“What are you doing up here?”
I jerked away from the telescope and gave Reagan a shrug. “Just looking at Pegasus. It’s super clear tonight.”
She crossed her arms. “You think I don’t know when you’re lying?”
I ignored the accusation and tilted my head. “Question is, what are you doing up here? Don’t you have a dance to get to?”
Reagan tossed her bouncy brown hair to the side. “Lark, I refuse to let you murder your social life like this. It’s Friday night—the last night before the world could come to an end—and you’re going to spend it partying like any self-respecting teen should.”
I rolled my eyes and stooped to look through the eyepiece of my telescope again. “The world isn’t coming to an end. And I for one, would rather spend the night on my rooftop watching for a glimpse of the spaceship, than in some gym packed with sweaty teenagers.”
“Ha! I knew that’s what you were doing.” She pulled on my shoulder, forcing me to look into her warm brown eyes. “Just come. Please? This whole thing totally freaks me out. I want to pretend for one more night that everything is normal.” She pulled her signature pouty face.
I frowned. “Come on, Rea, not with the face. You know I’ll just be a third wheel to you and Dan anyway.”
She shook her head, causing her mass of hair to swing like loose coils. “I promise not to dance with him unless you have someone to dance with. Deal?”
I sighed and shifted my weight, casting a longing glance at my telescope. “Aren’t you even the least bit curious? I mean, it’s not everyday Earth gets invaded by extra-terrestrials.”
She made a face. “Maybe, maybe not. They look like us, and they’ve obviously been monitoring us. Who’s to say they haven’t been living among us for years already?”
I nodded. “You’re right—in fact, maybe someone you know is an alien.” A wicked smile spread across my face. “Maybe I am.” I let out an evil cackle.
She slapped my arm. “Quit it! You know I’m already freaked.”
I grinned. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist.”
She shook her head. “I don’t get how you can be calm about this whole situation. I mean, six months ago we didn’t even know life existed on other planets. Then—poof! Suddenly we get a memo from some intergalactic council that not only does life exist, but apparently, our world is on the naughty list and we have to join space rehab or face dire consequences.” She held up her hands. “Call me crazy for wanting to block out reality for one more night.”
My smile faded, the joking gone. “It’s fine to be scared. We all are on some level.”
She put a hand on her hip. “Except you. You’ve been totally level-headed about this insanity from day one. How?”
I lifted a shoulder and then ran my finger across the nameplate on the telescope: Dr. Paul Taylor.
Reagan nodded in understanding. “Your dad.”
I turned from her and stared out into the night as a lump formed in my throat. I couldn’t talk about him right now. My father, the world-class astronomer and historian. He’d always believed we weren’t alone in the universe. Maybe that was why I wasn’t shocked when we were contacted, or that we were about to be invaded. He was my hero, and since he believed, so had I.
Reagan touched my shoulder. “You okay?”
I turned and smiled. “Yeah.”
“Do you want to talk about the accident?”
She slid her hands into her pockets. “Come to the dance, Lark. It will be good for you. We’re starting to get a little bit worried about how much time you spend up here.”
“We?” I sighed as understanding hit. “My mom put you up to this, didn’t she?”
Reagan squirmed. She’d never had a good poker face. I gave her a look and she caved. “Okay, maybe she did, but I would have invited you anyway. You’ve become so reclusive since your dad died, spending all your nights up on your roof with his telescope.”
I folded my arms. Maybe I’d been more reclusive than usual, but I’d always spent clear nights up here with Dad’s telescope. For as long I could remember, I’d been looking at the stars.
Reagan shifted. “And now with the Recruitment tomorrow—what if one of us is Chosen?”
I shook my head. “We’ve been over this a million times. The odds of it being one of us are slim to none.”
“But we’re the right age, so there’s still a chance. No sixteen-year-old is safe.” She bit her lip as tears filled her eyes.
