,” Nix whispered. “I’m Nobody.”
For the first time in his life, that felt like a lie. He only had one thing going for him, and she was taking it away.