Unmarked by Kami Garcia

  “Thanks.” The corner of my mouth turned up.

  “Real nice.” Elle shot Alara a look that sent most girls running for cover. “She was practically institutionalized. Let’s have a little sensitivity—”

  Alara and Priest plowed through Elle. They each hooked an arm around my neck and hugged me.

  “Things weren’t the same without you.” Priest pushed his blond bangs out of his eyes. His signature headphones were hooked around his neck, underneath his hoodie. “Alara moped around, and Jared trashed this hotel room we were staying in.”

  Jared jammed his hands in his pockets, but instead of staring at the ground, he kept his eyes on me.

  “Why don’t we move this party before somebody figures out Kennedy’s gone?” Lukas walked around the side of the Jeep, wearing a crooked smile—one of the few noticeable differences between the Lockhart twins. Aside from Lukas’ smile and black, nylon flight jacket, and the scar above Jared’s eye, the two brothers were mirror images of each other.

  He glanced at Jared and caught me an awkward hug. “It’s good to see you.”

  “So where did you get this thing?” I asked, climbing into the backseat next to Jared.

  “Impound,” Priest said.

  Alara whacked him on the arm. “A friend.”

  Lukas pulled off the shoulder. “Alara won’t tell us. I think she borrowed it from the mob.”

  “Or an ex-boyfriend,” Elle said.

  Alara scowled at her. “Shut up, or I’ll call your mom and tell her where you really are.”

  “Where does she think you are?” Lying to Elle’s mom required flawless execution, and I was usually around to help cover her tracks.

  Elle threw me a smug smile. “Taking a prestigious drama workshop at the Miami Center for the Performing Arts.”

  “She believed that?” The likelihood of Elle’s mother letting her travel to another state without verifying the details were less than zero.

  “After she spoke to the director,” Elle said.

  “How did you pull that off?”

  “Alara helped,” Elle said, as if that explained everything.

  “Only because you blackmailed us.” Alara leaned against the car and crossed her arms. “She wouldn’t help us find you unless we agreed to let her come along. If I knew she was such a pain in the ass, I would’ve left her in DC.”

  Elle pouted, but I was impressed. She’d always been resourceful, but generally she utilized her talents to torture guys who liked her, or manipulate her teachers. This was a new level. “Give it up. I want details.”

  Alara shot Elle an intimidating glance. “My cousin, Thaddeus, is the director. The Center is one of my family’s foundations.”

  “You worked things out with your parents?” I knew how hurt Alara had been when they asked her to abandon the Legion and come home.

  It had only been a little over three months since my mom died, and I wanted everyone else to make peace with their own mothers while there was still time.

  “Not exactly. Thaddeus and Maya have been helping me. Thad dealt with Elle’s mom, and Maya has been sending money whenever she can.” Alara pretended to inspect her silver nail polish at the mention of Maya, the younger sister she had spared by joining the Legion in her place. “She still feels guilty that I was the one who ended up with my grandmother. And Thad and I were always really close.”

  “You look cold,” Jared said, changing the subject. He rubbed his hands over my arms to warm me up. “Turn up the heat, Luke.”

  Lukas turned a knob on the dashboard and the lyrics of Jared’s favorite song, “Cry Little Sister” blared from the speakers.

  Lukas and Priest groaned.

  Alara covered her ears. “Make it stop.”

  “Change the station.” Elle scrunched up her nose.

  I couldn’t help but smile.

  “It’s not the radio,” Lukas said.

  “Someone paid for… whatever that is?” she asked.

  “It’s Jared’s favorite song,” Alara said. “From The Lost Boys soundtrack.”

  Elle looked confused. “The lost what?”

  “You’re all hilarious.” Jared tried to reach over the seat and turn it off.

  Lukas swatted his hand away. “Come on. Just once for Elle.”

  “Cry, little sister, thou shall not fall.” Priest, Lukas, Alara, and I joined in for the chorus.

