Authors: Megan Crewe
Tags: #New Experience, #Social Issues, #Young Adult, #Juvenile Fiction, #Romance, #Science Fiction, #Love & Romance
The Lives We Lost
Series: The Fallen World Author: Megan Crewe Imprint: Hyperion
In-store date: 2/12/13 ISBN: 978-1-4231-4617-9 Price: $16.99 US / $18.50 CAN Trim size: 5½ × 8¼ Page count: 288
This is an uncorrected galley proof. It is not a finished book and is not expected to look like one. Errors in spelling, page length, format, etc., will be corrected when the book is published several months from now. Direct quotes should be checked against the final printed book.
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This is how the world ends: With the boy who used to be my best friend stepping off the ferry, hair shaggy and tangled, face too thin, looking at me like he isn’t sure who I am. Like he isn’t sure of anything.
I was so excited when I spotted Leo crossing the strait, I didn’t wonder how he’d gotten past the patrol boats that were supposed to be enforcing the quarantine. Or why he was alone. I just grabbed Tessa and dashed for the harbor.
Then he was limping down the ramp with the man who’d driven the ferry, and Tessa was throwing her arms around him, and he was staring at her with that uncertain expression—and an inkling of what it all meant rose up inside me. For a second I wanted to turn and run. As if I could outrun the truth.
But I stood my ground. A few people from town had gathered around us. “You made it from the mainland!” someone said. “Is the government sending help? The electricity’s out, and the phones . . .”
“Did they find a cure?” someone else broke in, with a sort of desperate hopefulness.
Tessa stepped away from Leo, her gaze flickering to the opposite shore. “My parents,” she said. “Did you see them?”
He looked at me again then, even though I hadn’t spoken, and this time a hint of recognition came into his eyes. Too faint to tell whether he was happy to see me, whether he was still stinging from our last argument, whether he cared at all.
Even before he spoke, my gut had knotted and my mouth had gone dry.
“There’s no help,” he said, with a rasp in his voice. “The virus, it ripped right through the country—the States—maybe the whole world. Everything . . . Everything’s fallen apart.”
The doctors didn’t control the epidemic on the mainland any better than they did here. On the other side of the strait, everybody’s just as bad off as we are. No one is coming to fix the electricity or the water, to bring the supplies we need, or any of the other hopes I’d managed to hold on to.
I started writing here for Leo, to practice saying what I couldn’t to his face. I kept going because I thought it was important to keep track of the awfulness we’ve been through, to have some sort of record for the rest of the world. But the world I was writing for— it’s lost. The boy I started for looks lost too. So what is the point in writing? This journal isn’t going to help me find them.
I have to believe there’s something else that will.
I decided before I came downstairs that I wasn’t going to mention what day it was. I got choked up every time I even thought about it. Tessa was in the living room, pruning the bean plants on the window ledge. The smell of hot oatmeal was wafting from the kitchen. Gav stood over the pot with a wooden spoon, his tawny hair sleep-rumpled. I had to resist the urge to go over and run my fingers through his tawny sleep-rumpled hair.
It was more than a week ago I suggested he crash on the air mattress here at what used to be my Uncle Emmett’s house, considering he was over all the time anyway and I couldn’t help worrying when he went home to his family’s empty house at night. In spite of all my other worries, I still felt a little giddy finding my boyfriend here each morning.
“Hey,” I said, and he glanced up and grinned.
“Good morning, Kaelyn!” Meredith crowed, bounding in from the dining room with an incredible amount of energy for a kid who just recovered from a deadly virus. I was starting to wonder if she was making up for all that time lying in a hospital bed by moving in constant fast-forward. But seeing the healthy flush in her dark cheeks made me smile.
She hopped up to peer into the pot of oatmeal. “Is there brown sugar?”
“Meredith,” I said, my giddiness dampening. Gav held up his hand.
“Not brown,” he said, “but I can sprinkle on a little of the white stuff.”
Meredith’s lower lip curled, but she pressed her mouth flat before it could turn into a pout and lifted her chin. “Awesome!” she said. “Thank you, Gav!”
