Extra Content for an Unbreakable Summer
Contents Unbreakable: An Alternate Beginning When She Found Me Operation Monument Unbreakable: An Alternate Ending
“Unbreakable: An Alternate Beginning” Copyright © 2013 by Elizabeth Norris “When She Found Me” Copyright © 2013 by Elizabeth Norris “Operation Monument” Copyright © 2013 by Elizabeth Norris “Unbreakable: An Alternate Ending” Copyright © 2013 by Elizabeth Norris All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This booklet and the content herein was created for promotional purposes only, not to be reproduced or sold under any circumstances.
An Alternate Beginning
By Elizabeth Norris
Commentary from Elizabeth:
This wasn’t the first beginning to Unbreakable, but it was the one I wrote during my first round of edits. Both my editor and I wanted to show Janelle and Cecily together—show what they’d gone through in the months since the events at the close of Unraveling, as well as the evolution of their friendship. It ended up being cut in a later round of edits and replaced with a different scene. My editor said that she loved this scene, but she was also worried it was taking too long to get into the real action of the story. Unbreakable in its first incarnation was over 115,000 words, which is 13,000 words longer than Unraveling, and I definitely wanted to keep the page count down, so this scene had to go.
07:02:29:37 The golden sky, streaked with shades of pink and purple, reflects off the rippling ocean waves, suggesting today is going to be nothing short of magical. The air is cool with slivers of warmth hitting my skin when I move into a direct path of sunlight. The wind brushes through my hair, and I can taste the salt from the ocean. It’s the kind of day that will stick in my memory for years to come, a day I’ll look back on and remember with a secret smile and a flush of happiness. Oh wait. That’s just Cecily trying to brainwash me with her eternal positive thinking. It’s sunrise and I’m awake, standing on the edge of a precarious half-destroyed pier with two antique fishing rods and no bait, all but waiting for one heavy gust of wind to topple the pier and throw me into the fifty-degree salt water. “What is your malfunction?” I ask. Cecily looks up at me, a small smile on her face. With the sun hitting her hair at this angle, she looks like she’s got some kind of halo. “This is the bait,” she says, a ripped piece of gold tissue paper in her hand. “This is never going to work,” I say, but I sit down next to her and grab a sparkly piece of paper and pierce it with my own fishing hook anyway. “It’s shiny,” she says, as if glitter and sparkles solve everything. The real problem here is that we don’t know what we’re
doing. Neither one of us has ever really done this, unless you count the one time last summer when I went out on a boat with my sort-of boyfriend and his friends under the guise that we were going fishing—in reality, all we did was drink a few beers and enjoy the sun. Oh, and we’re too close to the coast. I don’t know if anyone has ever caught a fish from Scripps Pier, like I said when Cecily asked me—I mean forced me—to come along with her. I’m pretty sure that the two of us are going to head home empty-handed. “Cast your line,” Cecily says excitedly, her legs dangling over the end of the pier. I give her a sideways glance. “You have any instructions for how I’m supposed to do that?” Cecily laughs. “I don’t know. By cast, I really mean just throw it out there.” “I see we’re just relying on what we’ve seen on television.” She shrugs, undeterred by my clear lack of faith in our abilities. I cast my line in some hideous imitation of what I’m imagining it should look like, and it barely reaches the water. Cecily claps her fishing pole against her hand and laughs, but I just roll my eyes. “I can’t believe you got me out of bed early for this.” We both know I’m lying. Because as ridiculous as this excursion might be, if we did manage to catch even one fish, it would be worth it. After the longest twenty minutes of my life stretch by,
Cecily feels something. Her eyes are wide, her pale skin flushed, and she looks at me, mouth ajar, pointing to her line like the fish might hear her and escape. “Reel it in!” I say, unable to keep the anxious smile from my lips. She nods and starts rapidly turning the wheel. The line stretches taut and the pole bends a little under the weight of whatever is on the other end. “Here.” I lean over, steadying the pole so she can reel faster. I can tell as soon as the line breaks the surface of the water that we haven’t caught a fish. Whatever’s on the line looks like a dark blob, tangled with a few lines of seaweed. At least it’s not some kind of old boot. A cliché this early in the morning might do me in. As she pulls it up, I stand and grab the blob. It’s wet and soft under my hands, and once I manage to free it from the hook and pull the seaweed off, I hold it up. “Congratulations, Cee. You’re the owner of a not-so-brand-new water-logged hoodie.” She frowns. “It looks too big for me.” It does. It’s black, or maybe navy blue, and it’s clearly made and cut for a guy. If anything it looks like something Ben would wear. Just with that thought, I can almost see him in it, the hood pulled up casting a shadow over his already obscured eyes, a few loose wavy strands of his hair peeking through. I throw the hoodie at Cecily. She’s not expecting it so it hits her in the face with a wet
plop. She jumps up, sputtering salt water. “Thanks for that,” she says. “And by thanks I really mean you’re a bitch.” My throat is thick with thoughts of Ben, and I don’t trust myself to say anything. Instead, I salute her. We both already know I’m a bitch. Cecily turns, looking out into the ocean. The wind pulls at her loose strands of white blond hair and ruffles her long-sleeve t-shirt. She clutches the hoodie close to her chest, and I don’t point out that she’s getting the front of her clothes all wet, because her blue eyes are glassy, and for once, she looks like she’s close to breaking under all of the stress that’s been piled on her shoulders the last few weeks. It’s only natural. Even Cecily can only relegate negative energy to the back of her mind and channel it into positive thoughts and ideas for so long. But she surprises me, because suddenly she closes her eyes and lets loose a scream. It’s wordless at first, like she’s letting out a meaningless string of sound, but then she pauses for a breath, and screams as loud as I’ve ever heard her, “I WANT A FISH!” When she looks over at me, I’m struck a little speechless— which doesn’t happen all that often. “This is what I do to relieve stress,” she says quietly. “You scream?” She nods, a smile pulling at her lips. “At who?” She shrugs. “Whoever’s out there. Just the world I guess.” She looks back out at the ocean and takes a deep breath, before letting out another long scream. This time she’s just yelling
“FISH,” but it seems to go on longer than anyone should ever have to yell. When she’s finished, I say, “I think you might need therapy,” which makes us both smile, because let’s face it, we all need therapy at this point—even the therapists. “This is good therapy,” Cecily insists. “You should try it.” “No thanks. I’d prefer not to lose my voice.” She throws the hoodie at me. I’m a better catch, but it still manages to fling water against my shirt. “Look out there,” Cecily says, “and think about everything you’ve lost, everything that’s changed, and then just close your eyes and let it all out.” In case I needed another demonstration, she turns back to the ocean, takes a deep breath, lets her arms out wide, and closes her eyes. When she screams this time, it is wordless, but somehow I don’t need words to know what she’s trying to say. I feel it. Everything she’s lost—Alex, school, friends, cheerleading, her dreams, any semblance of a normal life—I feel her letting go of it all through her voice. The sorrow of it seems to reverberate in my bones. Because I’ve been carrying it around with me too.
07:01:58:25 I look out over the waves. The sun is higher in the sky now and breaking through the marine layer, and its orange glow reflects off the water. Closing my eyes, I turn my face into the light and feel the warmth against my skin. Even though I don’t want to, I let myself remember. It’s been a hundred and forty days since I died. It was just past five, the end of my last shift of the summer, and I had two flat tires and BITCH written across my windshield in neon pink car paint. The next thing I knew, an old pickup truck was flying at me, and the warmth of the engine, the smell of locking brakes, and someone shouting my name were the last things I remembered. It’s been a hundred and forty days since my whole world changed. Because I didn’t stay dead. Ben Michaels healed me and brought me back, and because of him I woke up from a living coma and realized I had a second chance. I don’t know how it happened, but with his dark, deep-set eyes, his floppy brown hair, his hoodie and Chuck Taylors, and his sweet half smile, Ben Michaels changed my class schedule, argued with me in English, took me to Sunset Cliffs, and made me love him. And then he left. I push out the breath I’ve been holding. It comes out shaky, and emotion stings my eyes. It’s been a hundred and thirty three days since my dad died. Because he didn’t know what kind of case he’d stumbled upon.
