Tap, tap, tap.
“Hugo Smith, what in the world is going on here?”
Brian shot out of bed, disoriented for a minute in the less-familiar bedroom. Then he remembered where he was, and desperately shook Hugo, who was sitting up in a daze, to full awareness.
“What? What is it?” asked Hugo, rubbing his eyes.
“Shh!” Brian whispered urgently, searching the darkened room for his jacket.
Brian’s ears registered footsteps. They were even and, judging by the lack of an echo, in a relatively open space. He was still downstairs, then. “Holden’s here,” Brian hissed, now pulling the jacket on.
Hugo’s eyes widened. “If he sees you here...” he said, now whispering as well. “But why… Oh god. I forgot to put the cookie stuff away.”
Brian bit his lip, trying to simultaneously come up with a good story and listen for Holden’s footsteps. He was in the hall now; he’d be coming upstairs soon. “What can we tell him?” asked Hugo desperately.
Brian’s mind whirled. Well, it wasn’t the best plan, but he was a bit pressed for time. Placing a hand on Hugo’s shoulder, he said, “I think you’re gonna have to take one for the team this time. How good is Holden’s hearing?”
Exactly sixty seconds later, James Holden was standing in the doorway of Hugo’s room, very annoyed. Hugo was babbling about his sudden sugar craving and how he was going to bring some cookies to school for his classmates and how he was so sorry and it was never ever ever going to happen again. And Brian was sprinting down the street, taking numerous turns in nonsensical places so he’d be hard to track. After escaping via Hugo’s window, which was luckily above a patch of bushes that broke his fall, Brian had slipped away from Holden’s house while the man was scolding Hugo. When he was satisfied that he’d be safe, Brian doubled around and took a much more direct route to his own house.
His mother was waiting for him. To most, this would be a problem, but Brian had the privilege of having the most awesome mom in the world, so he smiled at her and gave her a hug, instead of trying to think of a reason he was strolling in the front door at almost midnight after visiting his boyfriend.
“The cookie stuff?” she asked, brushing a lock of shaggy blonde hair out of his eyes.
“Must have left it at Hugo’s,” he replied. “I’ll get it tomorrow, or ask him to bring it to school or something.” Going back to Hugo’s tomorrow-actually, that would be later today by now-would probably not be very helpful.
“Did you guys have a good time?” she asked. Brian nodded.
“We made cookies. It was fun. Then Hugo’s stepdad almost caught me in his bed.” Brian’s mother raised an eyebrow, but let him continue. “We were just sleeping,” Brian assured her. “I would have crashed on the couch, but Hugo wouldn’t let me. Good thing, too, or else Holden would’ve seen me for sure.”
Brian’s mother shook her head and sighed. “You’re just as crazy as your dad, you know that?” she said.
Brian grinned. “That’s why you love us, Mom.”
“Just go to bed,” she said, pretending to be annoyed.
Hugo, meanwhile, was nowhere near getting to bed. While he’d managed to avoid getting grounded, Holden had ordered him to clean up the mess in the kitchen right now and it had better be clean when he got up in the morning. By the time he got the whole mess cleaned up, it was about one-thirty in the morning and he was exhausted.
Brian’s father came home later that morning, bringing with him something very unexpected.
“Who’re you?” asked Brian, not meaning to be rude but too confused to say anything else.
The girl was taller than Brian and had deep green eyes. Her brown hair was cut in short spikes that showed off her slender neck. She wore a baggy t-shirt that probably had a band name printed on it once, but the words had washed away, and tattered jeans. She carried an overnight bag; nothing more.
“Louisa Anesco,” she said, holding out her free hand. “I assume you’re Brian?”
“Yeah,” said Brian hesitantly, shaking hands with Louisa and looking quizzically at his dad.
“The Initiative wanted me to take on a protegee,” Aaron Hannel explained. “Louisa’s going to be living with us for a while. The official story is she’s a cousin whose parents had to go to Australia for their work as marine biologists.”
“Oh. All right,” Brian said, dropping her hand a bit more quickly than was absolutely necessary. He gave Louisa a grin, then turned back to his dad. “She’s not sharing my room, right? I don’t want her to get sick from overexposure to the awesomeness that is Brian Hannel.”
Louisa raised an eyebrow. “How thoughtful of you,” she said.
“Don’t worry, Louisa will be taking the guest room,” said Brian’s mother. When he looked at her questioningly, she said, “Your dad called me about it while you were at Hugo’s yesterday.”
“Oh. All right,” Brian said. He flashed another grin at Louisa. “Speaking of Hugo, I need to go make a phone call.” Service would be over by now, so Hugo would be at home, but Holden would still be at the church taking confessions, so he could call Hugo about the cookie stuff safely. “Welcome to the Hannel home!” he told Louisa, and with that, he strode down the hallway to the kitchen where the phone was.
Louisa watched him leave. He didn’t seem to like her much. Then again, she’d be freaked out too if someone had unexpectedly barged into her home. She turned to Agent Hannel’s wife and smiled graciously. “Would you mind showing me where the guest room is so I can get unpacked?”
Unpacking took a very short amount of time, and, having nothing better to do, Louisa sat on her new bed and ran over the past two days in her mind. Had it really been such a short time ago that she had been dancing with John Bennett? She barely even remembered most of the New Year’s Eve party. She wasn’t sure whether or not to be glad that she’d left early. If she hadn’t, Agent Hannel may not have been there to save her, but then, she might not have been attacked in the first place. But then what would have happened when she found out about her parents? How would she have found out? She shuddered at the thought of getting all the way home and going to sleep, only to wake up and find her parents’ rotting bodies on the floor.
For better or for worse, she had left the party early, and Agent Hannel had saved her from the Hostile, whatever that meant. He had told her he’d explain it all later. Something in his voice had made her believe he was telling the truth.
The morning after he’d saved her, Agent Hannel had taken Louisa to look around her house, to see the damage with their own eyes and look for anything salvageable. Everything was gone-her clothes ripped to shreds, the pages ripped out of her books, her CD’s smashed on the floor. Agent Hannel had looked concerned, but Louisa had been too distraught to ask him what was going on. She’d picked up a few items-a notebook that had been hidden in her closet and escaped the destruction, a piece of her comforter, some of the tangled mess that the “Hostiles” had made of her mother’s yarn. Finally, when Agent Hannel seemed to have looked his fill, he asked her if she’d like to come live with his family, now that her parents were gone. She’d agreed. She could have lived with a friend, but suddenly the entire town of Cleveland had seemed stifling prison-like. She didn’t want to live in this town where things like this had happened to her parents.
As Louisa was still wearing the dress and shoes she’d worn to the party and had no other clothes, they’d stopped at a thrift store to pick up an outfit to change into for the trip to Forks, with the promise that Agent Hannel’s wife would take Louisa on a proper shopping trip after they got there. On the plane ride to Seattle and the car ride from there to Forks, Agent Hannel had told her about his family. She’d asked that he not tell them about her parents, not wanting to have to answer a million questions. He’d offered to say that he’d taken her on as a protegee, telling her they’d understand what he meant, and for lack of a better plan, she’d agreed.
Just the thought of what had happened to her this weekend was enough to make Louisa exhausted, and she felt her eyelids drooping even though it was only late morning. Deciding not to resist, she curled up on top of the covers of her new bed and fell asleep.
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