The Taking (Excerpt)

Check out Kimberly Derting’s The Taking, available April 29th from HarperTeen!

When sixteen-year-old Kyra Agnew wakes up behind a Dumpster at the Gas ’n’ Sip, she has no memory of how she got there. With a terrible headache and a major case of déjà vu, she heads home only to discover that five years have passed… yet she hasn’t aged a day.

Everything else about Kyra’s old life is different. Her parents are divorced, her boyfriend, Austin, is in college and dating her best friend, and her dad has changed from an uptight neat-freak to a drunken conspiracy theorist who blames her five-year disappearance on little green men.

Confused and lost, Kyra isn’t sure how to move forward unless she uncovers the truth. With Austin gone, she turns to Tyler, Austin’s annoying kid brother, who is now seventeen and who she has a sudden undeniable attraction to. As Tyler and Kyra retrace her steps from the fateful night of her disappearance, they discover strange phenomena that no one can explain, and they begin to wonder if Kyra’s father is not as crazy as he seems. There are others like her who have been taken… and returned.

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

“Kyra, are you sure I can’t get you something?” Tamara Wahl asked, her disembodied head looming out of the darkness as she peered into the bedroom.

I wasn’t sure how I’d gotten here, but at least I knew where I was. Or thought I did. Everything felt topsy-turvy at the moment.

“No. I don’t think so.” I shifted on the Batman sheets that I’d laid on almost as many times as my own. “No. I’m okay.”

I glanced around at a room I had memorized. I knew right where the poster of Mark Spitz (the Olympic swimmer Austin idolized) was—the one with the preprinted autograph Austin had tried to replicate above it when he was eleven in scribbly purple marker. The furniture was arranged exactly the same as always: his bed, his dresser, his corner desk plastered with a mishmash collection of sports and music and bumper stickers he’d collected.

But despite the sameness of it, it was missing his everyday clutter. His overflowing clothes hamper, the discarded Coke cans and water glasses on top of his dresser, messy homework piles on his desk. Even the bed was too neat, the sheets too fresh and smooth, as if they’d just been changed.

As if I were inside a diorama of Austin’s room. A perfect, unused replica.

His mother had tried to explain things to me, but nothing she’d said made any sense. It was like she’d been speaking gibberish.

Five years, she’d kept saying. It had been five years since anyone had seen me last.

She was wrong, of course.

Wrong.

Wrong.

Wrong.

It hadn’t been five years. It had been one night. I knew because I had been at my softball game. The championship game.

I knew because I was still wearing my uniform, and it still smelled like grass and sweat, and I still had the ribbons threaded through my hair.

One night, I kept insisting while my head and my throat ached. My dad and I had had an argument, and I’d run off to have a few minutes to myself—that was all. I must’ve wandered until I’d fallen asleep. At the Gas ’n’ Sip. Behind the Dumpster.

One damn night. Not five long years.

But she’d given me some time alone to absorb it, to let it sink in before coming back to check on me.

She patted my hand now, her voice cautious, as if I were held together by wishes and hopes. “Well, your mom should be here soon. Maybe she’ll do a better job of explaining things than I did.”

I shot upright. “My mom?” My throat constricted around the anticipation. “She’s coming?” My words barely made it through my airway, and the last one came out as a squeak. I didn’t want to cry, but just hearing that my mom was on her way made everything better somehow, and there was no way to stop the tears.

And then Austin’s mom, who I couldn’t remember not knowing, had her arms around me, comforting, reassuring, holding me in the way only a mother knows how. “It’ll be okay, Kyra. Everything’s gonna be okay now.”

 

Waiting, the same way I used to do when I was a little girl and I knew it was time for my mom to come home from work, I was standing at the window when I saw her pull up. She was driving a car I didn’t recognize: black and shiny and sporty.

If what Tamara Wahl had said was true, which I still couldn’t wrap my brain around because it was utterlycompletely-totally insane, but if I allowed myself even to consider that I’d really lost five whole years of my life, then more than just who drove what had changed.