And it’s been a hundred and twenty days since I solved his murder, saved the world, lost my best friend, and watched Ben walk through a portal and leave this world. And now the whole world has changed—for everyone. Clutching the random hoodie against my chest, I let it all out. My dad is still dead. There won’t be any more X-Files marathons or bad SyFy movies. Alex is still dead—his blood still stains the ground just outside Park Village, and he’s never going to drag me to another terrible action movie with no plot. He’ll never have the chance to defy his mother and go to West Point instead of Stanford. He’s never going to follow his dreams. For that matter, neither am I. Because even though I don’t know what my dreams are, things like college and traveling the world are out. And Ben still hasn’t come back. I suck in a breath and ignore the warm tears that streak down my cheeks. I just think of my dad, Alex, and Ben—how much I miss them and how it isn’t fair that they’ve left me here to carry this burden alone. When I let my breath out, it comes in the form of a scream. Because it isn’t fair. I saved the world but lost so much of what I loved about it. I scream. Until my breath is gone, my throat is scratchy, and my voice is almost lost. It’s wordless and it’s loud, but Cecily is right. Somehow in that moment, I almost feel free.
07:00:45:13 On our way home, with Cecily at the wheel, we fall into silence. The kind that says it’s okay that we failed because we accomplished something else—something better. Maybe this day was a little magical after all. As she drives, I lean my forehead against the window and close my eyes so I don’t have to see the rest of the world go by. “Don’t do that!” Cecily says, snapping her fingers at me. “And by that, I mean that weird sad thing where you go all quiet and depressed.” “I thought you knew I was lame like that,” I say, but I pull my head back and sit up straight. She’s bossy, but right. Cecily smiles. “I know you better than you think, J.” “Did you know cheerleading is sort of a dead sport?” I ask. “I’m not sure you need to stay so peppy.” She gasps and pretends to be offended, but I know she’s not. We both had a first class ticket to seeing the world change. Well, maybe it was just me who had the first class ticket, but Cecily has seen the after-effects up close and personal, even if she doesn’t know the actual cause. I’m about to say something else, but ahead there’s a house that’s half-standing with a sunken roof, and in front of it a few people are milling around looking at an assortment of stuff laid out on the dead grass. Cecily sees it too. “Oh, a yard sale! I wonder if they’ll have any popcorn.” I doubt they will, but I don’t say that. Cecily is currently
obsessed with all the popcorn left in the world, and nothing I say will deter her. Plus, we would stop anyway. These yard sales are for trades. People need something—usually medicine or food—and they’re willing to give up other material possessions in order to get it. Of course, not many people have medicine or food to spare. But we do. There’s a case of water and an economy-sized bottle of Aspirin in the back of the truck. I can’t give it all away, but I can give these people something. “It looks like they have books,” Cecily adds, as we crawl to a stop. “Maybe they’ll have something for Jared.” He needs a new book. We can only reread Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix so many times. As he’s pointed out, it’s the middle of the story. I get out of the truck. A man wearing broken glasses approaches us, but I let Cecily talk to him. She’s the friendly one after all. There are some old clothes and blankets off to the side, and then a row of DVDs. I look at them just in case there’s something X-Files. We lost our collector’s edition box set when our house collapsed. Electricity is too spotty still to play DVDs, but once it comes back, my brother will miss them. The collection is mostly indie movies so I head for the books. It’s a lot of literary stuff, a lot of classics, and not necessarily the good stuff in my opinion. I know I should want to preserve Moby Dick or Great Expectations, but I just can’t make myself do it. Then I see a flash of a red and black book cover. I reach for it, and turn straight into some random guy. He
drops all of the books in his hands, and even though it wasn't really my fault, I'm about to apologize. Only the words get stuck in my throat. “Sorry about that. The danger of picking up too many mass markets." He smiles and everything about him is the same. The wavy brown hair, the deep-set dark eyes, the self-conscious half smile. I close my eyes and wonder if I’m imagining this, but when I open them again, he’s still there. It’s like I’ve conjured him out of thin air. "Ben?" I whisper.
When She Found Me
An Unbreakable Short Story from Ben’s Perspective
By Elizabeth Norris
Commentary from Elizabeth:
This excerpt takes place just past the halfway point in Unbreakable (from 02:22:39:00). I decided to write When She Found Me from Ben’s point of view because during this scene in Unbreakable, he’s relatively silent—something that Janelle, for one, didn’t understand. I wanted to have a moment where I could show readers what was going through his mind.
1 Regret is a powerful thing. It starts as a flicker. Something harmless that passes through your mind. If you’re lucky, that’s all it is. Not me. It grew: starting as a stiffness in between my shoulders, the involuntary clenching of my jaw, a pang deep within my chest. It spread: hardening in the pit of my stomach, flooding through my whole body, stretching out to my fingertips and cramping my toes. At this point I can’t be still. Even when I'm not pacing, my fingers shake. She doesn't remember me. Janelle: it's been days. Her injuries are healing finally, but her memory still hasn't come back. She must have some kind of brain damage. It makes sense. Trauma to the head is the worst kind of injury, and I read somewhere that it can cause memory loss, the kind that might never come back. I rescued her, but I was too late. That's not what I regret, though. It's that I ever got involved with her at all. Everything good that we shared: every touch, smile, look. Every moment that she was happy with me, it's like they've all been erased. We could start over, fill the holes in her memory with new ones, but that isn't the only thing she's lost. She's different. She doesn't smile or laugh
when I make a bad joke. She doesn't have a snappy comeback or roll her eyes when I say something ridiculous. She doesn't want to talk about her brother or her dad, and I'm pretty sure she doesn't care when I talk about mine. She isn't interested in going home and she won't even let me talk about any kind of plan to right the wrongs I've committed. It's like she's broken, and no matter what I do or say, I can't seem to put her back together again. The worst is late at night. When she thinks I'm sleeping, she lies on her cot and cries. They're silent tears. I only know because I can hear the hitching in her breaths and the way she sniffs every few minutes. I listen to her sorrow and it's like I’m being torn in two. I’m helpless. There’s nothing I can do or say to fix this, and the frustration of that burns in my chest. The girl I love isn’t the same anymore. It's enough to break a guy's heart. Because she’s lost the will to live and no matter what I do, I don't seem able to give it back to her.
2 “J?” I say, keeping my voice low when I enter her room. She doesn’t move at first and I’m not sure if she’s sleeping or if she just wants to be left alone. Either way, I don’t know what my response should be. Her leg shifts and I figure she’s awake. “You really need to eat something.” I’ve never been good with this. Eli was depressed when we first fell through the portal. He missed his family. He was my best friend and he was devastated. I didn’t know what to do. Now it’s Janelle, and I still don’t know how to react. With Eli, I promised him we would get back and I took action. I gave him something to do. It didn’t exactly fix him, but it kept him from getting worse. As I come up beside her, Janelle pushes herself up. Sitting on the edge of the bed, I gesture to the soup. “No chicken noodle this time.” She turns her eyes on me, and something in her expression looks familiar. There’s hope in it, and it’s like something is threatening to crack open inside me. “You said tomato is your favorite so I managed to get some for you.” I don’t tell her how. If she does remember me and everything we’ve been through, she won’t want to know that I’m opening
portals and traveling through them despite the instability. I move to feed her the soup but she shakes her head. “I can do it.” Her voice is scratchy and quiet. Even that doesn’t sound the same. Or it does, because it’s her voice, but it’s too sad and timid and lonely, even. I hand her the soup. “It’s going to be okay,” I tell her as she eats. She doesn’t respond. I don’t know if it’s because she can tell I don’t believe what I’m saying or if it’s something else entirely. It’s hard to know how to talk to her now that she’s so silent. “I have a plan,” I say. It’s the basic outline of a plan at best, but that’s never stopped me before. “I’m going to get you home to your family, Janelle.” She looks at me. Those brown eyes have lost the fierceness that they’ve held for as long as I’ve known her. “I promise,” I tell her. She nods and puts the bowl of soup aside. She’s only had a few bites. “Ben. Tell me something about us?” I was going to tell her she should eat more, but maybe telling her about us will help her remember. “What do you want to know?”