I couldn’t stand to see Reagan cry. I leaned forward and gave her a tight hug before pulling back to look in her eyes. “Listen, there are millions of teenagers in this country and only twenty will be Chosen. The odds are ridiculously high it won’t be either of us, okay?”
She nodded but a tear slipped down her nose.
I gave her a reassuring smile. “And even if we were, this program sounds pretty amazing to me. I mean, the way things are, I’m betting just about any planet is an improvement to ours.” I shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe they even have real food. Or air that doesn’t have to be filtered. Or libraries filled with rows and rows of books.”
She snorted. “Clean air and food would be enough. Don’t get carried away.”
“A girl can dream.” I paused and then blew out a breath. “Well, come on. Let’s not keep Daniel waiting.”
She squealed and grabbed my arm. “You’re coming?”
I shrugged. “Let’s go before I change my mind.”
She pulled me toward the stairs leading down from the rooftop observatory and into my house. Just before we reached the stairs I saw a bright flash out of the corner of my eye.
I froze. “Did you see that?”
“What?” Reagan frowned and pulled on my hand, but I wiggled it out of her grasp.
“That flash. It came from over there.” I pointed, straining to see any sign of a spaceship, but the night sky was empty.
“Relax. It was probably lightning.” Reagan grabbed my hand again, her palm slightly clammy.
“There’s not a cloud in the sky,” I protested.
She raised a finger. “Nuh-uh. Don’t even think about going back to that telescope. We need to find you a super-hot outfit—your black top with the ruffles and sequins will be perfect.”
My shoulders slumped. “What’s wrong with my hoodie and yoga pants?”
She pursed her full lips. “I’m gonna pretend you didn’t just say that.” Her gaze traveled up to my hair. “The ponytail goes too.”
I sighed. “Fine. But I swear, if that spaceship lands while we’re at this dance you’re gonna owe me your next five dessert rations.”
“Deal.” She flicked on the light to my bedroom and raised an eyebrow at the history books strewn across my bed. “More contraband?”
I shrugged, fingering Dad’s favorite hardbound on U.S. History. “I don’t spend all of my time with the telescope.”
“You need to keep that stuff out of sight. You know what they’ll do if they find it.” She gestured to Dad’s Bible on my pillow. “Especially that.”
I went to the Bible and hugged it against my chest. “I think the government is busy enough with the Others’ impending arrival. There haven’t been house inspections in over two months.”
She shrugged. “You never know. Just put them back in hiding, for my sake. I don’t want to see my best friend shipped off to juvie for something stupid.”
“Fine—but it’s not stupid.”
Reagan didn’t share my passion for books, or understand my need to be surrounded by them. They were like friends. A safe harbor to come to when no one else understood me. I’d carefully hand-picked each of these titles from Dad’s library, to hide when the Book Ban had begun. The inspections had been weekly at first, and I’d cried at seeing the empty shelves in the library, knowing the books had been burned. After we’d first been contacted by the Others six months ago, the Inspections had mostly come to a stop. But there was always the chance of a surprise Inspection. Maybe I was growing careless.
Reagan watched as I lifted the floorboard and gently placed the Bible in the small space. If she knew what was hidden inside the cover, she’d blow a gasket.
She handed me the rest of the books and then stepped over to my nightstand, picking up my journal. “Do you still write in this every day?”
“Maybe.” I stood and snatched it out of her hands before she could open it. “Snooping much?”
She shook her head and winced at the Civil War chess set on my desk. “Girl, you so need a boyfriend.” She went to my closet and rummaged around, pulling out the black top and a pair of skinny jeans, completing the look with strappy heels. “And with this outfit, you’re gonna get one. The guys will be falling all over you.”
I made a face as I took the clothes from her. “Just what I’ve always wanted—some guy from Franklin High pawing at me all night.”
She narrowed her eyes and pointed to the walk-in closet. “Go.”
I gave her a mock-salute and marched to the closet, closing the door behind me. “Speaking of boyfriends, where’s Dan?” I called as I changed.