I know Austin’s mom believed what she said, and she definitely had some evidence to back up her story. Austin was off at college, or so she’d told me—living the life we’d always planned, attending his last year at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. And Tyler—pipsqueak Tyler, who used to follow us around the house, intruding on conversations and telling the same annoying jokes that we used to tell when we were his age—was now a junior at Burlington Edison High, the same school Austin and Cat and I had once gone to. I couldn’t deny that part, that he’d changed— I’d seen it with my own two eyes.

And, obviously, my mom and dad had moved.

All those things made it hard to argue with her. But that didn’t change the part where everything inside of me said she was wrong.

I wanted to cry and scream at the same time, and I was so ridiculously confused, I could hardly think straight.

Five years was a lifetime. An eternity.

I was surprised, then, when my mom stopped her sleek black car, not in front of Austin’s house, but in front of our old house. Habit, I supposed. It was the first place I’d gone too.

I watched as she emerged from her new car. Her hair was more highlighted than I remembered and shorter, skimming her shoulders rather than falling to the middle of her back.

I wondered if I looked different too. I’d tried to wash up and had examined myself in the mirror. I didn’t feel changed, and I couldn’t see anything that said five years had gone by, right down to the farmer’s tan where my uniform sleeves hit, from spending hour after hour practicing in those last days of softball season. I even had the same bruise on my right shin from where I’d banged it against our coffee table when Cat and I had been wrestling over the remote last weekend.

Well, last weekend plus five years.

But how was any of that possible? How could I have the same bruise and suntan? How could I still be wearing my uniform and the ribbons threaded through my hair, and smell like sweat and softball field if five years had passed?

Those were the things that made me hesitate, no matter how logical Tamara Wahl’s explanations might seem. No matter how much Tyler had grown.

Outside, my mom faltered for a moment, looking up at the blue-gray house I’d tried to barge into before she made her way across the street toward Austin’s house.

Toward me.

My stomach fluttered nervously.

“This must be so weird for you.” Tyler’s voice came from behind me. It was the first time I’d heard him say anything in his new, deep voice since that moment I’d collapsed in his arms in the kitchen. Vaguely, I could make out the shape of him, still too tall to reconcile with the Tyler I remembered, in the reflection of the glass. But all my focus, all my energy was directed on her… on my mom.

I nodded and then slipped away from the window to meet her at the front door. She didn’t go around back like I had.

I opened it before she could knock, startling her.

Seeing her there, her face looking drawn the way it did, her lips pinched and her eyes strained, I could almost believe that everything I’d been told was true. It truly had been five years since I’d last seen her.

Tyler looked five years older. My mother looked five years wearier.

Tamara had said that, after a few years of private investigators and police, my parents finally had to go on with their lives and had left it at that, even when I’d tried to probe to find out what exactly “go on with their lives” meant.

I guess I was about to find out.

“Kyra?” My mom’s voice was more like a question. A terrified, hopeful, incredulous question. And suddenly she was just my mom. The same mom I’d had breakfast with yesterday. The same mom who shared dorky memes on Facebook and who laughed at my dad’s lame jokes and who’d continued making me Mickey Mouse pancakes on Sunday mornings long after I’d told her I didn’t care if my pancakes were shaped like cartoon characters.

“Mom…” Just saying the word made it real, and I started to cry, but really only because she was crying, while at the same time she did the mom-thing and wrapped me in her arms and started whispering nonsense words that tumbled over one another. Words like how she never thought she’d see me again and how I hadn’t changed a bit and how she was never letting me out of her sight again.

I stayed inside the circle of her embrace, listening to it all. She made promises and we cried, and she hugged me and I hugged her until my arms ached and hers probably did too. When her grip loosened, I finally found the words to ask “Where’s Dad? Is he coming too?”

I thought she might have stiffened, but I couldn’t say so for sure. I didn’t have the chance to decide, because we were interrupted by that man, the one from across the street. The one who’d chased me out of his house earlier.

His actions made sense now, I guess, since I was a complete stranger who’d been trying to shove her way into his home; but it didn’t make me bristle any less when he appeared at my mother’s back.

Or when his hand fell on her shoulder.

Like he knew her.

Knew her, knew her.