She shrugs. “One of your favorite memories?” I nod and take a second to think. There are so many memories of her that I held onto when we were apart. The feel of her lips, the taste of her skin, the smell of her hair. Somehow I doubt telling her about that night I came to her house in the rain is the right memory. I was covered in Eli’s blood, for one thing, and the warmth of her skin as she pulled me into her drove me wild. There should be a less stalker-ish memory in there somewhere. Something more normal that isn’t going to scare her. “Our first date.” A smile comes over my face as I think about it. She looked beautiful. Her hair was down, she was just in jeans and a t-shirt. “Where did we go?” “Sunset Cliffs.” I lean back slightly, and for a second I could swear that I can almost smell the ocean from that day. “I was so nervous. I think I told you that later, but I actually pulled into your neighborhood twenty minutes early and then drove around the block almost eighty times because of it.” Her lips curve upward the slightest amount and I feel warm all over. “I knew you loved Roberto’s. Everyone with ears knew that was your favorite restaurant,” I add. “I remembered how somebody, I think your dad, brought you a carne asada burrito from there
on your birthday every year so I drove there first, got us burritos and guacamole and chips because that’s my favorite.” “Isn’t that everyone’s favorite?” she says. She’s teasing me. I can’t hide the way that makes me feel. My smile is practically big enough to break my face. “Then after driving around your block forever, I pulled into your driveway. I was ready to come up to the door and introduce myself to your dad, but you came out before I had the chance.” I want to laugh, thinking back to that day. “You sort of ruined my surprise. I had flowers for you, but I didn’t have a chance to grab them from the backseat because you were so ready.” “I must have been excited,” she says. I want her to know. I wish she could tell me that she was excited. Not just because I didn’t know that, but because I want her to slip, to get some sliver of memory back before she realizes it. That’s going to be the only way to save her. “It’s okay, the flowers would have been overkill anyway.” “Flowers are never overkill,” she says. It’s not what I would have expected from her, but I don’t care. Mentally I make a note that the next time I portal out for something, I will come back with flowers in hand. “I almost chickened out when you first got in
the car and just took you to a movie, but I knew how much you loved the beach and there was so much more that I wanted to know about you, and so much I wanted you to know about me, so I thought watching the sun go down over the water at Sunset Cliffs was perfect.” It was. I wait for her to say it, but she doesn’t. “This Linkin Park song was playing when you got in the car,” I say. I swear I’ve read somewhere that sound can sometimes trigger memories. “I was nervous and I didn’t know exactly what to say, but I looked at you and you smiled so I turned it up and sang while we drove.” She doesn’t ask me to sing it now, but I start anyway. I’m not a good singer and we don’t have the wind rolling through the windows or the radio to help keep from going too off-key. I don’t care though. If there’s a chance, no matter how small, that this will help, I’m not going to waste time feeling awkward about it. Janelle watches me, her lips pressed into a small tight smile, and I try to do whatever I can to make it bigger. I even imitate the guitar riffs and the piano melody when there’s nothing to sing. I’m fumbling my way through the second verse when it happens. I don’t know the words so I’m making them up, looking forward to just breaking into the chorus, when the door hurls open and something crashes through it.
3 I don’t have time to be alarmed or think that IA has somehow found us. I don’t have time to wonder if Eli has managed to get away and find me here like we’d planned before everything went so wrong. I just turn to the sound and see her. The world stops. That’s the only way I know how to explain it. My mind stops working. Everything halts. I stop breathing. My heart doesn’t beat. The blood stops moving through my veins. The room almost seems to pulse and then blur out, and all I can see is what’s in front of me. Janelle. Her dark hair is piled on top of her head. Her face is red. She’s wearing something around the bottom of her face. It covers her nose and mouth. Reaching up, she pulls it down, revealing cracked lips. “Ben,” she breathes, and I can hear the smile in her voice. The sound kickstarts my heart again and life comes rushing back to me, roaring through my ears. Blood rushes to my head, and the rest of my body goes cold. I’m dizzy with the sensation of it. Janelle. I say her name. It just slips off my lips, and some invisible weight leaves my body. It’s her. Her
voice, her smile. Even the way she stands. I can see it in her eyes. Only, it can’t be her because … I look down at the bed, where Janelle lies back against the pillows. I don’t know what I expected, but she’s still here. I don’t know how to make sense of it. It’s like my brain has just exploded or my life has just stopped its forward momentum. I can’t hear or think or even exhale. I don't know if anyone says anything. There's white noise in my ears, getting louder as I try to make sense of what I'm seeing. Somehow a question seems to surface. I don’t think it, the way I normally would. It’s like it scrolls in front of me, in bright neon flashing letters. What have you done? “I never would have believed this shit.” In the back of my brain, which must still exist, something recognizes that the voice sounds like Eli, but I can’t look. I don’t know how to move anymore. I’m not sure what the Janelle on the hospital bed sees on my face, I’m not sure I have a face anymore, but she reaches towards me and puts her hand on my arm. It’s a light touch, meant to be comforting I think, and it’s one of the first times she’s actually made the effort to touch me. I should relish in it, but right now it feels all wrong. Because I’m realizing Janelle, this one, doesn’t
remember me because we’ve never met.
4 Time unfreezes and the ability to think rushes back to me. I jump to my feet and step back from the bed. Turning around, I realize Janelle, the girl I love, who was right here, is gone now. That was her, though. She knew me. More than that, I knew her. The way she stood, the expression on her face, the cadence of her voice: that was the girl I fell in love with four months ago. All those little things that I couldn't quite put into words before, that girl had them. This one doesn't. I look down at the girl in this bed, the one I rescued and brought here. She is Janelle, she's just not mine.
5 I try to go after her. Eli is in the doorway, staring at the bed. He says something to me, but steps aside, and I move past him. We’ve been best friends for as long as I can remember. He’s still going to be here later, no matter how long it takes Janelle to understand. He’ll forgive me if I don’t ask him what he’s doing here or how he got out. As I push through the door, though, I almost walk into someone else. Interverse Agent Taylor Barclay. I should be worried that IA is here, but I don’t care. My only thought is that he has something to do with this, that he’s been with her. For how long? He’s been taking care of her when that should have been me, while I was here with the wrong girl. “Ben,” he says, holding a hand up and stepping into my path. “I have to go after her,” I say, trying to move around him. He shakes his head. “You’re going to need to give her a minute.” I ignore him, but again, he steps into my way. “Trust me,” he says. His hands grip my arms, holding me in place. “I know her, and you bursting in there to explain isn’t going to help.”
Something about that burns my stomach and I push his hands off me. He pushes me this time, and Eli is at my back, only he’s pulling me back. “Stop,” Agent Barclay says. “Look IA is after us. Her too. If we can’t work together we’re all going to die. The last thing she needs right now is to be too distraught to be on her game.” “I just have to explain,” I say. “Explain what?” he says. I don’t respond. I don’t actually know what my explanation is. How do I tell her that I didn’t know it wasn’t her? “That you thought it was her. That you saved her and brought her here and took care of her, because you thought it was her? She knows that, but you need to give her the chance to let it get through her emotions.” I shake my head. “I need to—” “No,” he says. “Stay here, figure out what you’re going to say to her, and give me a chance to get her to pull herself back together.” I don’t want to stay here while he goes to her. It should be me. I should be the one by her side, the one to make her feel better, but something about what he says makes me feel sick to my stomach. What am I going to tell her? If he’s here, if he’s right about IA looking for us, for her, we could only have days left.
