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The Replaced

The Replaced

Page 32

Natty giggled while Simon passed out our fake IDs, and not for the first time I found myself staring at my face on Bridget Hollingsworth’s driver’s license. It was the same ID Simon had given me before, when I’d been on the run from Agent Truman and the No-Suchers.

Thom signaled to me that he wanted a minute alone. I followed, wondering what this could possibly be about. “I almost forgot,” he told me when we were out of the way of the others. “I got you this . . . at the gas station we stopped at.”

I stared down at his offering in surprise. Thom had always been nice enough to me, but this was different, and all of a sudden I saw him the way Natty must—handsome, sweet, thoughtful.

I shook my head. “I can’t . . .” I tried to wave him off as I blinked furiously. “How . . . how did you even know?” My last words came out squeaky, like someone had pinched the end of a balloon and was letting the air out super slow.

“Natty’s not your only friend at Silent Creek, you know? Besides, you’re a little obvious—always checking the time. This’ll make things easier for you.” He nudged his hand closer. “Here. Take it. I don’t think the place I got it from has a return policy, so if you don’t accept it, then I have to wear it.” He glanced meaningfully at the pinkness of it, letting me know which option was out of the question.

I wasn’t used to being embarrassed, but his gesture took me totally off guard. Thom wasn’t my friend, and he wasn’t my leader either. I was just someone who’d landed on his doorstep in need of a place to stay. If it wasn’t for the fact that the present was calling to me, I would have held firm in my I-can’t-accept-it stance. But I seriously wanted it, so I held out my wrist, trying not to be all wigged out by the fact that my obsession had been so obvious.

Thom wrapped the rubbery pink band around my wrist and secured the clasp. It wasn’t fancy or anything, but the time had already been set.

Dragging my eyes from the rhythmic advance of the second hand as it ticked around the face of the watch, I couldn’t stop myself from grinning like an idiot. “It’s perfect,” I told him.

“Do me a favor, will ya?” he asked. “Keep an eye on Natty today. Don’t let anything happen to her.”

I frowned, because of course I wouldn’t let anything happen to her, not on purpose anyway. “Yeah. Sure.”

The scrunched muscles between his brows softened, just a tad. “Thanks. It’s just . . .” He shrugged. “Well, you know . . . thanks,” he finished, running his hand through his black hair. Then he put his watch beside mine so I could see that the two were in sync. “Seven o’clock,” he told me, and something as seemingly insignificant as having a plan to meet—a set time—made me feel . . . right. As if I had a purpose.

And then Thom, Willow, and Jett wandered away from us, leaving me alone with Simon and Natty. I grinned at my new team, feeling a sense of determination to make the best of our forced time together. “Now that those losers are gone, what should we do?”

Bowling.

That’s how we spent the better part of our afternoon, in a noisy bowling alley where we watched the Thursday afternoon leagues fill up the lanes—a lot of old men, and some women too, who wore matching shirts and had fancy, shiny, and even colored bowling balls that they polished before they threw them and then again when they plucked them off the automatic return. They razzed each other about gutter balls, and even more when someone got a strike or a spare—Lucky shot! someone would yell almost every time—and in general they gave the impression that they’d known one another for a very, very long time.

The whole thing made me homesick for Cat and all the girls from my softball team who I’d spent hours and hours on the field with. I was even a little nostalgic for Austin, since he and I had grown up together.

But most of all, I missed Tyler.

I picked at the deep-fried cheese sticks and onion rings we’d ordered while we waited for a lane to open up for us. Unlike the doughnuts Jett had gotten for me, this food tasted the way almost everything had since I’d returned: bland. But it gave me something to do with my hands and it made us look like normal teens, which was our primary goal. To blend.

There hadn’t been any real stores in town, not like a Target or a Walmart, a superstore that had racks and racks of clothes I could choose from. There wasn’t even a grocery store that carried clothing, like a Fred Meyer. I hadn’t planned on being choosy; I just wanted something not of the cutoff variety, preferably without chunks of my own flesh stuck to it.

But obviously, in a town without a flashing stoplight, that had been too much to ask for.

We’d walked through the miniature-sized “downtown” area, which consisted of a gas station, some old-fashioned-looking buildings that housed a bakery–slash–coffee shop–slash–hardware store, a butcher shop, and a liquor store that was, not surprisingly, the biggest shop of them all.

It was in this section of town that we also came across a small consignment shop.

The place was jam-packed with all kinds of clothes, hats, shoes, and purses that smelled vaguely like disinfectant. The racks were arranged by clothing type, and I was starting to think I was either going to be stuck with my cutoffs or something of the polyester variety, since that’s what they mostly had, when I actually managed to find one pair of jeans in exactly my size. And bonus, not only did they fit me, but they only had to be rolled at the hem one time.

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