Hourglass (Hourglass #1) - Chapter 66
I almost laughed when I realized the needle for the parking meter at the curb was spinning around like a rotary fan set on high. “I missed you, too. But my reprieve is only for two hours.”
“I’ll take every second of it I can get.” He sat up and wrapped me in his arms, cradling my head against his shoulder. “I broke at least ten traffic laws on the way over.”
“I can’t stop worrying about what’s going on, how everyone is dealing with the fallout. Any word on Cat or Jack?” Saying his name made my chest hurt.
“No. Dune hacked into their e-mails and bank statements. Jack made a huge cash withdrawal in New York City. He purchased two plane tickets to Heathrow with a credit card, but the trail went cold after that. Liam has feelers out, but they haven’t been seen.”
Jack and Cat, somewhere in the wind. The knowledge hit my subconscious and started brewing up new nightmares.
“What about the Ballards?”
“Liam only comes out of his office to spend time with Kaleb. And to sit with Grace.” A wrinkle formed between his eyebrows.
I reached up to smooth it away. “No change?”
He shook his head. “We all hoped bringing her home—letting her hear Liam’s voice—would change things. I don’t know how he’s doing it. I can’t imagine how I would deal if it was you. If that isn’t enough for him to worry about, it seems the Hourglass is going to be held responsible for Jack and Cat’s actions.”
“The infamous powers that be.”
“Cat mentioned those.” I put my arms on top of his and tucked them more firmly around me. “But why? None of that was Liam’s fault. He wasn’t even alive.”
“I don’t know all the details, but things are pretty bad.” Michael held me tighter. “Liam looks like he hasn’t slept since the night we rescued him, and Kaleb is actually behaving.”
“How is Kaleb?” It felt strange to ask, but I wanted to know. Needed to know.
“He’s having a hard time. Doesn’t understand why he couldn’t feel what Cat and Jack were up to.”
I tilted my chin to look up at him. “How’s Ava?”
“Managing. Dune found e-mails and texts between Jack and Cat that confirmed what Liam suspected. They used Ava, in terrible ways, the worst of which was forcing her to do things against her will with lies and threats, and then taking the memory of them.” Michael’s mouth straightened into a thin, angry line. “She had no idea she was the one who blew up the lab.”
My stomach turned. I wondered what Ava’s dreams looked like.
“What about you, Em?” he asked, reaching up to stroke my cheek with the back of his hand. “We didn’t get a two-hour pass to talk about everyone else. Dru told me you aren’t sleeping. Why?”
“Well.” I stared at the dashboard and reminded myself that I wanted to talk to him about what was happening. “When I sleep, I dream.”
“About all the things he showed me.” Tortured me with. “I think my realities are bleeding into each other, Michael. Half the time I don’t know which one is real.”
“Give me details.”
“Sometimes I dream about things that I’m sure happened, but that I don’t exactly remember. They’re so real—I can smell things. Feel them. They have to be from the reality he showed me.” As if he left traces of them to spread like slow poison.
“Do the memories ever come back when you’re awake?”
“Good.” Michael nodded, but the worry in his eyes didn’t fade.
“Except for one—from a recurring nightmare. It’s about Jack, and in it he whispers over and over that … that I owe him.”
“You don’t owe him anything.”
“Don’t I?” I pushed away from him and sat up. “As sick and wrong as Jack is, if he hadn’t interfered in my life, I wouldn’t have a life.”
“What if he can find another way to manipulate our circumstances? He’s got Liam’s files—what if he finds a traveler who has no idea what he or she can do? Someone he and Cat can manipulate.” I tried to control my anxiety, but now that I was voicing all the things that had haunted me silently, I couldn’t stop. “We don’t know what he’s done to the continuum. We don’t know what he’s changed, or who he’s changed. We’re all balloons balanced on the point of a needle. There will be consequences for what I did—giving him the wrong formula. He’ll be back.”
“You saw what kind of shape he was in physically. He could be dead by now,” Michael argued. “He can’t hurt you anymore.”
“You know that’s not true. He’s already done so much damage. Ava, Grace …” I finally confessed the thing that had been pressing down on me. “Michael, what if he finds a way to give those terrible memories back to me—and not just in my dreams—and then doesn’t take them away?”
“And you … us. I know you’d stay with someone you were committed to no matter what the cost. Even if that person was—”
I stopped before the word came out.
Michael’s face, so full of compassion, hardened. “Why won’t you say it?”
“You don’t like it when I refer to myself as crazy.” I closed my eyes.
“Because you aren’t crazy. After everything you’ve learned about yourself, I can’t believe you almost said that.”
I slumped back against the passenger-side door. “But you don’t know what it was like, even after Jack changed my true reality into one that was slightly better. How bad things were … how sick I was. What if I end up with memories of both?”
“It wouldn’t change how I feel. Damn it, look at me.” He wrapped his hands around my upper arms and pulled me toward him. My eyes flew open. “I love you—broken in pieces, whole, however. No matter what the future brings. No matter what was in the past.”
“I’m scared. I don’t want to be, but I am.”
“Is it? Aren’t I supposed to be brave, fearless? Isn’t that what the world expects?” I didn’t feel like a superhero or the star of an action movie. I felt out of balance and terrified.
“Screw what the world expects. Think about all the things you’ve faced. You cracked, but you didn’t break. You’re still standing. I’d call that fearless. You’ve already conquered so much.”
“That all depends on which reality you’re referencing. The original or the Jack Landers version?” I asked wryly. “Because there’s a difference that involves lucidity and basic human functioning.”
“Pick one.” Michael dropped his forehead to touch mine and lowered his voice. “No matter what your reality looks like, you’re the girl I’m in love with today, and the same girl I’ll be in love with tomorrow and all the days after that. Not just because of who you are, but because of who you were.”
The tears I’d been holding back finally escaped.