  Jared ignored us and dug through a backpack in the trunk. He handed me an extra shirt. “Here. Since my brother doesn’t know how to turn on the heat.”

  “Stop crying already.” Lukas shut off the music, with a crooked smile still plastered on his face, and cranked the heat.

  Jared peeled off his wet thermal and slid on a dry one. I tried to ignore the way the sight of his bare skin made me feel.

  Nice, Elle mouthed, smiling.

  I took off my soaked sweater and parka and pulled Jared’s thermal over my head. Within seconds, I had slipped my arms out of the wet fabric and yanked the tank through one of the sleeves.

  Jared watched as I tossed it over the seat. “I’ll never figure out how girls do that.”

  “It’s an innate ability they’re born with, like rolling their eyes,” Priest said.

  I leaned my head against Jared’s shoulder, fighting sleep. “Where are we going anyway?”

  Lukas glanced at me in the rearview mirror. “I want to get at least few hours away from here, then we can hit a truck stop and eat.”

  Elle stretched her legs between the seats and propped them on the center console, then sighed dramatically. “Promise?”

  “Think we should head to West Virginia?” Priest slipped on his headphones. “The prison’s not that far.”

  I stiffened. “Why would you ever want to go back there?” The thought of going anywhere near West Virginia State Penitentiary made my skin crawl.

  Priest turned to Jared. “You didn’t tell her?”

  “Tell me what?”

  No one said a word, waiting for Jared to do the honors.

  “After the four of us met up on the other side of the state line, we went back to the prison to find the Shift.” Jared paused for a long moment.

  “It was gone.”

  5. NUMBER 16

  Do we still need the Shift?” I tried to sound curious, but thinking about it brought back nothing but bad memories.

  With my help.

  Lukas glanced at me in the rearview mirror, from the driver’s seat. “No. It served its purpose. But we figured it was better off with us.”

  “Just in case,” Priest said.

  “In case of what?” My shoulders tensed, and Jared pulled me closer. My body fit into the space underneath his arm perfectly. “Did you find something else in the journals?”

  “Priest, what’s your malfunction?” Lukas shot him a warning look. “She’s been locked up in that place for weeks.

  “Sorry.” Priest frowned and pushed his bangs under his gray hoodie. “We didn’t find out anything new. But even if the Shift is useless, someone in the Legion probably designed it. I can’t stand the idea of some kid finding it in the rubble a few months from now.”

  “He just wants to take it apart and see how it works,” Alara said. She was stretched out in the third row.

  “It’s a badass piece of mechanical engineering,” Priest said. “Of course I wanna take it apart.”

  I settled back into the space under Jared’s arm, relieved. Priest was just being Priest. “So what have you guys been doing since…” I didn’t want to bring up the night at the penitentiary or Darien Shears or the razor wire. “Since we got separated?”

  Jared squeezed my shoulder. “Looking for you.”

  “I have no idea what they were doing before I started helping them,” Elle said, her hands gesturing wildly. “But we’ve been doing all kinds of stuff for the last four days. Searching for birth certificates and death certificates, making lists of all the towns with crazy weather, making charts of demon trails.”

She means patterns,” Lukas said.

  “Exactly.” Elle nodded and launched ahead. “And Alara totally lied to a Priest about needing him to bless a bucket of holy water so her sick dog could drink it.”

  “You’ll be thanking me if we run into any more vengeance spirits,” Alara said.

  “How many are we talking about?” I turned to Jared, without realizing how close his face was to mine.

  His blue eyes flickered down to my lips for a second. “Just a few vengeance spirits before we picked up Elle. Nothing Andras-level.”

  Like the mirror in my dorm room?

  I couldn’t tell them yet. Jared had already been stabbed with a piece of glass because he was worrying about me instead of himself. If he found out about the mirror, he’d be even more distracted.