I relax, letting myself exhale. Then I nod. Eli’s presence at my back slides away, and Agent Barclay turns his back to me. As he walks away, I realize how stupid I've been. I should have known. Even if they looked the same, there were all sorts of alarm bells going off in my mind and in my heart telling me there was something about this girl, something that suggested she wasn't the same as the one I loved. I was just too stupid to put it all together. “Don’t worry, dude,” Eli says. “I’ve already forgiven you for leaving me in that shit prison. She’ll get over this in no time.” I look at Eli. "I should have known." He stares at me for a long time before giving me a shrug. It's half-hearted, even for him. I nod, and pull in a deep breath. "I'll make it up to her, somehow." "You will," he says, even though I wasn't really talking to him. He’s right, though. I will. Because I have to.
An Unbreakable Short Story from Barclay’s Perspective
By Elizabeth Norris
Commentary from Elizabeth:
After the release of my digital novella, Undone, the lovely Jaime Arnold of TwoChicksonBooks.com told me she wanted a scene from Barclay’s point of view. I told her I’d have to see what I could do, but on the inside I couldn’t think of a good story for him to tell. Then a few weeks later, I suddenly knew exactly what I would write. Barclay is a character with a unique perspective. Unlike Janelle—or anyone else—he comes from a world where he grew up believing in interverse travel. He understands the multiverse and how it works. He’s also in charge, and he’s the kind of guy who knows more than he lets on. All of this meant it would be fun to show his perspective, because he could add so much depth and commentary. As a result, these are his notes, leading up to his involvement in Unbreakable. They’re what Janelle would jokingly call his diary.
Date: 1/12/2013 Time: 20:53 GMT -5 Status: Mission Aborted Eric is dead. Operation Pale Sparrow is a bust. I was right when I told him that the most innocent sounding missions are always the worst. He didn’t believe me. Just laughed it off. Now he’s dead. It was supposed to be a case of a missing girl. At worst a dead girl, since missing girls can quite typically end up that way. It all started with an ex-pat: Jonah Watkins was exiled fifteen years ago. He was former government, a guy trying to climb the ranks of New Prima. He was also an idiot. Damn guy got caught trying to bring in goods from other worlds without paying the tax, something we take very seriously. He faced up to 15 years. He was a soft guy so he chose exile instead. We moved his whole family to Earth 01456. It was primitive but not unlivable—better than he deserved. He’s still got family here in Prima though, and occasionally they’d apply for the right Visa to go visit. Two weeks ago his brother came back from a visit early and reported Jonah’s fourteen-year-old daughter was missing. Tracey Linn Watkins. Pale skin, fair hair, wide eyes, long face.
Wouldn’t normally be a case for IA but the circumstances were weird. There were signs of a struggle, but no trace of where she could have gone. No broken locks, no tire tracks, alarm still armed. No one outside the house saw anything. It was like she just blipped out of existence. Add to that the fact that their house was in the middle of a big soft spot and we knew something could be up. It wasn’t exactly the kind of case Eric and I were used to, but Jonah’s brother—Trip Watkins—he’s a big shot, and he wanted the best on this case. That’s how Pale Sparrow was born. We were going to find Tracey Linn Watkins and bring her back. Eric and I are the best. Or we were. Now it’s just me. Sweet little Tracey and the guy who nabbed her weren’t supposed to be hard to find. Just a few tests to judge the residue in the atmosphere from the portal that had been opened and follow its resonance to wherever it’d lead. The soft spot made it difficult, and so did the fact that it’d happened months before it’d been brought to us, but we pumped Jonah for some leads and started checking the files for similar cases. That’s where things went belly up. The more we looked into it, the more we started to see connections. Other people missing. Similar cases, unsolved, and not just from Earth 01456, but from all over. It became clear this was bigger than just Tracey, the
pale sparrow. Eric requested a team to further investigate and wrote up the report. He always did. It’s not the way most guys work with their partners. Some of them alternate depending on the case, and others always pass it off to the one without the seniority, but Eric was good at the paperwork, and that isn’t my forte. He wasn’t too proud to do it because he knew he’d get it done faster. That’s why we got along. Then the Director himself called us in. We met in the conference room on the top floor of the building, and the heads of all the major departments were there. Our instincts were right—this wasn’t just a missing persons case, but an interversial human trafficking ring. The Director was making it top priority and putting just about everyone on it. Everyone except us. He took us off because he said they had a suspect: Ben Michaels. I didn’t believe it. Neither did Eric. We said so and the Director dismissed us. He had intel, he said, and we were too close to the case. “I’ll talk to him.” That’s what Eric said. I ranted in the elevator, swore up a storm, even kicked the door. He just put a hand on my shoulder, said those words, and an understanding passed between us. Because Eric was a valued guy. People listened to him. I thought he’d fix it.
Those were the last words he said to me. This morning I woke up around noon, which is status quo for me on Saturdays. I had a message calling me into the Director’s office. When I got there, he personally delivered the news. “Eric Brandt died this morning.” I didn’t believe him at first. I laughed. “He drowned in his bathtub. It’s a terrible accident.” He handed me a report. I barely digested the words as I read them. A slip and fall, blunt force trauma to the back of the head, consistent with his body position. He lost consciousness and drowned when the water rose over his head. I didn’t believe a word of it. “Take a few days off, Taylor.” I tried to protest. “You can look at the scene yourself.” So now I’m here. In Eric’s bathroom. The blood from his head hitting the tile wall is still here. The shower rod is dislodged from the wall, and everything looks the way that it should. But for some reason I can’t shake the feeling that it isn’t right. A guy like Eric, who’s put away more people and closed more cases than anyone in IA history, he wouldn’t just slip and fall. If he did, it wouldn’t take him out. He’d survived multiple gunshots and come back from a portal burn that’d almost debilitated his right arm. He was supposed to go out better than that. He deserved it.
I head to the kitchen and grab the scotch from the cabinet above the fridge. Not the every day stuff or even the good stuff that we used to toast every time we completed another mission. I go for the unopened bottle that he got from the Governor six years ago for exposing a terrorist threat within New Prima. A bunch of environmentalists planned to bomb headquarters and try to shut down interverse travel. Eric stopped them, almost single-handedly. He was saving the scotch for something big, something worth celebrating. I’d asked him one time about it, and he told me it was for when he did something worthy of a monument. Those are my words. He was more eloquent about it, talking about how he wanted to be heroic, but the words don’t matter when they mean the same thing. They certainly don’t matter now. There won’t be any monuments erected in Eric’s honor. Not now that he’s dead. I fill a glass too full, sit on his couch like I have so many times before, and then I drink it straight from the bottle. It’s good. Doesn’t even burn on the way down, but it still makes my eyes water and my body heavy. The last time I cried, I was five and my brother accidentally broke my nose. He teased me about crying until I punched him and made his nose bleed, too. This time, I’m alone, and there isn’t anyone I can punch in the face in order to feel better.