“He’s going to meet us at the dance,” Reagan answered.
I heard a knock at my bedroom door and then my mom’s voice. “Where’s Lark?”
“Changing,” Rea said.
A bit of silence followed in which I pictured Mom beaming and giving Rea a thumb’s up.
“You two have any plans for the evening?” she asked.
I rolled my eyes. “We’re going to the dance, Mom.” I finished dressing and opened the door. “And I know you put Rea up to it, so you can stop with the act.” I stared her down and she raised both hands.
“Guilty as charged.” She dropped her hands and her smile warmed. Mom was one of those women who was stunning without even trying, but when she smiled? Forget it. The world paled in comparison. It was great to see her smiling again. “You look lovely, sweetheart,” she said. “It will do you good to get out of the house.”
Reagan gave me a once-over and nodded. “She’s been hiding all that gorgeousness for too long. And this hair.” She reached up and slipped out the elastic, causing my brown hair to tumble past my shoulders. She smirked as she feathered it out with her fingers. “Mm-hmm. Just give me ten minutes, a curling iron, a touch of makeup, and Cinderella will be ready for the ball.”
Mom clapped her hands together. “I’ll request a cab.” She moved for the door and then hesitated. When she turned, her face had fallen into the default pinched look she’d been wearing for months. “Honey, as much as I’d like you to get out . . . I don’t know, maybe tonight isn’t the best night.”
I hated seeing the worry in her eyes. She used to have a light about her, but ever since Dad died that light had been extinguished. She tried hard for my sake, but I knew how often she cried. Add the stress of Recruitment to her grief, and she was barely getting by.
“We’ll be fine, Mom.” I straightened my shoulders and forced my most convincing smile. “It’ll be fun.”
Reagan nodded. “The dance will have chaperones, and we’ll come home right after.”
Mom relaxed. “Okay. Just promise to be careful and keep your phones handy in case I need to reach you.”
“Will do,” I said.
She smiled at me and left the room.
I kept my smile in place until she was out of sight.
“See? I knew you secretly wanted to go,” Reagan said.
I glared at her as she led me to my vanity table. “Make that ten dessert rations.”
I stared out the cab window as Reagan chattered. Growing up, Dad had told me stories about how Philadelphia had once been a jewel of a city, with clean streets and stately homes. Looking out at the garbage-strewn streets and run-down houses, it was hard to imagine that things had ever been different. I stared up at the sky and strained my eyes for any sign of the spaceship.
“What do you think it will look like?” I asked, realizing too late that I’d interrupted Reagan. She sighed and I turned to face her. “Sorry—what were you saying?”
She shrugged. “Nothing important.” She looked out her window. “I don’t know . . . I’m picturing some crazy huge monstrosity that hovers over the city like they do in the movies.”
“Yeah. I mean, it would have to be huge to fit a few thousand Recruits, right?”
She leaned away. “Don’t sound so excited. It’s disturbing.” When I laughed she scowled. “I’m serious, Lark. No more talking about it tonight. You’re starting to sound like one of those freaks that’s campaigning to be Chosen.”
“You’re right. I’ll stop.” I crossed my hand over my heart and she shook her head.
The radio that had been playing quietly in the background suddenly cut to static. The driver hit the button for another station. More static. He flipped the radio off and muttered something under his breath.
Chills covered my arms. I turned to Reagan, but she was checking her makeup with her compact. If she’d noticed the radio weirdness, she made no sign.
The cab pulled up to our school where dozens of other cars were dropping kids off. I cringed. I’d let Reagan drag me to one school dance back in freshman year and that was enough. I couldn’t understand how gyrating like animals and getting wasted by the punch bowl was supposed to be fun.
The driver scanned a credit on my phone. Reagan got out and waited. When I didn’t move to follow she bent her head down to look at me. “Coming?”
I swallowed. The sound of thumping bass from inside the school made me feel sick. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”
“Come on, you’ll be fine.” She pulled me from the cab.