  “I’ve been tracking patterns in violence and crime that might be related to Andras,” Lukas said. “All of the mass murders have taken place between—”

  “West Virginia and Pennsylvania,” I finished for him. I pictured the walls in my dorm room, wishing I could show them to him. “I was watching things, too. If we get a few maps at the gas station, I can recreate some of them.”

  “Okay.” Lukas gave me a strange look.

  Priest looked at me and shook his head. “The things I could build with a memory like yours.”

  Lukas ignored him, his eyes catching mine in the mirror. “That’s also the area where all the girls disappeared.”

  At the mention of the missing girls, I looked away. They were the last topic I wanted to discuss.

  “You know, they all kinda look like—” Priest began.

  “I know.” I cut him off.

  “We don’t have to talk about it right now.” Alara leaned over the seat and silenced Priest with a look. “There’s a truck stop in a mile.” She pointed to the sign at the next mile marker.

  “Thank god,” Elle said, tousling her dark red waves with her fingers. “I’. in serious need of a serious caffeine fix.”

  “Where is Faith Waters now?” I asked, stirring a cup of burnt coffee. I wasn’t ready to call her my aunt.

  Lukas shoved a handful of onion rings in his mouth, washing them down with his second strawberry milkshake. The truck stop was empty for the most part, and the waitress seemed relieved every time he added something else to his order.

  He shrugged. “We don’t know. She doesn’t have a bank account or any credit cards, not even a driver’s license. No cyber footprint.”

  Priest pulled one of the headphones away from his ear. “Which means she’s probably the person we’re looking for.”

  “Then how are we going to find her?” I asked.

  Everyone except Elle—who was busy flirting with a guy sitting at the counter—stared at me as if I already knew the answer.

  Lukas flicked a balled up napkin at Elle. “Think you can concentrate on what’s going on over here?”

  “I’m capable of doing two things at once, thank you very much,” she muttered under her breath, without compromising her perfect smile for a second.

  Lukas took his silver coin out of his jacket pocket and flipped it between his fingers. “If we want to find your aunt, your dad is the logical place to start.”

  At the mention of my father, Elle whipped around in my direction. She was the only person who knew the truth about what happened the day he left—how he saw me watching him through the kitchen window, and still drove away. I never told my mom. The note my dad left her had said enough: All I ever wanted for us—and for Kennedy—was a normal life. I think we both know that’s impossible.

  I picked at the fries plate in front of me. “I don’t know anything about him. He took off when I was little. End of story.”

  “Okay. What do you remember from before he left?” Lukas asked.

  “She said she doesn’t know anything about him.” Elle flashed him a warning look.

  Lukas ignored her. “Come on, Kennedy. You have a photographic memory. There must be something.”

  Elle slammed her glass on the table. “Her father ditched her when she was five years old. He never even sent her a birthday card. He’s an asshole.” Her voice rose. “That’s what she remembers.”

  Heat spread through my cheeks. “Shut up, Elle.”

  Jared’s his hand tightened around mine under the table. I stared out at the rain running down the windows. Anything to avoid the pity and questions I’d see in his eyes.

  “I’m sorry.” Lukas sounded sympathetic and uncomfortable at the same time, the way my friends had when they found out my mother was dead.

  My embarrassment quickly turned to anger. I hadn’t seen my dad in twelve years. He didn’t even show up to claim me when my mom died. Yet he still had the power to hurt me. “You want to know what I remember about my dad?”

  “Kennedy, it’s okay—” Jared began.

  I held up a hand, silencing him. “My dad smelled like Marlboros and mint toothpaste. More mint or Marlboros, depending on how well he’d covered up the smell of cigarette smoke. He liked his bacon crispy and his coffee black. He didn’t shave every day, so his face was either perfectly smooth or covered in stubble, and he had the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen. 100 Grand was his favorite candy bar, and he’d let me eat them before dinner even though it drove my mom crazy. He loved Johnny Walker, Pink Floyd, and Edgar Alan Poe. He hated musicals, collared shirts, and magicians.”