Date: 1/15/2013 Time: 19:38 GMT -5 Status: Bored and Suspicious I’ve been slammed with desk duty. I get it. My partner and mentor is dead. Plus I screwed up royally on our last big mission. We were too close to decimating an entire universe—too close to watching two of them implode on each other. On top of that, I let two witnesses who were guilty of infractions go home rather than bringing them into IA. Sure, Eric said it was his judgment call, but he isn’t here now. That’s not the real reason I’m on the desk, though. No one will say it out loud, but I’m here, working through stacks of old paperwork and filing because I’ve made it clear that I don’t think Ben Michaels is behind a human trafficking ring. He doesn’t have the resources or the brains, in my opinion. Not to mention the fact that the set up for an operation like this alone would have taken him a lot longer than just a few months. “You still here?” It’s Hayley. I grunt rather than answer her. She’s partnered up with Jimmy Mason, who’s okay if you like ‘em skinny and loud and obnoxious. Now she’s working a real case and I’m stuck here like a glorified analyst. “I know you’re an overachiever, but that paperwork will still be there tomorrow. Come to dinner with me.” I shake my head and make a lame excuse for why I can’t without looking her in the eyes. It would be hard to
turn her down if I was looking at her. We did dinners— and a lot more—before, and it was a mistake. She feels too much. When she’s gone, the floor is empty. Everyone is either off for the night, out on an assignment, or downstairs in the situation room. Hayley was right. This paperwork isn’t about to go up in flames. But that’s not why I’m here. I slide my chair over to Eric’s computer and log in with his ID. It’s an offense that could get me fired—using someone else’s ID—but Eric wouldn’t have minded if he was alive, and now that he’s gone he’s certainly not going to care. Lucky for me, our IT department is so backed up, it’ll be weeks before they discontinue his information. I log in easily and open up his op notes folder. No one will tell me anything about Operation Blue Fire, which is the official name for the Ben Michaels human trafficking case. I’m not sure if Eric managed to talk to the director or not, but he was going to try to pull up some intel we could use to make our case. I still don’t know. The op notes folder is empty. All his notes and reports are gone. And that wouldn’t have come from IT. If they’d gotten rid of anything, it would have been his whole username, and all the op notes would have automatically been copied to the server. That’s IT protocol. The only reason they would be gone is if someone
deleted them. I’m not IT or anything, but I blew through advanced computer engineering at North Point. I know how to retrieve what’s been erased. It takes me a good twenty minutes, but when I’ve restored all Eric’s files, I go into his history. If someone deleted files—even if it was Eric—the last few things that were open have to be valuable. No one deletes an entire folder of op notes if they don’t want to hide something. At first I don’t understand what I’m seeing. The most recent file—it’s dated 1/12/2013 at 9:45 a.m. Two hours after Eric’s time of death. What’s worse is what it says. It’s a report claiming Ben Michaels is a viable suspect, one who’s considered armed and dangerous, that I’ve been compromised by personal feelings, and that includes a list of possible targets to bring into IA to assure Ben’s cooperation once captured. At the top of the list, it says Janelle Tenner.
Date: 1/16/2013 Time: 00:17 GMT -5 Status: Stakeout I leave from my apartment. My building is shielded, I’ve removed the tracking device from my quantum charger and because I’m portaling into a soft spot, it’s not likely to register on anyone’s radar. Unless of course someone’s watching my building. If they are, I’ll have to deal with the fall out later. Next time I do this, though, I’ll be more careful. Earth 19402 is quiet and dark. I’m not surprised. The electricity will probably be out for months, maybe even years unless they can get their act together. The time zone here is three hours behind my operating time, but it might as well be past midnight. There’s hardly any sign of life. No one is outside. Everyone’s tucked away in their houses, apartments, or even barracks. A flicker of candlelight is the only thing that singles out Janelle’s bedroom. I know it’s hers because Eric and I were each here a few times to do follow ups and keep tabs on how things were progressing. What I need to know now is if she’s there. After seeing the report, I looked up each of the targets. According to logs at The Piston, one of IA’s more
infamous prisons, all of them were in holding cells in solitary confinement. That sounds harsh, though it could easily be explained away—solitary keeps them from the real criminals. I’ve already decided someone in IA is dirty. There’s an inside man, a mole, who’s been bought out by the trafficking ring. That’s the only way to explain Eric’s computer and the report. It turns my stomach to think about it and to wonder who it could be, so I don’t. I focus on what I need to do in order to stop them. The first step is Janelle. Even if Eric wasn’t dead, he wouldn’t have written that report. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t something in there that was true. I’m not as emotionally detached as I should be. Eric knew that, but he wouldn’t have called me out to the director. He thought it was a good thing. Having something to lose made me smarter, that’s what he’d said three months ago when we wrapped the case and brought back Reid Suitor’s body. A silhouette moves to the window, and I know it’s her. The outline of her face, the ponytail—I recognize them and exhale. She leans against the wall, looking outside. There’s nothing to see because it’s too dark, but I don’t think that’s the point. She’s seeing something in her mind: the way the world had been, the devastation, or the way she wants it to be in the future. I can’t be sure which.
I like her. I didn’t at first. I thought she was some spoiled selfabsorbed teenage girl who should be out shopping with Daddy’s credit card and out of my way. I’m not exactly sure what it was that changed my mind. Maybe it was the way she slipped out of my car and pretended she belonged at the crime scene the night that a portal spiraled out of control and ripped through that house. She looked a little pale at the end of the night but she managed to keep the contents of her stomach down. Or it could have been the way she tried to blackmail me for information after her father died. Or that she was the one who solved our case. We had dead-end leads until she tipped her hand and accidentally told me what she knew. Actually it might have been the way she looked into my eyes, pointed her gun at me, and flicked off the safety. There was no doubt in my mind that she’d shoot me if she thought she needed to. Consequences be damned. She was like me. I could respect that. She had attitude, confidence, and the intelligence to back them both up. She leaned into the light, and for a split second I caught a glimpse of her face and the dark shine of her hair, and then the candle flickered out. She’s here. Which means, if they have a Janelle Tenner in custody, it’s not the right one.
I don’t know exactly what that means, but I know I need to keep it that way. Briefly, I debate whether I should tell her, but I nix the idea almost immediately. Explaining what I know of the situation will only distress her. I don’t have a plan of action, and there’s nothing I can tell her to do. She doesn’t need to know. At least … not yet.
Date: 1/18/2013 Time: 03:44 GMT -5 Status: Committed Hayley screams when I wake her. “Are you out of your mind?” She throws her pillow at me and I let it hit me in the face. I might very well be out of my mind. “You’re lucky I don’t sleep with my gun. I could have shot you for sneaking into my bedroom.” I bet Janelle sleeps with her gun. The thought flickers through my mind before I can stop it. “What do you want, Taylor?” I sit on the edge of Hayley’s bed and after a few seconds, I just spit out what I’m thinking. “I need to know if I can trust you.” She doesn’t hesitate. “Of course you can.” I tell her about Eric’s computer: the deleted files and the false report written and submitted after his death. Then I start to tell her my theory: there’s a mole in IA and Ben Michaels is a convenient scapegoat with an ability IA is afraid of. “Please tell me you don’t actually believe that,” she says. “When’s the last time you slept?” I tell her the truth, that it’s been a few days, but I interrupt her before she can tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. “Just think about it. I know how it looks, but Hayley, this is the real thing.”
“Eric is dead.” Her voice is soft but firm. “Taylor, you’re not sleeping, you got kicked off your case and put on desk duty. You’re bored so of course you’re seeing a conspiracy when it’s not there.” I shake my head. “I’m not making this up.” She touches my face, her fingers warm against my skin, but somehow it feels wrong and I slide away, pushing to my feet. “You can trust me,” she says, but I don’t believe her this time. I haven’t even told her the worst part. I’ve committed treason. Things that won’t just get me fired, but could get me executed. I logged into Eric’s account in the middle of the night, and I changed every reference to Janelle and her earth from all of Eric’s and my reports. If they actually want to find her, they won’t be able to. I’ve also stolen the blueprints of the Piston and hacked into confidential psych files for just about everyone in IA who has a higher clearance than Eric did. The mole has to be someone high up. “Taylor, are you listening?” I don’t answer. “You can trust me, but I’m not going to get caught up in whatever conspiracy you’re chasing. You should let this go, take time off, and grieve. You’re allowed to be human.” I nod, like I agree with her, but I wonder if she sees through it. I turn to her, and in her face, I’m pretty sure I
see that she can tell she’s lost me. Hayley is wonderful. She’s smart, funny, beautiful. I’ve known her for years. My family loves her. But I don’t, not the way she loves me at least, even though I’ve tried. I wonder if I’m capable of love. It was selfish of me to come here, to put her in danger, to pull her into this, when I can’t give her what she deserves. “You’re right. I shouldn’t put you at risk like this. If it’s just a theory, it could cost us our jobs. If it’s not …” It isn’t what she wants to hear, but she doesn’t disagree. I let myself out.