Her brow crumpled when she turned to face him. “Grant.” She spoke to him in such a familiar way, in a way that made my stomach drop. The same way she spoke to my father. “I haven’t had a chance to tell her yet.” When she looked back to me, her expression was apologetic. “Kyra.”

“I’m so sorry,” the man said. “I should’ve recognized you. From your pictures.”

I looked up at him, really looked at him. Tall and dark eyed, and, even now, holding the little blond boy in his arms. She didn’t explain who he was. She didn’t have to. The toddler reaching for my mother said it all when he squealed, “Mommy!”

She took the little boy, and he clutched her, looking more like a monkey than a child the way he clung to her. He dropped his head on her shoulder and sighed contentedly, and I briefly wondered if I’d done that, too, when I was his age.

I looked at the boy, and then my mom, and then the man again, at the way his hand stayed on her shoulder.

Five years…

My parents had gone on with their lives.…

But not with each other.

This was her new family. This was her son. And her husband. Her new husband… shiny and sleek and new, like the car parked in front of the house.

“I didn’t want you to find out this way,” she told me, reaching for me with her free hand. She squeezed my arm, trying to pull me to her, to make me part of the embrace with her and the little boy in her arms.

Maybe she didn’t get it, how much this was for me. That this was happening too suddenly, and it was too, too, too much. Or maybe she did, because then she said, in a voice that was almost too hopeful, making me wonder if she was talking to me or to the little boy in her arms, “This is Logan. Your brother.”

I tried to look at him—this replacement child—but I couldn’t. He might be my brother, but I’d never asked for him. I didn’t want him. I wanted my old family. The one I’d had yesterday. “Where’s Dad?” I finally asked, turning to look at my feet, the only place that felt safe.

“He’s coming, Kyr. He’s on his way.” She was trying to sound sympathetic; I knew she was.

“Good. I’ll be inside. Let me know when he gets here.”

 

“What else do I need to know?” I asked when Tyler appeared in the doorway to Austin’s bedroom, the only place that seemed semifamiliar and nontoxic at the moment.

Tyler smiled at me from where he leaned against the doorjamb, and I realized why I’d mistaken him for his brother when I’d first seen him. His hair was slightly darker and longer and more mussed, and his skin was lighter than Austin’s, as if he spent more time indoors than out, but there was that same confidence about him. Those same green eyes that crinkled when he grinned his sideways grin.

Tyler shrugged. “Flying cars, for one.”

“Shut up,” I scoffed from where I was sprawled on my back on the bed. “I’m not in the mood.”

“Well, not so much flying as hovering, but we’ve almost got the technology down.”

I lifted my head, unwilling to allow myself to smile. My eyes glanced over to the clock on the wall, and I wondered how much longer it would be till my father would get there.

“Oh, and mind reading.” His teasing half grin grew to a full-blown smile, dazzling me because it was so reminiscent of his brother’s.

A pang of longing threatened to do me in.

I threw a pillow at him, and he dodged it. “Can I call him?”

I didn’t have to explain who “him” was, and Tyler came inside, joining me as he sat on the end of the bed. It was strange to be here with him. In one sense I’d known Tyler his whole life. I’d been to all of his birthday parties, teased him when he had a lisp because he lost his front teeth, walked him to school on his first day, pushed him on the swing set until he cried mercy because it was too high, and built snowmen with him on snow days.

In another sense he was a virtual stranger, someone I barely knew.

But at this very moment he felt like the only link I had to Austin.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Mom called and left a message, letting him know you were back. I’m sure he’ll try to get in touch with you.” Even his voice was too similar. It was so freaky uncanny.

I pulled out my phone, suddenly understanding why I didn’t have service. Life went on, cell phone contracts didn’t. “I don’t have a phone.”

Tyler thought about it for a second and then handed me his.

“What’ll you use?”

“I already told you… mind reading. No phones necessary.” He shrugged when I raised my eyebrows at him. “I’ll get a burner. Besides, your mom’ll probably get you a new one in a couple’a days.”

Now it was my turn to shrug. “Or my dad.” He didn’t say anything to that, so I ran my thumb over the screen of his fancy phone, rubbing away the fingerprints he’d left there. “How long have they been divorced, anyway?”

