“Oh my god.” Sweat beaded on my neck, and my heart thundered like I’d been running. I sucked in a deep breath, then another, but my lungs still felt like they’d stopped working. Tears prickled behind my eyelids, and I scrubbed at my face with my hands to keep them from spilling out.


This was beyond headaches. It was like my brain was possessed. Maybe I had a horrible, cancerous brain tumor. My stomach clenched, and I forced myself to think calmly. I was going to have to say something to Mom when she got home.

I took a shaky breath and finished formatting the SD card. Keeping busy seemed liked a good idea. If I could bring up the weirdness like it was no big deal, maybe we could talk about it rationally. The last thing I needed was for her to freak out. Because then I’d freak out, too. It would be ugly.

“I’m home,” Mom called a few minutes later. By then, my heartbeat had almost returned to normal. Her keys rattled on the hall table, and I padded out of my room.

She let out a sigh as she slipped out of her shoes. “I couldn’t face cooking dinner tonight, so I brought a pizza. Hope you’re hungry.”

“Starving.” I followed her into the kitchen and pulled some plates from the cupboard. Mom dropped the pizza box on the table and switched on the TV.

I chewed the inside of my lip. I should say something now. Before she got distracted.

“I can’t even tell you how awful the staff meeting was today. Vincent kept going on about how his latest research would change everything, would get us millions of dollars in research grants, and then I had to tell him his control group was flawed. He was not happy.” She sighed and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge. “What did you do today?”

I shrugged and took a deep breath. Play it cool. Get her into our normal routine and then slip in the possible brain tumor. “Not much. Finished a book. Watched some TV. Played with that Raspberry Pi computer dad got me. Pretty typical summer vacation stuff.”

“Sounds like fun.” Mom turned to close the fridge door.

“Hey, will you pour me a glass of milk?”

Mom nodded and pulled out a glass. The soft murmur of voices on the TV filled the house.

“Citizens of Los Alamos are recovering this evening from a violent attack on a government building located just outside the city limits. Officials are claiming that hackers broke into a classified server and triggered an explosion that rocked the facility, killing three…”

Crash.

The glass shattered on the floor, but Mom stared at the television, her face as white as the spilled milk.

“Mom? Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

She shook her head and held up a finger. My skin prickled as I turned to the TV and watched smoke billow from a squat, nondescript building in the middle of the desert. A piece of paper fluttered against the wall, and the camera zoomed in to show some sort of logo. A rifle and a microscope crossed like an X on a field of pale blue.

“At this time, officials do not have any suspects in custody and haven’t officially labeled it a ‘terrorist attack’; however, the Secretary of Homeland Security released a statement claiming that they are devoting all their resources to investigating what is ‘almost certainly a threat to our national security.”

The news anchor turned the next story over to his co-host, and Mom stepped through the puddle of milk and turned the TV off.

Her hand trembled. She looked like she had in the mall last week. Like she was going to be sick.

“What’s going on?”

Mom shook her head. “Will you take care of the mess? I need to call your father.”

My jaw dropped open. “Dad? Why?” I couldn’t remember a single time in the last ten years when she’d actually chosen to call him. Now, she’d talked to him twice in one week.

“Lexie, please. I’ll be back in a minute. Just clean it up please.” She grabbed the phone off the counter, rubbing the back of her neck as she left the room.

I did a few quick swipes with a handful of paper towels, dumped them in the garbage under the sink, and tiptoed down the hall to the living room. I pressed myself against the wall so I could peek inside.

“William, I just saw the news. What exactly did they get from Los Alamos?” Mom paced between the couch and the window, the phone pressed to her ear. She moved stiffly, like all her muscles had tensed. “So that really was Grant at the mall, wasn’t it?”

Almost a minute elapsed as my dad spoke. My chest tightened as I waited for her answer.

“Three days? That’s it?” She let out a soft sigh. “I understand. I wish it hadn’t come to this, but we’ve been lucky for the last few years.” Another pause. “I miss you, too. We’ll see you soon.” She clicked the phone off and dropped it on the coffee table with a clatter before burying her head in her hands.

My stomach hit the floor. Miss him? Mom could barely stand the guy. I leaned back and took a shaky breath. She needed to tell me what was going on. Now.

A moment later, Mom sighed and marched out of the living room. Her gaze narrowed as she saw me standing near the door. “What did you hear?”

I pressed my palms against the cool wall. “Enough to be completely freaked out. What is going on?”

“We’re going to take a trip to visit your dad this weekend. How about you start packing?”

I shook my head. “Uh-uh. You’re not getting out of it that easily.” Panic twisted my stomach into one big knot. Mom and I were close. I told her everything. And, until this past week, I’d thought she did the same with me.

Her brown eyes were full of fear, but she put on her best everything’s-okay-voice. “Nothing to worry about, but your dad needs to see you about your ADHD meds. The clinical trial is almost up, and they need to finish collecting data on you.”

I blinked. “Why didn’t he tell me that when we talked last week? And what does that have to do with the news?”

“Nothing at all. Just jolted my memory. Besides, it’s been a while since you’ve seen your dad. He’s been talking about you coming to visit. Now’s a good time before school starts.”

That was the last thing I wanted. Anger shot through me. I was tired of the lies from both of them. “I’m not going to Tennessee. I’m not doing anything until you tell me what’s going on.”

“Watch your tone, young lady.”

I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at her. I hadn’t even gotten started with the attitude. I could do this all night if I had to.

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