“I picked up an extra bag from the storage rooms,” Gav said to me as Meredith scampered over to the table. “Figured if anyone deserved a treat, it was her.”
“Thank you,” I said. “And for breakfast, too.”
“Hey, I know you only keep me around for my cooking,” he said.
“And don’t you forget it,” I said. Slipping my arm around his waist, I leaned in for a kiss. In the dining room, Meredith snorted in amusement.
As I released Gav, he started spooning the oatmeal out into the bowls on the counter. The floor creaked behind him, and Leo emerged from the tiny downstairs bathroom where he’d been washing up. He looked at us for a second with the uncertain expression I’d first seen when he came off the ferry. Like he wasn’t sure why he was even here. Then Gav turned, and the end of his serving spoon tapped Leo’s arm. Leo flinched back, his hip smacking the counter’s edge.
“Crap,” Gav said. “I’m sorry.”
Leo ducked his head and steadied himself with a hand on the counter. “I’m fine,” he said. “Crazy reflexes.” He laughed awkwardly, and my stomach twisted. The Leo I grew up with used to joke effortlessly. This Leo made it look like work.
His gaze lingered on me as I picked up my bowl, and my stomach twisted tighter. If anyone was going to notice the significance of the date, it’d be Leo.
“Hold on a sec, Kae,” he said, hurrying past us to the living room. Cloth rustled—the backpack he’d brought back from his parents’ place, I guessed. His old home, like mine, didn’t have a generator, so he’d been sleeping on the couch here.
Gav raised an eyebrow at me, and I shrugged. He knew the short story of my and Leo’s friendship, an abbreviated version I’d told him and Tessa after we’d walked Leo back to the house two weeks ago. I’d said I hadn’t talked about it before because I’d been so worried about what was happening on the island. Which was mostly true.
I hadn’t mentioned how Leo and I had argued and then stopped talking after I’d moved to Toronto for one of Dad’s jobs. Not even to Leo. He’d seemed so messed up when he got back, I’d been trying to avoid all painful topics of conversation. Our argument hardly seemed significant, considering the friends and family we’d lost since. But then on the fourth day, he’d said to me, “We’re all right now, aren’t we?” like he was afraid to ask.
All I’d managed to get out was, “I’m sorry, that whole fight was my fault.”
“I’ll take half the blame and we’ll call it even,” he’d replied, and hugged me so tight I lost my breath, and just like that, it didn’t matter.
But even if
were all right now, I was pretty sure he wasn’t.
As Gav carried his and Meredith’s oatmeal to the table, Leo stepped back into the kitchen with one hand behind his back.
“Close your eyes,” he said, with a smile that looked almost real. “Leo,” I said, “I don’t—”
“Come on,” he said. “For old times.”
If I protested more, I had the feeling his expression was going to stiffen up again. So I closed my eyes, holding my bowl. There was a grating sound, and a clink, and the soft pat of something dropping onto the oatmeal.
“Okay,” Leo said.
I looked down, and my breath caught.
He’d placed a dollop of blueberry preserves in the middle of the bowl. I recognized the angular handwriting on the label of the jar he held as his mom’s.
“Happy birthday,” he said.
I hadn’t even had store jam in at least a month. The juicy-sweet smell was making my mouth water. At the same time, my eyes prickled.
When we were little, Leo’s family and mine used to go berrypicking together—me watching for rabbits between the bushes, Leo practicing leaps and tumbles on the rocks. His mom would give my parents a couple jars of preserves every August, and Drew and I would polish them off by the end of September.
Back before the virus had taken all of them away. Gnawing through Mom’s mind, making Drew feel he had to sneak to the mainland to try to find help. And Dad, struck down by the gang of islanders who’d wanted to burn the hospital and all the infected patients inside.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Leo was saying. “Our pantry was a mess, but this one jar was lying behind a box in the corner, like it was waiting for me.”
“You should have it,” I said, offering the bowl to him. “It’s your mom’s.”
And she wasn’t going to be able to make more, ever again. The virus had taken both of Leo’s parents too.