He shifted on the bed, and I figured I’d made him uncomfortable. He rubbed the back of his neck and leaned forward, balancing his elbows on his knees. “I don’t know about the divorce, but your dad moved out about a year after you… you know.…” His words trailed away. “I don’t know if I should even say this, but it got weird. After a while there were accusations. I don’t know who started them, but people started saying it was him, your dad. That he was the one responsible for… well, for you going missing—”

“No,” I interrupted. “No! No way. Not my dad. We were fighting, yeah—arguing over college and Austin. Stupid stuff, really. I got mad and decided to walk. But my dad would never hurt me.” I shouldn’t even have to say that, I thought, defending the man who would’ve thrown himself in front of a bus for me.

Tyler made an apologetic face. “That’s what my parents always said too. They said rumors are dangerous, and people talk when they have nothing better to do. My dad said no one believed it, at least no one that mattered.”

I nodded, relieved, that his parents had known that my father was innocent. Austin’s dad was a cop, and I felt better knowing that the police, even if he was the only one, hadn’t suspected my dad of anything shady.

Then Tyler’s eyes met mine, and he asked me the question I’d been asking myself over and over again. “So where were you then? This whole time you’ve been gone, where were you?”

If I had an answer I would have given it to him. Surely I wasn’t asleep behind the Dumpster for the entire five years— the Rip van Winkle of the Gas ’n’ Sip. The same went for wandering along Chuckanut Drive after my fight with my dad. I had no memory of anything past getting out of his car that night.

Just the flash of light. And then nothing.

Five years gone in a blink.

I glanced again at the clock, but its hands hadn’t moved

since the first time I’d looked, perpetually frozen at 3:34. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t remember anything at all. For me it’s like it was yesterday.” I shook my head, as baffled as everyone else by the question. “They looked for me?”

“Of course,” he offered, his green eyes earnest as they sought mine. “Everyone. Not just your parents or mine, but the entire school. The whole city, maybe the entire state. There were fliers and alerts, and private investigators. You were like one of those milk carton kids.”

“And Austin?”

His head bobbed. “Austin too. And Cat. They searched with everyone else.”

Cat. I hadn’t even thought of her, and my eyes stung all over again. My face crumpled as I clutched Tyler’s phone even tighter in my fist. I’d have to call her tonight. She’d want to know I was back. Of course she’d want to know.

He studied me, silent for a long, tense moment. “Can I tell you something strange?”

I half choked on a sob. “Stranger than me reappearing after all this time with no memory at all of the last five years?”

The corners of his mouth slid up the tiniest bit, and he cocked his head. “Yeah, sort of. It’s just that…” His eyes slid over every part of my face. “You don’t look any different.” His brow fell as he tried to explain. “What I mean is, Austin looks older. He looks twenty-two. But you… you still look… sixteen.”

 

My dad had always been dorky. And by dorky I guess I mean cheesy but sweet.

He was the hands-on kind of dad. When I was little, he was the dad who volunteered to go on class field trips, and coach my softball and basketball teams when all the other dads were too busy working. He worked, too, but his job as a computer programmer gave him the flexibility to telecommute, which meant he’d collected coach’s trophies until I went into middle school and his role was usurped by coaches who collected real paychecks for what they did.

But he’d never missed a single game or recital or parentteacher conference.

He was that dad.

So seeing him now, five years—and one missing daughter—later was like a punch to the gut.

It wasn’t just me he’d been missing all these years later… it was him.

He was no longer the same man I remembered from our fight over which college scholarship I should pursue. This man, this dad, was a bedraggled version of that one.

His eyes were what I noticed first. Where my mom’s had been tense and drawn, his were red rimmed and vacant. Hopeless.

Unlike with my mom, however, there was no awkward hesitation. He was running toward the house the moment he stumbled from the beat-up van he’d parked haphazardly at the curb, the door still dangling wide open. I met him on the lawn, barely registering the fact that I was pushing my way past my mother and her new son and husband, past Tyler and his mom and his father, who was planning to follow us to the hospital—something my mother was insisting on, that I be checked out.