As we walked toward the school I scanned the skyline.
“You’re gonna give yourself a kink in the neck,” she said.
I shrugged. “At least I’m not the only one.” I gestured to the others walking around us. Everyone kept glancing up as if they expected the sky to fall at any moment.
Reagan pretended not to notice and kept her eyes forward as we walked into the school. When we reached the gym, my worst fears were confirmed. A huge banner hung over the room that read “Party Like There Ain’t No Tomorrow,” with freakish alien faces painted all around it.
I stared open-mouthed at the madness happening inside the gym. Kids were drinking and doing drugs while scenes played out on the dance floor that would make a brothel owner blush. I averted my eyes and grabbed Reagan’s arm. “We’re leaving.”
She stood gaping. “Where are the chaperones?”
“It’s the night before we get invaded. Would you want to spend it as a chaperone?”
“Everyone’s gone crazy.” She squinted and tilted her head to the side. “Is that the head cheerleader with the president of the chess club?”
“Reagan!” I protested.
“Ew!” She turned and covered her eyes. “Okay. I’m going to need so much counseling to get that image out of my head.”
I pulled her away from the gym doors and back toward the school entrance. “If we hurry, maybe our cabbie will still be out front.”
“Wait! I didn’t see Dan in there. I need to text him before we go.”
“Text me about what?”
We turned to see Reagan’s boyfriend approaching with a smile.
“Dan!” Reagan squealed and threw her arms around him.
He laughed and planted a kiss on her cheek, his black kippah barely visible in his dark hair. “What’s up, babe?” He pulled back, his brown eyes dancing. “Not that I’m complaining, but you’re not usually this happy to see me.”
She took his face in her hands. “Whatever you do, do not go in there.” She pointed toward the gym. “I’m pretty sure you’ll get some kind of disease just breathing the air.”
He frowned and glanced in the direction she was pointing. “That bad, huh?”
“Worse,” I said.
Dan turned to me with the same smile he’d been giving me since grade school. I’d known him so long he was almost like a brother—or at least what an only-child imagines a brother would be like. Bottom line, he was a good guy and I deemed him worthy to date my best friend.
“Hey, Lark. I haven’t seen you in a while,” he said.
I shrugged. “I’ve been busy.”
He and Reagan exchanged glances.
I shifted. So I’d officially become a hermit—so what? After Dad’s accident a year ago I hadn’t felt like getting out much. Besides, I could think of worse ways to spend time than with my books and telescope.
A loud belch emanated from the gym, proving my point.
Daniel shook his head. “You girls want to get out of here?”
“Yes,” we answered in unison.
He chuckled and offered an arm to each of us. “Who needs this place? If tonight is my last night on Earth, I don’t want to spend it at school.”
“Careful. Reagan doesn’t want any talk about tomorrow’s events.” I glanced past Daniel to give her a wink.
He raised his eyebrows at her and she nodded.
“That’s right. Tonight is just like any other Friday night.”
“If you say so, babe.” He planted another kiss on her cheek and I used the approaching doors as an excuse to separate myself from the PDA. I took a deep breath of the night air, grateful to be outside again.
“Well, lookie who we have here, boys.”
The air caught in my throat as I turned to see Brock Morris and four of his buddies swaggering toward us.
Reagan stiffened. “We need a ride. Now.”
“They’re blocking the way,” I hissed out of the corner of my mouth. Brock had made it his personal vendetta to torment Daniel whenever possible. He and his pack were in the path between us and the curb to freedom.
I whipped out my phone and opened the app to request a ride, but it wouldn’t work. I bit my lip. I had coverage. What was going on? Reagan held up her screen to show me she had the same problem.
I glanced at Daniel. His eyes darkened and he set his jaw as the pack closed in.
Brock stopped a few feet away, an ugly sneer on his wide face. “If it isn’t the little Jewish boy, looking for a good time.”