Date: 1/22/2013 Time: 09:30 GMT -5 Status: Game Changer The assistant to the deputy director assigns me the new operation. Operation Starlight: Find and arrest Janelle Tenner E 19238, charged with suspicions of aiding and abetting the terrorist Ben Michaels E 19317. Deliver her to IA headquarters for questioning. There’s a packet of notes, including the most likely places to find her as well as the information about her and her home world. I don’t need to read it. For a couple reasons. First, I wrote most of it. Second, any information worth reading in there is deliberately wrong, including her. The Janelle in love with Ben Michaels is from Earth 19402. She doesn’t exist on Earth 19238, which will give me some time to figure out what we’re going to do. I look up from the packet at the assistant to the deputy director. “She hasn’t been helping him. Sources suggest they haven’t even had any contact since he portaled home.” “I just issue the orders.” He shrugs and reminds me why I’ve never much liked Max Tillson. He’s a paper pusher without any real ambition. He’s in his fifties, already counting the days until he can retire, assisting a guy twenty years younger than he is.
Rather than argue with him when it isn’t going to matter, I nod like I’m going to follow through and get up. As I’m coming out of the office, I run into Deputy Director Struzinski who’s got a cup of some kind of gourmet coffee that makes my mouth water. “Barclay,” he says, offering me his hand. “I’m sorry about this.” I wait for him to say more. I used to be in awe of Struzinski. After North Point, I was compared to him a lot —the guy who flew up the ranks the fastest before me. The youngest deputy director IA has ever had. He and Eric were friends, drinking buddies before they got older and life got in the way. “Starlight,” he says. “I know how much you want to get off the desk. I pushed your CO to give you something productive. This is the only way I could get you involved in the case.” I nod. “Anything’s better than the desk.” He smiles. “You’re telling me. If my wife wasn’t so anxious, I never would have let them pull me out of the field.” I don’t tell him that’s a good enough reason as any to not have a wife. Or that maybe he picked the wrong wife if she can’t handle his job. It’s his business, not mine. It occurs to me that ever since meeting the deputy director’s double on Earth 19402, for some reason I like the real Struzinski less. I can’t pinpoint why exactly. Maybe it’s him, or maybe it’s a lingering dislike for his double, or maybe it’s just that the experience is messing
with my mind. Seeing doubles is a job hazard that can have serious consequences. It’s why we’re required to see a shrink once a week for an hour once we’re in the field. “Thing is,” I say carefully. I gesture to the operation notes in my hand. “I thought we already had her.” “No,” Struzinski says. “One of her doubles was arrested for possession with the intent to distribute, and she was questioned, but turns out it's not the real girl.” He pauses. “Look, I’ve read your report. I know you thought highly of her. Chances are, she doesn’t actually know anything. With a case like this, we just need to double check.” I want to tell him that’s not necessary, that I’ve kept tabs on her. But I don’t. For some reason I feel like I need to keep the information to himself. Someone in IA is testing me. After what happened to Eric, my loyalty is in question. Until I know who’s involved, I can’t trust anyone. Not even if I think they’re innocent.
Date: 1/24/2013 Time: 14:41 GMT -5 Status: Weighing Options I have two options: 1. Bring her in and keep trying to crack the case. 2. Ruin my career by declining the mission. I’m not going to do either. I put my sunglasses on and pull the baseball cap lower on my head. Stuffing my hands in my pockets, I walk out into the fray of people. They’re in line for water and canned food—rations that the military is dispersing to the remaining civilians. At the front, guarded by four soldiers, Janelle and another girl, a young blond, are handing out the supplies. As they should be, her movements are mechanical, her responses succinct. Everyone gets the same equal share. She isn’t swayed by the range of emotions they show her. Tears, anger, pleading, even niceties—none of it moves her. She must have seen enough of all that. Last night, at my desk, it occurred to me I might be able to create a third option. Janelle can help me crack the case. That means I can’t bring her in. She wouldn’t be much help if she was in holding in solitary confinement in the Piston. Unless of course I could get her out. That’s when I started to come up with the plan. My own operation. The one where Janelle would help me solve this human trafficking case and find the mole in IA.
The one where we’d have to go rogue and work against the organization I’d dedicated my life to. It was crazy. The more I thought about it, the crazier it seemed. I’d have to be a lunatic to go through with it. That’s what Eric would have told me. True, he wasn’t always a "play by the rules guy"—you can’t be a play by the rules guy if you want to be great. Greatness comes with rule breaking. You have to take big risks to have big rewards. But breaking a few operation rules here and there and working against an IA mission are two very different things. Eric would never have committed treason. At least, not what I’m thinking about doing. Not the kind that’s punishable by execution. Watching Janelle as she gives orders to marines a few years her senior, I know she might be just what I need. The person I can trust.
Date: 1/24/2013 Time: 21:43 GMT -5 Status: Operation Monument I follow her the rest of the day, looking for an opportunity to approach her. A few times I think she sees me or that I might have an opening, but something always gets in the way. So I follow her home. Her brother answers the door. He’s grown in the four months that have passed since I’ve been in the same room with him. He looks a little more like their dad, who was a good guy. Jared recognizes me and starts to ask what I’m doing here or something, but I don’t have time for him to play grown up. I kick the front door open all the way, grab him by the shoulder and push myself behind him. I see her. Janelle moves into the hallway facing us. The expression on her face makes me smile. I can tell she’s trying to think of all the different ways she’s going to murder the intruder who has her brother—me. The sunlight is behind me so I kick the door shut. “What’s the matter, Tenner? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” She puts her hand on the wall, relaxing slightly, before she remembers that I haven’t always been on her side. And I still have something that belongs to her. “Why don’t you head upstairs, kid?” The easiest way to diffuse her is to get him out of the situation.
When he’s gone, I lift my hands and take a step towards her. It’s good to see her again, to be in the same room with her. I’d forgotten how invigorating she could be. “Tenner, relax. Just here to talk. I didn’t mean to startle you.” “So you come to my home and scare my brother,” she says. She’s clearly pissed. That’s the moment I know. Lunatic or not, this will work. I’m without a partner and she’s the only person who could replace Eric and manage to work with me. I just have to convince her that I’m right. So I don’t tell her that her brother is a big boy and she should stop sheltering him. I shrug and say, “I knocked.” She folds her arms across her chest and gets to the point. Another thing I appreciate about her. “What do you want?” This will be the greatest risk that either of us have ever or will ever take. Nothing would be bigger than this. Which means if we pull it off, it would be the greatest accomplishment of our lives. This is epic career making, monument style shit. Screw Operations “Starlight" and “Pale Sparrow” or whatever name IA would assign to what we’re about to do. I’ve never liked those stupid names. I used to tell Eric all the time that we should just once have an Operation Get Shit Done. So that’s what this will be. It’s a suicide mission. A do or die.
It pains me to admit the truth, but I do. “I need your help,” I say. This is my Operation Monument.
An Alternate Ending
By Elizabeth Norris
Commentary from Elizabeth:
This isn’t so much a different ending, as it is an extra ending. It’s the chapter that would come after the final chapter in Unbreakable. Many people have asked, and as of right now, I have no plans to release another book in the Unraveling series. This is the ending I want for Ben and Janelle. They’ve been through so much— they’ve lost people they shouldn’t have had to lose. I want this to be their happily ever after. While I’m flattered and thrilled whenever someone asks if there will be another book for them, “happily ever after” doesn’t make good fiction. It’s the stress, the tension, the moments when you’re not sure that they’re going to make it, that make you keep turning pages to find out if they do. That said, if I had to peek into their future and write more of their story, this is what I’d see.