Gary Wahl—Austin and Tyler’s dad—would take my official statement there. I was pretty sure that because I was twenty-one, and no longer a minor, I could make some of these decisions on my own, but I still had to answer questions about where I’d been, or at least about what I could recall… which was pretty much less than nothing.

But none of those things mattered now. I didn’t care that we had an audience or that my dad smelled of whiskey or gin or some noxious combination of the two and that he probably shouldn’t have been driving in the first place. He was here, and that was all that mattered.

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… ,” I mumbled at the same time he did.

His shirt smelled stale and warm—like him, but not. He was fatter and softer than I remembered, and my arms had to reach farther to find their way around him. The scruff of his chin against my forehead had gone past grizzled and grown softer, like a beard, even though it was patchy and, from what I’d seen of it before he’d grabbed me and clutched me to him, grayer than I thought he should be.

I felt a hand on the small of my back, an unwelcome interruption. “We should get going,” my mother said softly. “We can take my car.”

I glanced up at my dad, feeling like this might be too weird for him but not sure which of us I was more worried about, him or me. He just shrugged, as if he didn’t care about her or who drove, but his grip on me remained the same. Firm. Secure. Like an anchor.

We followed her, and I didn’t look back to see if her new family followed us.

 

The inside of her car was cramped. Or maybe it was just me, sitting in the passenger seat feeling all awkward with my parents, who were now eyeing each other warily, like they were complete strangers.

My mom sat beside me, fumbling with the ignition and her seat belt, and then some more with the seat belt, pretty much anything to avoid looking in the backseat, where my dad was straining to lean forward, trying to be as close as he could to me.

Finally, when we were away from Austin’s house and from the new husband and the house I’d grown up in, away from everything and everyone that should have been comforting and ordinary but made me feel as out of place as I did sitting here trapped between my parents, my mom broke the silence. “Can you remember anything, Kyra? Even the tiniest detail so we can try to figure this out?”

But it was my dad who answered as he slumped forward, his elbows on the center console and his fingers slipping through his greasy hair. “It was the light. How many times do I have to tell you? It was the goddamn light that took her.”

 

They argued the entire drive, and I just sat there, listening mostly, because I didn’t have anything to offer.

“Do you remember the light?” my dad kept asking.

I’d already answered his question. Of course I remembered it. How could I not? It was bright, blinding, brilliant. There was the light… then… nothing. Not a single memory.

“How many times do we have to go over this? How many times?!” My mom’s voice bordered on hysteria as she clutched the wheel, and I knew why. He was repeating himself—maybe he had been for years. Maybe this was the same argument she’d been hearing from him since the night I’d vanished.

I knew what she was thinking: how could he possibly blame a light for my disappearance? It was… well, it was insane to say the least.

But my dad didn’t see it that way. He was convinced. And not just convinced, but the way he talked about that light—all reverential and crazy eyed—reminded me of those guys who made tinfoil hats or pulled out all their fillings so the government couldn’t read their thoughts through radio frequencies.

That kind of convinced.

He didn’t actually say the word aliens, or even abduction. Instead, he talked about internet message boards and government cover-ups, and he’d even mentioned crop circles at one point, so it wasn’t exactly like he was being subtle either.

Aliens. My dad thought I’d been abducted by aliens. Awesome.

I guess it sort of explained the nonshowery look he had about him and the stench of booze he wore like cologne. And I was starting to also maybe-sort-of see why my mom had kicked him out.

But from where I sat, he was still my dad, and the sense of guilt that this was all somehow my fault was overwhelming. If only I hadn’t argued with him. If only I hadn’t forced him to stop the car. If only I hadn’t gotten out in the middle of Chuckanut Drive.

If only…

It was a terrible game to play. One he’d probably played a million times over.

I twisted around in my seat, and put my hand on his. It was like a role reversal of all the times he’d squeezed my hand, silently reassuring me with his touch that everything would be okay. I wanted to convey that too. To let him know I was here now. That I wasn’t leaving again.

His bloodshot eyes found mine and stabbed my heart. “They work like that, you know? They just take people.”