Daniel ignored him and tried to move past, but Brock grabbed his arm. “What’s the rush, Danny—late for a meeting in the synagogue?”
“Leave him alone,” Reagan warned, stepping forward.
Brock sneered. “You gonna have your girlfriend take your beating this time, Jew?”
His buddies guffawed and Daniel straightened. He was almost the same height as Brock, but no match for the linebacker’s build.
“Leave her out of this,” Daniel growled. He looked over his shoulder at us. “You two get out of here. Now.”
My pulse raced as my eyes darted to Reagan. She wasn’t going anywhere and neither was I.
Brock grinned. “Looks like she wants to stick around and watch your beating. I’ll be sure to give her a good show.” He grabbed Daniel’s collar and cocked his fist back.
“Stop! Just stop!” I yelled. “What’s the matter with you?”
Brock paused and turned his blood-thirsty eyes on me, as if noticing me for the first time. “What’s wrong, hottie? You got a problem?”
His friends laughed. One of them looked me up and down and whistled.
I clenched my hands to keep them from trembling. “Do you even hear yourself? You’re no better than the Nazis.”
His beady eyes went blank. “The what?”
I ran a hand down my face. “Tell me you’re not serious?”
“Reagan, Lark, get out of here!” Daniel yelled. He struggled to break free from Brock’s grasp and Brock punched him on the jaw. The others joined in like a pack of wild dogs.
Reagan and I screamed and lunged at the pack. We clawed at Daniel’s attackers, but our efforts were useless. Reagan got kicked in the ribs and dropped to the ground, clutching her side.
I knelt next to her, trying to help when someone grabbed me by the hair and jerked me to my feet. I screamed, my heart throbbing in fear as Brock’s friend wrapped his arms around me from behind.
“Let’s you and me go somewhere private,” he said into my ear, the smell of alcohol so thick it made me gag.
“I’d rather die,” I said through clenched teeth.
He chuckled darkly as I struggled with everything I had to break free. I was about to kick down on his instep when he made a gurgling sound and let go.
I turned to see that he was in a choke hold by a guy wearing a dark hooded jacket. After standing in shock for several seconds, I ran to where Reagan was still lying on the ground.
“Rea, are you alright?” I asked.
She nodded weakly, still clutching her side. “Dan . . .”
I bit my lip and glanced over to the group of thugs still beating on him. He was huddled in on himself as they kicked and laughed. White hot anger nearly blinded me as I jumped up and ran toward them, ready to take down at least one of the attackers or die trying.
A strong hand grabbed my shoulder from behind. “Stay here.”
The guy in the hooded jacket ran past, straight toward the mob. I stood frozen in place as I watched him fly at Daniel’s attackers with Jedi-like moves. I’d never seen anything like it. In less than a minute, he’d taken down all five of them. They were lying on the pavement, knocked out cold. I watched as he crouched and talked to Daniel, trying to help him stay conscious.
“Lark, help me,” Reagan called.
I went to her, helping her to her feet and supporting her with my arm as we walked toward Daniel.
“Who is that guy?” she asked, tears streaming tracks through the dirt on her face.
“I don’t know.” I tried to hurry without causing Reagan more pain.
The stranger looked up as we approached, his eyes startlingly blue beneath his hood.
“We need to get him to a hospital.” Without waiting for an answer, he bent down and scooped the now unconscious Daniel in his arms, running toward a cab parked at the curb.
I blinked. Now there was a cab? I shook my head. Where was it five minutes ago?
Reagan and I followed as quickly as we could. I opened the door to the backseat and Reagan climbed in so she could support Daniel’s head on her lap. The stranger placed Daniel gently inside, and then circled around to the driver’s door.
“You’re a cabbie?” I asked blankly. He didn’t look much older than me.
“Get in,” he ordered.
I scrambled into the passenger side and buckled my seatbelt as we peeled off down the road. The stranger called the ER to let them know we were coming. His voice had a slight accent—one I couldn’t place.
“Is he going to be okay?” Reagan was sobbing now.