The ceremony is not short. In fact, if anyone had bothered to run the schedule by me or ask my opinion, I would have said it was too long by at least three hours. No one did. It's also too crowded. Every Prima politician and IA official is here, every photographer and journalist, and thousands of people are huddled together watching us from the lawn below. It's impossible to make out anyone's faces. So despite the fact that I know Jared and Struz and Cee are all out there, being supportive and most likely cold—I don't know where they are. I can't help it, that makes me fidgety. They're out there, watching me on some kind of ridiculous jumbo-tron, and I'm stuck staring into a sea of faceless colors, hoping all the flashes don't blind me before this thing finally ends. The breeze kicks up, moving through my hair, and I shiver and fight the urge to hug my arms around my chest or jump a few times to boost my heart rate. Just because a few days ago the season had technically changed from winter to spring, doesn’t mean the weather got the memo. It's been sixty-seven days since I was last here. On Prima. Somehow while I was back home, it was easier to forget everything that happened. What we'd been through, what had happened—who we'd lost. There was so much to do, so much to focus on to get everything back together again, that there wasn't the time to look back and reflect. Now, it feels different. It's like something is wrapped around my heart and it's
tightening, slowly but steadily. And I don't know how to stop it. Robert Barnes, who's officially just been named the new Director of IA, stops speaking and turns to us. I shift my weight and try to keep my face blank. The crowd cheers as he reaches out to Elijah, shaking his hand. Ella Manderlay, one of the high-ranking officials in Prima’s aristocracy leans forward, tying a medal around his neck. Ben is next. IA was quick to thank all of us and throw a medal our way, once the story of what happened got out. Not that I can complain, Ben and Elijah deserve something. I do too, I guess. It’s just that a medal doesn't really change anything. It doesn't heal Elijah’s leg or cure any of us of the nightmares. It doesn't bring people back from the dead. Next to me, Hayley steps forward. The roar from the crowd picks up. She's wearing her official IA dress uniform, with her black hair pulled back into a bun at the nape of her neck. They easily recognize her as one of their own. It doesn't hurt that she's young and pretty, either. Her eye makeup is dark, and her eyes are glassy. Robert leans in and whispers something in her ear. She looks down, and her shoulders quiver. I know how she feels. When it’s my turn, the crowd gets even louder. People rise to their feet. It doesn’t seem real. This adulation should be for someone else. I step forward anyway, keeping my shoulders back, my eyes straight ahead, fixed on an invisible point where I can look at nothing and see everything at the same time.
Robert’s hand is warm and rough as it clasps my own. He speaks in a low voice. “Have you thought about what I said? We wouldn’t be here without you.” I know what he wants from me, and I’ve already decided to give in. Because I have thought about what he said. It’s true that even more people would have died if I hadn’t been crazy enough to do the things I did, and this medal and his words are a gesture of goodwill. But I can’t help myself when I respond, “A lot of people aren’t here anyway.” His face flushes with color, and he steps back as Ella moves into his place. I lean my head down and her arms come around me. The ribbon catches a few stray strands of my hair, but I ignore the pinch. “Thank you, Janelle,” Ella says. As I straighten, the medal falls against my chest. The Gold Star is heavy and cold. I know it’s IA’s highest honor, but it feels like just another dead weight I have to carry. I step back in line next to Hayley, my left arm brushing against Tomas Barclay’s. He accepts the Memorial Gold Star on his brother’s behalf. He handles the uproarious display from the crowd, and Robert’s soft words as well as can be expected. I’m close enough to see the tightness in his throat, the exaggerated way that he swallows, as if he’s trying to digest the emotions threatening to overwhelm him. They don’t look much alike. At least, not to me. Tomas is slightly taller and thinner, and despite the similarities in their facial features, the Barclay I knew had an insolence to his smile, an arrogance to his expressions that his brother just
doesn’t have. Robert moves back to the podium. “We stand here today because of the actions of these four individuals and a few others. It was because of Agent Taylor Barclay that we’ve rooted out the corruption within our own ranks, and we stand ready to re-dedicate ourselves to serving and protecting our own world.” It’s not his words that make it happen. It’s some kind of weird combination of the tears I’ve refused to shed since I got home and the fact that Hayley and Tomas won’t let anyone see them cry. I think of Barclay and what he expected of this moment. I wonder if this is it. Would he want someone to throw themselves to the ground and bemoan the fact that he was gone? Or would he want us to stand here in silence? Somehow my throat gets tighter and my eyes burn. He deserves to see someone cry for him. I let myself go. Warm tears streak down my face and I do nothing to stop them or wipe them away. I think of how he ordered us around with complete conviction despite how scared he must have been. That he faced execution for treason to help Ben and me. I remember the look on his face, pale and pained, when he reached out, clasped my hand and said, “We made a good team, Tenner.” Robert has stopped speaking—his voice drowned out by the noise from the crowd. Coming back to reality, I focus my eyes on the here and now, and realize my tear-streaked face is front and center on the jumbo-tron. The cameras have zoomed in on
me and are fueling the media frenzy that has become Barclay’s true legacy. Ever since the press got a hold of the story, they’ve turned his last days into some kind of real life soap opera, complete with corruption, betrayal, and a love triangle. The people of Prima have painted me as a hero, and Barclay as the guy who loved me and did all of this to protect me. I don’t let my eyes roll at the crowd no matter how much it gets under my skin. I want to tell them he was a guy who didn’t need love, a guy who did this because it was the right thing to do. But today isn’t about me. Even though it isn’t true, I imagine Barclay would like the attention. And of course, I’ve said all that already, and the more I’ve denied our love affair, the more the paparazzi have latched onto it. I resist the urge to look at Ben. I know it must irritate him too, but he hasn’t said anything about it. I think he’s decided I’m mad enough for both of us. When Robert finally manages to finish his speech, he steps aside and looks at me. For a second, I don’t know what he’s doing. He’s supposed to step forward and unveil the monument. Instead, he says, “Janelle, it should be you.” Actually it should be Barclay himself or his parents, if they were alive, or Hayley because she does love him. But none of them are going to take this from me. I let my body carry me forward.
The material of the sheet is heavy and thick, not like a real sheet that would be in someone’s bed. It has weight to it. It’s coarse under my fingers, and for some reason that makes me wonder, what was the last thing Barclay touched? Thinking back to that night, I try to remember. Was it my hand or did I let go before he died? Does it matter? With a tug, I slide the sheet down, and the noise of the crowd explodes to an unfathomable level. Silver and white confetti rains down around us, and the ground vibrates underneath me. Barclay should have lived to see this. If he hadn’t saved me, he would have. Later, when it’s all over, after I’ve shaken too many hands and been forced to smile and answer questions, I collapse into a cushioned chair on our hotel suite. On the floor, Jared compares my Gold Star to the silver ones Ben and Elijah received. “Janelle’s is bigger,” Cecily whispers, just loud enough that you can tell she wants everyone to hear her. “Not that much,” Elijah says, reaching for my medal. Struz plucks it out of my brother’s hand, just before he can reach it. “I’m going to have to work harder. I want a medal.” I feel hands on my shoulders, they’re warm and strong, and I can’t help leaning back into him. “You can have it,” I tell Struz. “My aim would have been shit if not for you.” Cecily runs his fingers over Elijah’s medal. “Janelle’s is also shinier and worth more money than yours.” “Gold is tacky and you know it,” Elijah says.