He shook his head, nudging the bowl back toward me, but his smile faltered.
“I think she’d have wanted me to share it,” he said.
He’d hardly spoken when he’d come back from their house, and I hadn’t pried. He still hadn’t even offered us more than a vague summary of how he’d hitchhiked and walked his way here from his dance school in New York. Most of what I knew about the mainland I’d heard from Mark, the other islander who’d been stuck across the strait and come back with Leo. But what could I do except give him time?
As I hesitated, Gav poked his head into the room. “It’s your birthday?” he said. “You should have told me.”
“I didn’t want to make a big deal about it,” I said, carrying my breakfast over to the table. “Seventeen’s not an important one anyway, right?”
“I think seventeen’s pretty good,” Gav said. “But then I might be biased.”
“I forgot!” Meredith said. “I’ve got to make you a card!”
“You don’t have to,” I said, but she was already gulping down the last of her oatmeal and dashing into the living room, where construction paper and colored pencils littered the coffee table.
“Tess, breakfast is ready,” Leo said, coming in after me. I sat down next to Gav, who hooked his ankle around mine.
“I’m going to think of something,” he said.
“Really,” I said, “you don’t—”
“I know, I know. Still going to.” He turned to Leo. “So, any other secrets of Kae’s that I should know?”
Leo paused, as if taking the question seriously, and then put on a grin. “I think I should stop now. She might sic those vicious ferrets on me.”
The teasing sounded weak to my ears, but Meredith spun around. “Mowat and Fossey don’t hurt people!” she hollered, and the rest of us laughed, the tension cracking. But as Tessa slipped into the room and everyone started eating, my eyes prickling.
“No matter how busy we get,” Mom used to say, “we shouldn’t forget that family matters more than anything else.” On my and Drew’s birthdays, she and Dad had always arranged to go into work late and for us to skip the first period of school if it was a week day. We’d come down after sleeping in to the presents Dad had stacked on the table and Mom making whatever we’d requested for breakfast the night before, and we’d all eat together.
I couldn’t remember what breakfast I’d asked for when I turned sixteen last year. It hadn’t seemed important at the time.
I swallowed a mouthful of oatmeal, the blueberries sliding in a sticky clump down my throat. The taste was both achingly familiar and completely alien to the lives we had now.
“Leave it in the sink,” Tessa said as I finished. “I’ll take care of the dishes.”
I might have argued, but I needed to get away, just for a moment. “Thanks,” I said. “I’ll be upstairs.”
Meredith’s bedroom felt a lot smaller now that she was back from the hospital. I’d set up the cot, giving her the bed, and it took up nearly half the floor space. The cardboard box holding everything Dad had left at the hospital over the last few months sat in one corner. I’d collected it from his friend Nell, our only remaining doctor, on one of my trips to visit Meredith.
I sank down onto the cot and pushed open the flaps of the box. When I’d first brought it home, I’d gone through it as quickly as possible. Now I pulled out the wool coat that was folded on top and pressed my face against the scratchy cloth.
It smelled like my dad, like oak and coffee and citrusy aftershave. Like being back in his study, talking with him about some curiosity of animal behavior or environmental phenomena.
Only three weeks ago he’d worn this coat. I wrapped my arms around it, willing back tears, and a hard shape dug into the underside of my arm.
I ran my hand over the inside lining and found the slit of an inner pocket. Reaching inside, my fingers touched a cool metal edge.
The two keys I pulled out hung on a delicate ring, with a plastic fob imprinted with the emblem for the research center where Dad had worked, a half circle split by a wavy line.
I stared at them. When I’d collected his possessions, I’d been hoping I’d find the key to the research center, but I’d thought I was out of luck. I’d tried every one on the big ring Nell had handed over, and none had fit in the keyhole. They’d been here, separate and hidden, all along.
And now I had them.
I could finally check what he’d been working on, all the time he’d spent there between his shifts at the hospital. If he’d been even partway through developing an experimental treatment, Nell could try it out. Or at least I could bring equipment from the labs over to the hospital. There had to be something we could use.