  I stood up. “And he said he loved me more than the moon and the stars and everything in between. But he lied.”

  Everyone fell silent, as I headed for the dirty glass doors at the front of the restaurant.

  “Kennedy?” Jared called after me.

  “Give her a minute,” I heard Elle say as the doors swung closed behind me.

  I leaned against the building under the awning, next to the truckers trying to take one last drag of their cigarettes before they went inside.

  Jared’s green army jacket flashed in my peripheral vision. He grabbed my hand and pulled it behind him, drawing me close. “When you told me about your dad, I didn’t realize it was that bad. Why didn’t you say anything?”

  Because I can still see my dad climbing into his car, and the note, and my mother’s tear-streaked face. Because I didn’t want you to know that my own father didn’t want me. Because I didn’t want you to look at me the way you are right now.

  “There’s nothing to tell. He wasn’t around. It doesn’t matter.” I started to turn away, but Jared kept my arm locked behind him and my body against his.

  He lifted my chin. “Is that the reason you think everyone is going to hurt you?”

  The familiar numbness spread through me that I felt whenever I thought about my dad for too long. “Jared, I don’t… I can’t talk about this. Please.”


  We stood side by side in silence, watching the trucks pull in and out of the parking lot. I didn’t want to talk about my dad and relive the pain that never seemed to go away. But my memories were the only possible clues we had left, and if Andras was responsible for the crimes on my dorm room walls, he had killed dozens of people already.

  By the time I slid back into the booth a few minutes later, I was ready. “What else do you need to know?”

  Alara turned the sugar dispenser upside down, emptying what looked like half the contents into her coffee cup. “You don’t have to talk about this, Kennedy. We can figure out another way to find her.”

  “We don’t have time.” I pulled my shoulders back and took a deep breath. “Ask me whatever you want.”

  Priest fidgeted with his headphones. “Did your father ever talk about his childhood?”

  “Not really. I know he grew up in DC, but my grandparents moved to Massachusetts before I was born. I don’t really remember them.”

  Priest and Alara exchanged a look.

  “Anything else? A special place you went together?” Lukas asked.

  I started to say no, when an image flickered in my mind. The photo I’d found tucked into my
mirror while I was packing up the house, after my mom died. Me sitting on my dad’s shoulders, in front of a white weather-beaten house. “There was this picture of us.…”

  I closed my eyes and focused on the details in the photo, things I’d never paid attention to before, scanning them one by one.

  A broken gutter on the side of the house.

  The half-mowed lawn behind us.

  My missing front tooth.

  Pink flowers on a dogwood tree.

  My dad’s silver wedding band.

  The quarter-sized hole in the knee of my jeans.

  Untied, blue Keds.

  A green sticker on my Wonder Woman T-shirt.

  I zeroed in on the sticker. Blurry letters circled the outside, but the white writing in the center read I VISITED THE WORLD’S LARGEST BOTTLE CAP.

  “There’s this old picture of my dad and I, in front of a house. I have no idea where it was taken, but there’s one of those stickers on my shirt that you get when you visit a cheesy landmark or museum.”

  “Do you remember going anywhere like that with him?” Priest looked hopeful.

  “No. But the sticker says, ‘I visited the world’s largest bottle cap.’ ”

  “It’s better than nothing. Who’s up for a road trip?” Lukas asked, just as Alara took a sip of her sugar-laced coffee. She swallowed too fast and ended up in a coughing fit. Elle tried to pat her back, but Alara swatted her hand away.

  Lukas’ fingers flew across the screen of his phone. “The world’s largest bottle cap is located in Massachusetts, at the Topsfield Museum of Revolutionary Taxidermy and Patriots.”

  Elle scrunched up her nose. “That is so disgusting.”

  “It’s a museum with a giant bottle cap in it. What do you expect?” Priest stole one of my fries. “Just be glad they didn’t taxidermy the patriots.”

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