“Um, gold is precious,” she says. “I’m precious. I was the goddamn pivotal piece of the plan,” he protests. “They just gave her that one because the press thinks she’s prettier than me.” They keep going back and forth—it’s something they’ve become very good at over the last few months. We’ve all fallen into new roles. Struz is heading up a new branch of the FBI: the Interverse Division. They’re focused first and foremost on guarding the homeland from interverse attacks as well as keeping people from opening portals. He’s modeling the division after IA, a little at least, but it’s much less about policing interverse travel in other worlds. Instead, he’s brought in scientists and technology from Prima in order to line soft spots with hydrochloradneum and develop software to detect breaches in the atmosphere. I know he’s pleased with what they’ve done so far. The reconstruction effort is moving along at a breakneck pace. There’s still a lot of damage to our world that needs to be repaired, but the quality of life is rapidly recovering. Because of Prima’s aid, we have food, medical supplies, and electricity back. Jared is talking about college. Cee jokes that she wants to start an interverse travel agency, but even if the powers that be on Prima were going to let that happen, I know she wouldn’t ever really leave the humanitarian stuff. She’s practically running the shelter down at Petco Park. Elijah smiles and leans into her as she teases him. He’s been her right hand since we came home. They work side by
side and he takes her orders better than I ever did. They also touch each other when they don’t need to. They’re clearly together. My only question is whether or not they’ve realized it yet. I wonder if I’m doing the right thing by leaving them. And I wonder how I’m going to manage to tell them. Ben leans against the arm of my chair. His hand slides down my shoulder until his fingers reach mine. He squeezes lightly and I return the gesture. I haven’t told him yet either. I look into his dark eyes. He gives me a small half-smile, and I know that he’s worried about me. After two months of living under the same roof and stealing moments to ourselves when Struz isn’t paying attention, Ben knows me better than anyone. There’s no way he hasn’t realized that I’m preoccupied. That he hasn’t asked about it just means that he’s waiting for me to tell him. I reach for him, and he leans in. His lips are warm and soft. Nose to nose, cheek to cheek, our faces seem to fit together like some kind of human puzzle. He exhales, and I breathe in. The feel of him steadies my resolve. I know what I need to do. Struz clears his throat, and Ben pulls back. His smile is too big, his face flushed with color. “Come outside with me,” he says. I look at Struz. “We’ll be back.” He knows something is up too, so he nods. I grab the dark aviator sunglasses from the kitchen table
even though it isn’t sunny out and Ben hands me my coat as we leave the room. Outside, with my hair tucked into my hat and my face obscured, we walk down the sidewalk. Two overly dressed people, hands intertwined, outside in order to get some privacy. I feel older than I must look. For a while we don’t say anything. We fall into step with each other, walking without direction. Finally, when we reach the new park that’s been erected around Barclay’s monument, Ben says, “You need to let go of the guilt. Your father, Alex, Barclay. None of their deaths were your fault.” I’m not sure that’s true. But even if it is, that doesn’t fill the emptiness inside me every time I remember they’re gone. “I know,” I say even though I don’t feel it. He squeezes my hand. “They wouldn’t want you to be so heavy with their memories.” I nod. In my head I know he’s right. I’m just not sure that I know how to let it all go. “I love you, but I can’t compete with ghosts,” he adds. That makes me look at him. “That’s just the media. You don’t have to compete with anyone.” We both know they’re just trying to force a story. “I don’t mean it like that,” he says with a sad smile. “I know you love me, but I also know that you need to say goodbye.” He looks at the monument and adds, “I’ll be right here when you’re ready.” I bite my lip, but I do what he says and move to the
monument. It’s Barclay himself, only eight feet tall. He’s dressed in what I’ve been told is IA’s standard field uniform so he looks a little like a soldier. He’s holding his gun, like he’s ready to take aim. It’s actually a position I’ve seen him in before. Many times. It’s made of some kind of glass that I’ve only ever seen on Prima. It’s clear with some kind of reflective quality to it, so it looks slightly different depending on the time of day. Today, during the unveiling, it looking like a liquid metal giant. Now, in the dark, it has the same black inky look of a portal. I reach out to touch the inscription. My fingers trace the embossed letters: Special Agent Taylor Barclay (1990-2013) Protecting us against enemies interversial, international, and within. I feel more than see someone come up next to me. Hayley is here. We stand next to each other without speaking for a long time. Looking into the glass likeness, I think of my father and Alex and even Barclay and what they would say about my choices. They would all want me to be happy—my father most, of course—but they would all want me to do what they can't. I turn to Hayley. "They should have let you pull the sheet down. You meant something to him." She shakes her head and offers me a ghost of a smile. "It's nice of you to say that. But he was never going to have room for me in his life. Everything was about IA. About being a
hero." He is one now. Being a hero is what killed him. I wonder if he'd take it back now that he knows what it would cost him. If he could have seen this future, would he still have saved me? That conceited asshole, he probably would have. "He was a hero," I say. "The best kind." Even though I'm mad at him for dying, I'm not about to deny that it's true. Hayley's bottom lip quivers. She didn't want a hero and I get that. "I think he loved you the only way he knew how," I say. "I know," she says, her voice breaking as she stands. Before she walks away she says, "I also know that I wasn't the one he went to when he was in trouble." Right, because he came to me. He knew somehow that we’d make a good team. Now he’s gone, and I miss him. And I miss my father and my best friend. I know people say that time heals all wounds, but I’m not sure they’re right. I don’t feel like I miss them any less than I did when it first happened. I still feel that crushing emptiness. It’s just that I’ve gotten used to it. I look up at Barclay’s statue. Somehow the glass has managed to capture the nuances of his face and convey his confidence in a way I hadn't thought possible. I wish I knew what he’d say about it if he was here. I wish I could give my father and Alex each a tribute like this. They might not have meant as much to the people of Prima but they meant everything to me. Instead I have to give them something else. I have to move
on and do the things they can't. After too many minutes to count, I ignore the do not touch sign, and I run my fingers over the glass of the statue, and I make the decision. For good this time. No more deliberating or putting it off. I’m going to join IA. Like my Dad and Barclay, like Alex wanted to—I’m going to devote my life to something bigger than myself. Ben is still where I left him. I'm going to get this over with quick. Just blurt it out. Faster will be less painful. But he doesn't give me the chance. “I know.” The words are quiet and even, and they don’t leave room for interpretation. I don’t need to ask him what he thinks he knows. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” I say without looking at his face. I need to stay logical, stay focused. “I just need to do this.” I don’t add that I’m restless and worried about the future. Or that I don’t know how to relax anymore. When we’re home I look at the world around me and don’t know how I fit into it anymore. I have Ben and my family and my friends, but I don’t have direction. Everything feels too … still. But Ben knows all that. We sat on the beach holding hands and watching Cecily burn her Prima sweatshirt, and we commiserated about how those five days had changed us. It’s more than just that—and he knows that too. I don’t trust IA or Prima. Robert might be convinced he’s flushed out
everyone who was dirty, but I’m worried there are people out there he hasn’t caught. Ben pulls both of my hands into his. He pulls them to his lips. His breath is warm and as it touches my skin, I shiver and press closer to him. He kisses my fingertips. “You’re not mad,” I breathe. “I’ve known for a while,” he says. “I was just waiting for you to come to terms with it.” Then he leans in pressing his lips to mind. My fingers cradle his face and I relax into him. He tastes minty, and I feel his arms circle around my back. Everything around us falls away as he explores my mouth with his tongue. “You’ll wait for me?” I whisper between kisses. He shakes his head. “I have to go,” I whisper. “I know. That’s why I’ll go with you.” I pull back because I’m not sure I heard him right. I know he doesn’t want to go to North Point and train to be an IA agent, not when they just want to keep any eye on him. “We’re going to see this through together,” he says, pulling me back to him. His fingers slide under the hem of my shirt and I don’t care that anyone could walk by and see us. We can do anything if we’re together.
ELIZABETH NORRIS briefly taught high school English and history before trading the southern California beaches and sunshine for Manhattan’s snowpocalyptic winters. She harbors dangerous addictions to guacamole, red velvet cupcakes, sushi, and chai tea lattes, fortunately not all together. Her debut novel, Unraveling, was published in April 2012. It’s the story of one girl’s fight to save her family, her world, and the one boy she never saw coming. The sequel, Unbreakable, continues that journey, and the digital novella, Undone, is written from that “one boy’s” perspective. Read more about Elizabeth and the world of Unraveling at: www.elizabethnorrisbooks.com