I looked at Daniel in the backseat. His face was bruised and swollen and there was blood on his clothes. Lots of it.
I swallowed hard. “He’s going to be fine. We’ll get him to the hospital and he’ll be okay, you’ll see.”
“We’ll be there soon,” the stranger said, ending the call.
I turned to him. “Thank you. For saving us back there.”
“Anyone would have done the same.” His face was hidden by his hood.
I shook my head. “If you hadn’t come along . . .” I couldn’t finish the thought. I changed the subject. “My name’s Lark, and that’s Reagan and Daniel.”
He turned and I caught sight of his strong jawline. “I’m Gideon.”
“Lark, he’s starting to come to!” Reagan said.
I turned to see Daniel’s eyes flutter open.
“Try to keep him conscious. We’re almost there,” Gideon said.
My lungs constricted and cold sweat beaded my upper lip. I hadn’t been to a hospital since the night of the accident.
We pulled up to the curb and the doors of the ER opened. A medic pushing a gurney rushed to meet us as soon as we came to a stop. Everything happened in a blur as Reagan and I followed Daniel into the ER, and then watched him get wheeled through doors we weren’t allowed past.
A woman in scrubs asked us several questions and then Reagan called Daniel’s parents. She covered one ear and walked toward a quiet spot in the waiting room. I swallowed, wishing I could shield Daniel’s parents from the pain they were about to feel. I would never forget the call about my dad. The call that had turned my whole world upside down.
I closed my eyes and squeezed the bridge of my nose, praying Daniel would be okay.
“Here, drink this.”
I turned to see Gideon holding a cup of orange juice. Dark black hair framed his piercing blue eyes as he looked down at me. I guessed he was around six feet tall.
“Thanks.” My hand shook as I reached for the cup.
“How are you feeling?” His eyes searched mine and for a moment I forgot how to breathe.
“I’m fine,” I managed, at the exact moment my legs decided to give out. I swayed and Gideon caught my arm. I was going to pass out. I could tell because the place where he touched me tingled. I was light-headed. I took several deep breaths and willed myself to stay conscious.
“You need to sit down.” He led me to the nearest set of chairs and eased me into one.
I shook my head as an embarrassed flush heated my cheeks. “Sorry. I really am fine. It’s just,” I glanced around. “I’m not a fan of hospitals.”
His eyes held mine and there was something in his expression I couldn’t put a name to. Before I could analyze it, he looked away. “You should drink that. You’ll feel better.”
I obediently lifted the cup and took a few swallows. I needed to change the subject. Needed him to know I wasn’t the weakling I appeared to be. I cleared my throat. “So . . . you decided to work tonight instead of party like the rest of the world?”
He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees before looking at me. A little jolt zinged up my spine each time our eyes met.
“I didn’t know there was a party.”
I gave a short laugh and he smiled, revealing a dimple. Something ignited inside of me. A stirring low in my belly I’d never felt before. I looked away, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. “I’m guessing you’re not sixteen.”
His eyes tightened and he shook his head.
My heart sank a little but I nodded. “That would explain why you’re so calm.”
“Are you worried about Recruitment?”
I lifted a shoulder. “Yes and no. I mean, the truth is . . .” I shook my head, shocked I was about to confide in someone I hardly even knew.
He leaned forward until his face was mere inches from mine. My breathing stilled as he searched my eyes. “The truth is, you want to be Chosen. Right?”
My lips parted, but before I could answer, my phone rang. I glanced at the screen. “Oh. Um . . . it’s my mom. I’d better take this.”
He nodded and leaned back, watching me as I stood and answered the call. I walked toward a bank of windows, searching for a quiet spot to talk. After several minutes of reassuring Mom I was okay, I ended the call and looked around the waiting room for Gideon, but he wasn’t there. I walked back outside, searching the curbside and parking lot for any sign of his cab.
He was gone.