I tried to shake my head, to deny his words. I might not have my memory to rely on, but I was certain it hadn’t been little green men who’d come down in their flying saucer and whisked me away to probe me for five years, only to bring me back and deposit me behind a Dumpster at the Gas ’n’ Sip.

“Ben,” my mom said when I didn’t seem to be able to come up with anything useful to add. “Maybe you should go home and get some sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

My dad shook his head violently, vehemently. “Nuhuh. No way. I’m staying with Kyra.” His hand flipped over and squeezed mine. “No way I’m letting you outta my sight again,” he vowed.

 

The emergency room is never the kind of place you want to hang out. The last time I was here the whole team had shown up to check on our shortstop, Carrie Dreyer. She’d come barreling into second and hit the base weird. When she went down screaming and everyone gathered around her, we realized that her bone was sticking clean through her skin. It had been a compound fracture, and she’d needed two surgeries and a titanium rod, and couldn’t come back that season.

And now, because I’d disappeared, I had no idea if Carrie had ever played again.

The ER was slow when my mom and dad walked me inside, so we didn’t have to wait long. It was strange to fill out my own admission forms, or any forms for that matter, since I’d never done that before. But now that I was an adult—which was even stranger—my parents were no longer allowed to sign for me. They also weren’t allowed to make decisions on my behalf. The staff made a point of speaking to me instead of to them, and I had to give permission for them even to be in the room while I was examined.

It was as if I’d suddenly been emancipated, something I’d heard other kids at school talk about before, about how cool it would be to make their own decisions and not have to answer to their parents anymore.

Yet now that I was here, faced with that exact thing, I was terrified. I felt more and more like a stranger trapped inside my own body. Like a little girl playing dress-up in my mom’s high heels, waiting for someone to come along and send me back to the playground with the other kids.

I was glad when they stuck me in a private room, since it was hard enough to talk about all this with the people who were there to support me. I couldn’t imagine having to explain it in front of complete strangers. The big sliding glass door that led to the hallway outside made a whooshing sound whenever someone came in or out, and I jumped every time it opened.

Austin’s dad had been right behind us, so after a nurse had taken my vitals—my blood pressure, temperature, pulse—and noted them on my paper-thin chart, he tapped on the door. The glass whooshed as it slid open. “Mind if I come in?”

I waved him inside, while the nurse told me the doctor would be coming to check on me shortly.

Gary Wahl didn’t seem any different than he had the last time I’d seen him—a little grayer maybe, if I was looking for it, but other than that the same as he always had.

He eased onto the stool next to the bed; his eyes, so similar to Austin’s, found me. “I know you already said most of this, but we gotta make it official.” He tapped his pen on a notebook he was holding. “I’ll make it quick,” he added, smiling in a way that made me think of Austin, and my stomach lurched. But I swear, everything made me think of Austin right about then, and I couldn’t wait for all this to be over with so I could be alone to call him. I just wanted to hear his voice again.

“You said you don’t remember where you’ve been all this time, the entire five years. Is that right, Kyra?” His voice was so serious, so not-Austin’s-dad’s voice, that I almost— even though it wasn’t even kinda funny—giggled. In all the years I’d known him, I’d never heard him use his cop voice before.

I took a breath and bit the inside of my lip, nodding solemnly instead. “Yeah. Uh, yes, that’s right.”

He scribbled my response. “So why don’t we start at the beginning. Tell me where you were and what the last thing you remember was?”

The game, I thought. I remembered the championship game. I opened my mouth to tell him that. About how Austin had been there, and how he was going to meet us at the Pizza Palace. But my dad answered first. “The light. Tell him about the light.”

“Oh, Jesus H. Christ,” my mom snapped, pinching her eyes between her finger and thumb. And then she dropped her hand with a sigh and glared at my father. “Are you kidding me with this? You’re not really starting this now, are you?”

“The light?” Gary looked at each of them and then at me.

Just then I heard the whooshing sound of the door and I jerked; my attention landed on a woman in the doorway wearing blue scrubs under her white lab coat—the doctor.

