When the Sky Fell on Splendor(9)

Levi slumped.

“Chill, Grandpa,” Remy said sharply. “You don’t need to be mean.”

“And we didn’t get brain-melted by space junk,” Sofía said. “There’s an explanation for . . . whatever happened.”

I thought back to the moment Arthur reached for the disc: the humidity of the night, the chirp of the crickets. And then—even in my memory—the flash of light and resulting pain were so intense I had to close my eyes and bite my hand to keep from screaming.

“Fran?” Remy said, eyes catching mine in the mirror. “Franny? Are you––”

“Just a yawn,” I lied. There was no use stoking everyone’s worries. Melting down never led to anything good. Besides, the memory was fading, the crushing red pain drawing back.

“Maybe we should go to the hospital,” Sofía said.

If there was one place I tried my best to avoid, it was the hospital. Not just because we were already drowning in bills from Mark’s five-year stay, but because everything about it brought me back to that horrible summer.

“No hospitals,” Arthur said firmly.

“I think . . . I think we just got shocked,” I said.

Levi gasped and turned around in his seat. “You did? By that thing?”

“You did too,” Nick grumbled. “Back of your neck.” Levi reached back, his thick fingers testing the ridge of welts. Beside me, Nick tugged the collar of his T-shirt down to look at his own strange burns, like fingers reaching between his clavicles.

Remy pulled his collar away and glanced between it and the road. “Me too. Stomach.”

“Not on those washboard skateboarding abs?” Nick grumbled, but his heart wasn’t in it.

“I think when it touched me, it got me,” Arthur said, “and then I guess it jumped from me to Franny, because she was touching me.” His face was flushed and his eyes were bright; he looked like he was hopped up on something.

“And then somehow to the rest of us?” Sofía sounded unconvinced.

“You’re the scientist,” Nick said. “What was that thing?”

“Passing science class doesn’t make me a scientist,” Sofía said.

Sofía had never merely passed a class.

“I don’t know what it was,” Arthur buzzed. “But it was something amazing.”

Remy and I shared a wary look. Amazing was one word for it.

We did not beat the sheriff to Levi’s house. When we got there, he was leaned against the hood of his squad car, his lips pressed into a tight line. Even with all his weight on his good leg, he looked like he might be in pain.

“Guess you guys probably can’t stay for breakfast then?” Levi said, as if Nick hadn’t already punched that idea off the table. Levi’s parents traveled so much that he essentially lived alone, and I sometimes got the feeling he was just waiting for the force majeure that would finally fuse the six of us together and eliminate any shred of alone time from his schedule.

Sheriff Nakamura crossed his arms over his beige-clad chest as we climbed out of the Metro, like clowns spilling from a prop car in an old comedy. Droog bounded toward him, wagging excitedly, and my stomach jarred at the trail of missing fur across her back haunch: a purple lightning-shaped scar that looked like it had long since healed.

Her too.

The thought made me dizzy. I shoved it away and focused on Sheriff Nakamura’s appraising gaze.

“If you’re sleep-driving, son,” he said, “you should probably go to a doctor.”

Remy grimaced. I looked around, wondering whether anyone was going to explain. Sofía looked like the effort not to spill everything was costing her something precious and irretrievable. After a minute, Sheriff Nakamura sighed and tipped his head toward the Metro. “You go on home, Rem. I’ll take the others.”

“I can take them,” Remy said.

“Oh, no you can’t,” his father contradicted.

Remy shot me a fierce look that made it clear there was something he needed to tell me but did no good whatsoever in communicating what that might be.

Nick apparently intercepted it. “What are you doing, dude?” he asked. “You look like you’re pooping your pants.”

“I wasn’t doing anything,” Remy said, face flushing.

The sheriff’s gaze flicked suspiciously between all of us. “You do realize I’m a police officer, right? If you’re trying to pass around secrets, don’t do it right in front of me. Now, Remy, go home. We’ll talk about this later.”

And that was that. Remy got back into the Metro, throwing me one last worried look, and the rest of us piled into the cruiser.

When we reached Sofía’s house, the sheriff put the car in park then turned to survey us. “I’m not going to ask you what you were doing,” he said. “I’m just going to hope to God I’m wrong, and that even if I’m not, we can’t find any evidence.” His eyes went specifically to Nick and Arthur, who were in the back seat with me. “You’re good kids. Don’t let yourselves get punished like bad adults.”

We nodded understanding, but honestly, I had no idea what he was talking about. Even if someone had seen us trespassing—the big-footed person with the dropped bullets?—they couldn’t possibly think we’d destroyed the tower.

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