I turned to see Mom running through the waiting room toward me. She almost bowled me over as she wrapped me in a fierce hug. “I’m so sorry, sweetie. I never should have let you go out tonight. I just wanted you to have fun. I didn’t realize the whole world would go insane.” She squeezed me tighter.
I clung to her, the tears finally coming. “You didn’t know. Nobody knew.”
She pulled back, shaking her head. “What was I thinking? The night before Recruitment? I should have known better.” Her hazel eyes were tight as she looked me over. I’d gotten my hazel eyes from her, though mine were lighter. I’d gotten their shape from Dad.
“Are you really okay?” Mom asked.
“I’m fine.” No need to tell her how tender my scalp was. It was bad enough that I’d made her come to the hospital. I could only imagine how hard this was for her.
Mom looked into my eyes a few more seconds before turning to Reagan and giving her a hug. I wiped away tears as Reagan sobbed in Mom’s arms. A couple approached who had to be Daniel’s parents. The man wore a kippah and was receiving several stares—most of them unfriendly. He and his wife hurried over when they saw us.
“How is he?” Daniel’s mom asked.
Reagan wiped her eyes and turned to face the tiny woman. “We’re still waiting to hear,” she said, her voice shaky as tears streamed down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Berkowitz.”
Daniel’s mom gave Reagan’s hand a squeeze, nodding once but not saying anything. Mr. Berkowitz bent his head for a moment. When he looked up at his wife, his face was grim. “I’ll go let them know we’re here.”
He walked to the nurse’s station and then waited at the desk. The nurses blatantly ignored him.
I turned to Mom.
Her eyes blazed. “I’ll go see if I can help.”
I was surprised she kept her voice even. No one hated injustice more than my mom. She straightened her shoulders and marched to the nurse’s station to join Daniel’s father. She started giving them her no-nonsense routine, and judging by the sudden shuffling going on behind the counter, they were listening.
A proud smile crept over my lips. Nobody dared mess with Mom when she used that tone. In a matter of minutes Mr. and Mrs. Berkowitz were filling out paperwork and receiving the update that Daniel was stable. Reagan slumped against me in relief and I helped her sit in one of the waiting room chairs.
Soon after that, Reagan’s parents arrived. After being brought up to speed on everything that happened, they insisted she have her ribs x-rayed. I wanted to stay for moral support, but both Daniel and Reagan’s parents convinced Mom to take me home to rest. It was well past midnight, and although no one said it, the impending Recruitment was on all our minds.
I gave Reagan a one-armed hug, careful not to touch her ribs. “Call me as soon as you feel up to it, okay?”
She nodded. “We’ll talk after the Recruitment and celebrate that neither of us were Chosen.”
“For sure.” I pulled back and smiled. “They would never take you with hurt ribs anyway. Maybe I should try to break my arm.”
She snorted. “Nah. You’ve got nothing to worry about. They’re only taking super-geek braniacs, remember?”
“True.” I winked, giving her hand a final squeeze. “See you later.”
We smiled before being ushered our separate ways: Reagan to a hospital room and me to the parking lot. Mom let out a deep breath as soon as we were in the car. Her hands shook slightly as she turned on the ignition.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She nodded, reaching up to rub her temples. “Fine. It’s just . . . being in the hospital again—”
She gave me a sad smile. We didn’t have to say anything else. We pulled out of the parking lot in silence. Finally, she cleared her throat. “Well, at least you’ll have something interesting to write in your journal tomorrow.”
I snorted. “Yeah. I could practically write a novel based on the past six hours.”
I smiled, but as I thought back over the night my smile faded. “Do you think Daniel will be okay? I mean . . . do you think they’ll take good care of him after they find out he’s Jewish?”
Mom’s forehead wrinkled. “I hope so, honey.”
I shook my head and blew out a disgusted breath. “It’s so messed up! Don’t people know this country was founded on religious freedom? Don’t they know about concentration camps? Why does there have to be so much hate? Why can’t we all just let each other believe what we want and leave it at that?”