But behind her, in the hallway beyond the door, I saw Tyler and realized that Gary hadn’t come alone. Tyler had come with him, and he was watching me through the glass, looking at me the way Austin should have been if he had been here the way he was supposed to be.

Like he was worried about me.

 

Things quieted down once I kicked my parents out of my room, something I could do now that I was a legitimate grown-up.

Before, I would’ve gotten crazy satisfaction from the ability to do things like that.

My parents went grudgingly, giving the doctor a chance to do her examination, which was pretty limited. She was nice, but there wasn’t much for her to do since I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me.

“Does this hurt?” Her small hands probed my belly as her eyes, which were sympathetic, met mine.

“Uh-uh.”

“What about this?” She poked harder, around my hips and into my lower abdomen.

“No.” I shook my head to emphasize my point. So far there was nothing unusual.

She looked back to where Gary was making some notes and pretending he couldn’t see or hear us, even though there was no way he couldn’t. I’d asked him to stay, not really wanting to be alone but not wanting my parents arguing over the top of me either.

“What about sexual assault?” She asked the questions as casually as if she were asking whether I preferred vanilla or strawberry ice cream. “Would you like me to examine you for signs you were assaulted?”

I wanted to crawl beneath the exam table and never come out. I didn’t bother to see if Gary was looking. I just shook my head again. “I’m fine.”

She nodded and made a quick note on my chart and then gave me her hand to help me sit up. “Well, I don’t see anything that jumps out at me. I’ll order up some blood work and send that off to the lab, but I don’t see any reason you can’t go home. Do you have any questions?”

A million. But again I shook my head. She offered to send in my parents, but I told her to wait. I wanted just a few more minutes of peace.

I hated this new version of my parents. I hated that they seemed to hate each other and that they couldn’t be in the same room for five minutes without freaking out on each other. I hated the blame I could feel oozing from my mom, and the weird stuff my dad was fixated on, and the way the air between them was overflowing with bitterness. But I hated even more the guilt inside me, simmering just below the surface like it was ready to boil over at any moment. Like this was all somehow my fault.

I clenched my fingers into fists and hid them beneath my legs, where no one could see them, all the while screaming silently inside my own head, where no one could hear my inner tantrum. I bet I could implode, disintegrate into ash on this very spot where I was perched in my hospital gown on the edge of the bed, and no one would even notice.

I was still answering, or rather not answering, Gary’s questions when a man came in carrying what looked like a blue tackle box filled with test tubes and gauze and white tape and needles.

“Kyra Agnew?” he asked, as if he had a habit of wandering into the wrong room. He gave Gary a strange look, and I wondered if everyone knew why I was here.

“Uh-huh.”

“Just need to get a little blood for the lab before you go.” He grinned and set his box down while he pulled on a pair of latex gloves. He checked the ID bracelet on my wrist against the name on my chart and started getting the tubes and a needle ready.

Gary pointed to the hallway. “We’re all done here. I’m just gonna have a word with your parents, and then we’ll see you back at the ranch.” He leaned down then, not a cop thing but an Austin’s-dad thing, and kissed me on the cheek. “It’s good to have you back, Kyr. Let us know if you need anything. Anything at all.”

My eyes stung. I didn’t want to cry, but I kinda was anyway. Even though I hadn’t had the chance to miss anyone, it was nice to know they’d missed me. “Thanks,” I croaked.

When we were alone, the lab guy examined the crook of my arm. “This’ll only take a second. Anyone ever told you you have great veins?”

I shrugged because I’d heard that before.

He seemed pretty young, but I had no idea how to judge that. By the tattoos that covered the parts of his arms I could see? The piercing in his eyebrow that he tried to cover up with one of those little round Band-Aids but was obvious anyway?

“How old are you?”

He grinned down at me. “Why? You worried I don’t know what I’m doing? I’m twenty-four, but I been doin’ this for two years at least. I’m the best around; you won’t feel a thing,” he bragged.

Twenty-four. Just three years older than I was now, and two years older than Austin and Cat.

My eyes roved over him as he wrapped a strip of rubber around my upper arm and tapped one of the blue vessels that bulged. “Don’t make a fist,” he told me when I started to curl my fingers. “It’s not necessary.”