Gav’s voice carried up the stairs faintly. If I told him where I was going, he’d want to come along. They all might. The thought of having to share my first glimpse of this last piece of Dad’s life made me tense.
I folded the coat and lay it back in the box, then headed down to the front door. It wasn’t far. I’d just pop in and look around. We could explore it more thoroughly together in the afternoon.
“I’m going out to stretch my legs a bit,” I called as I tugged on my boots.
“You want company?” Gav asked from the living room doorway.
I shook my head. “I won’t be long.”
Outside, the air was cool but not brittle against my face. It was a melt day, a couple degrees above freezing. The snow that’d fallen last week was disintegrating into a trickle in the gutters.
Otherwise, the streets were quiet. Last year there would have been people out shoveling or de-icing their walks. Now there was no one. Jagged glass glinted in the window frames and battered doors leaned ajar, in the wake of the gang’s looting. The twenty or so volunteers who helped at the hospital mostly slept there too. Over the last two months, the few hundred houses Gav’s group used to bring food to had dwindled to a couple dozen where people who’d managed to avoid the virus were still hanging on. The rest were empty.
I skirted the hospital. Beyond it, a narrow stretch of pavement led me through fields spotted with fir trees and crags of reddish rock peeking through the snow. Paw prints crossed my path here and there, mostly squirrel and coyote. Another day I might have stopped to examine them, but the keys pressing against my hip urged me onward.
Who was left who’d care what I observed anyway? There wasn’t going to be much call for wildlife biologists for a good long while.
The research center stood amid a semicircle of pines, a broad rectangle of beige concrete. A few steps from the door, I stopped. Footprints marked the snow around the entrance—dozens of them, with the thick treads of winter boots. At least a few people had come around here since the last snowfall.
Spidery scratch marks scarred the metal around the door’s keyhole. The thick glass in one of the windows looked chipped, as if someone had tried to smash it. The intercom mounted on the wall by the door had been broken open, the wires snapped. My hands clenched in my coat pockets.
So the gang had finally gotten interested in this place. As if they hadn’t already taken enough.
The stream of footprints rambled off toward the trees on a diagonal from the lane. No tire tracks, which meant the trespassers had probably been killing time rather than on an official mission. There was no sign of anyone else here now.
Shivering, I pulled out the keys. The larger one fit in the lock and turned easily. I pushed open the door.
The backup generator was still running—the lights blinked on in the hall when I tapped the switch. I guessed that wasn’t surprising. Being the newest building around here, it probably had the best machinery in the island.
Past a row of empty mail cubbies, I found a kitchen that held only a box of orange pekoe tea, and what appeared to be a meeting room, with a flat screen TV filling most of the opposite wall. A thin crack ran down the middle of the screen.
With a vague uneasiness washing over me, I continued on to the stairwell.
Upstairs, the second room I peered into had to be Dad’s office. A framed photo of younger me and Drew on the beach stood on one side of his desk, and the leather gloves Mom had given him our last Christmas together lay beside it.
The computer asked for a password I couldn’t supply. I pawed through the drawers, finding only reports on marine bacteria and plankton populations, and then sagged back in his chair.
How many hours had Dad sat here, puzzling over the virus? Missing Mom? Worrying about me and Drew?
I blinked hard and pushed myself onto my feet. If I took too long, Gav would start to worry.
The door three down led to a laboratory. When I flicked the light switch, the florescent panels flooded the room with flat colorless light. Microscopes and petri dishes dotted the shiny black table top beneath a wall of cabinets. A huge stainless steel fridge stood in the corner, with an electronic display reporting the internal temperature. This was clearly where Dad had spent the rest of his time. A styrofoam cup sat next to one of the microscopes, half full of cooled tea. Notebooks were scattered on the table beside it, one of them open to a page of Dad’s loopy printing.
I picked up the notebook Dad had left open, and my gaze snagged on one small word.
I leaned over the table, skimming the page.
If I continue three more days without any side effects from the vaccine, I’ ll discuss the next step with Nell,
he’d written. And at the top of the page,
Project WebVac, Day 18.