He said some things that were probably meant to be distracting, but all I could think was that we could be friends if we wanted to, we were that close in age. He caught me staring, and I dropped my eyes to the needle as it plunged into my arm.

I’d never been squeamish—not even when it came to watching my own blood being drawn—so it was strange when I felt the prickling, the tingling around the needle.

“Is it supposed to feel like that?”

“Like what? Are you feeling a little light-headed or anything?”

I shook my head. “Just… it’s kinda… tingly.”

He popped the second vacuum-sealed vial into the syringe, and it rapidly began filling with blood. He glanced at me and then back to his task, releasing the rubber strip from my upper arm with a snap. “I’m sure it’s fine. And we’re… just… about… done.…” With those last words he set the vial back in his box of tricks and reached for a cotton swab, setting it on top of the needle in my arm as he tugged to pull it free.

But it didn’t budge.

He pulled again, harder this time, and still the needle stayed where it was, buried in my arm—deep in the vein.

The tingling sensation persisted, and now I felt a pressure too.

The guy frowned at it and then at me.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

“No… it’s, uh… fine.…”

We both knew that wasn’t true. The needle should have slid out easily. I’d had this done before, and I’d never seen a needle get stuck before, not ever.

Beneath the surface of my skin, my vein swelled, bulging outward. The lab guy’s eyes widened. He pulled one more time, this time yanking the thing like he was pulling on a nail stuck in a wall instead of a needle in the soft tissue of my arm.

I yelped, but more because he scared the crap out of me than because it hurt, although it did kind of hurt too. He staggered backward, a full step away from me, but he had the needle in his hand when he stood upright. He held it in his fist like he was declaring victory or something.

“Oh, shit!” he cursed when he looked down and noticed the blood that spurted from the wound on my arm. It was only a little bit, but his moment of triumph was over, and he attacked the red smear with the cotton ball. “Sorry about that. Not sure what happened.” He secured the cotton ball with a strip of tape. “It should stop bleeding in about fifteen minutes, and you might have a little bruise for a few days. Nothing to be alarmed about, pretty routine stuff.”

He had me confirm that my name was correct on my vials of blood and then cleaned and packed up his gear, and the doors whooshed closed behind him.

By the time I gave my parents the signal that they were out of “time-out” and could come back inside my room, the nurse had returned with my discharge orders. And just like my sketchy memory, there was nothing conclusive about my visit to the hospital. Even the discharge orders were vague. They included scheduling a follow-up appointment with my family doctor to discuss any unusual lab results that might come back, making an appointment with the dentist to have my chipped tooth looked at, a list of phone numbers for local counselors and support groups—in case I wanted to discuss things, which right now sounded like the worst idea ever since I didn’t even know what “things” I would discuss— and getting plenty of rest. That last recommendation was the only idea I could really get behind.

I had a moment of panic, though, when we were getting ready to go and I was changing back into my filthy uniform—the same one I’d vanished in—and I suddenly realized I had no place to go. That I belonged nowhere.

I didn’t have a home anymore, not really, because the place I remembered wasn’t really mine anymore; it was just the house I’d grown up in. My home—the house I’d lived in just yesterday, in my mind—was gone now. My parents were no longer together—they’d moved on—and there was a new family living in that house: my mom and her husband and their son.

I was a stranger to that life.

The sensation of being unwelcome overwhelmed me even as my dad’s hand closed over mine, and the decision was made for me. “I’ll stay at your mom’s tonight, with you.” And before she could argue or say anything to the contrary, he faced her with his bloodshot eyes. “I’ll sleep in the guest room.”

“Ben,” my mom interjected, sounding a million times softer than she had when he’d mentioned the light. “Kyra’ll be in the guest room.”

I guess my bedroom had been part of that whole “getting on with their lives” thing, like getting rid of my dad.

“Fine,” my dad insisted, his grip tightening. “I’ll sleep on the couch. I already told you; I’m not letting her out of my sight again.” He looked down at me, and for a moment my hurt feelings evaporated. “I’m so, so, so glad you’re back, Supernova,” he told me on his boozy breath.

 


The Taking © Kimberly Derting

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