“Wren . . .”
My name is floating around me. Bouncing on the clouds in my mind.
“Wren . . . wake up, Wren.”
Everything’s cocoony. Drifty. The clouds are so soft.
“Wren, come on. It’s time to go.”
Go? Go where? Who said that? I don’t recognize his voice. I look around my cloud, but it’s dark. Like a storm is coming.
Then thunder begins to roll. “Wren!”
I pull in, hunker down. Why is he on my cloud? “Go away,” I mumble through the rocks in my mouth. I need a drink. Maybe if I licked the cloud . . .
“She’s totally wasted, Mom.”
Wait. That was Anabella. What’s she doing on my cloud?
She was definitely not invited.
I can’t see her either, though. And now the cloud is rocking. Rocking and spinning.
“Go back to bed,” my mother whispers.
My mother? No! Not her, too!
A new voice struggles into the darkness. A small, sleepy voice. “What’s going on?”
It’s Mo! My little buddy, my Mowgli, my Mo-bro! He can be on my cloud. Anytime! But . . . no . . . wait. First I have to hide some things. Quick. I need to hide some things.
“Take Morris and get back to bed!” my mother hisses.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” Anabella says.
“Take your brother and go!” my father commands.
Why am I even on this cloud? It’s so crowded now. And dark. And rolling with thunder.
“Wren! Wake up!”
Who is that?
Light stabs my eyes as I peel them open. A man comes into focus. He’s large. Standing over me. Wearing dark blue. With gold-embroidered shoulder patches.
A . . . a cop?
I sit up a little.
Yes, a cop.
He starts swaying. But . . . no, it’s not him swaying. It’s me. Or my bed. I grab for my trash can and puke.
My mind runs to Nico as my guts come up. Did he get busted? Is that why there’s a cop here? Did they connect the dots?
I try to play it cool as I wipe off my mouth. “Sorry. Flu.”
That line’s always worked before. But this is a cop, not my parents. And he’s got that look.
He’s not buying.
The clock digits are a bloody red: 3:47 a.m. “What happened?” I ask my doorway parents. “Why is he here?”
“It’s for your own good,” my father says. His voice sounds icy. Hard. A freezer door slamming shut.
“Can you walk?” the cop asks.
I muster a sneer. “Of course I can walk!”
“Then get up and get dressed.” He hands me jeans and a hoodie. “You’re coming with me.”
“What? Why?” I look over, and one of my doorway parents has disappeared. “Mom!” I call. I can hear her crying her way down the hall. “Mom! What is going on!”
She doesn’t answer me. Nobody answers me. I’m shaky and cold and my head is pounding. There are handcuffs on the cop’s belt. I’ve heard they hurt, so I pull on the jeans and yank the hoodie on over the T-shirt I slept in. I feel haphazard. On the verge of puking again. And then I notice that my phone’s gone.
Full-on panic floods over me. I scramble around inside the covers, under my pillow.
“We’ve got your phone,” my father says.
I am so busted.
“Use the bathroom,” the cop tells me. “You’ll be in the car awhile.”
When I come out, my father hands a duffel to the cop and turns to me. His lips are tight white threads across his face. “We’ve tried everything, Wren.”
“So you’re turning me over to the cops? MOM!” I scream past him. “MOM!”
The cop grips my arm, and when I struggle to get free, he wrestles me down the hallway. I can hear my mother crying in the kitchen. “MOM!” I shriek. “WHAT IS GOING ON? HELP ME!”
My brother’s voice seeps through Anabella’s door, high-pitched and desperate. “We have to help Wren!”
“Mowgli!” I call out. “Mo-bro, help me!”
“Are you really that selfish?” my dad says, his words singeing the space between us.
“Why are you doing this to me?” I ask as the cop drags me through the house. We pass by the living room, pass by the piano, and now I’m crying.
“Because we’re at our wits’ end,” my father says. “We’ve run out of options.”
Then the cop’s saying, “We’ll be in touch, Mr. Clemmens,” and I’m being hauled outside.
“Daddy, please!” I cry.
The door closes in my face.
“I’LL BE BETTER! I PROMISE!”
But I’m talking to wood.
Dead, heartless wood.
The cop maneuvers me off the porch and out toward the street, where a black SUV is waiting. It has no police-force markings. Just sleek black, with tinted windows.
“You an undercover narc?” I ask.
“You worried about that?” he says. “At fourteen?”
“Just answer me!”
“Get in.” He opens the door and points me to the far-back seats.
There’s a woman behind the wheel. Blue uniform, gold patches, sunglasses.
In the middle of the night, she’s wearing sunglasses.
“Mornin’, sunshine,” she says, grinning over her shoulder at me.
I want to tell her to shut up, but I climb in back, hoping she’ll give me some answers. “Where we going?”
“Joel didn’t tell you?” she asks, looking at me through the rearview mirror.
So the narc has a name. Joel. “You just told me more than I’ve gotten out of anybody this whole time.”
“Ah,” she says, and eyes Joel over her glasses. “Classified?”
“Need-to-know basis,” he says, shutting the door and sitting in the middle row. “And what you need to know is she’s coming off a high and hungover bad.”
She hands him a barf bag, which gets relayed back to me. “You’re stuck in what you’re wearing for at least twelve,” she says through the mirror. “So I wouldn’t mess ’em up if I were you.”
“Twelve? Twelve what?”
“Hours, honey.” She puts the SUV in drive and pulls forward. “You’re in for a long day.”
“Twelve hours! Where are we going?”
She glances in the mirror. “To LAX.”
“To the airport?” I lunge for the door, but Joel swats me back.
“See?” he tells the driver. “She didn’t need to know that.” Then he turns on me like a big, angry bear. “Let’s get something straight,” he growls. “You’re in my legal custody. I’m allowed to restrain you by force. I’ve dealt with a lot bigger and badder than you, and I’m not in the mood for attitude, runners, or whining. If you want to be handcuffed, just try that again. If not, sit down, strap in, and shut up.”
He stares me down, and it doesn’t take long. I slink back feeling sick, but in a totally different way.
My parents turned over legal custody?
Like, disowned me?
I look out the window. We’ve already left our neighborhood and are speeding along Culver. The street is eerie without the usual traffic. It’s misty nighttime, but there are so many lights along the road, it’s like daylight. We drive past block after block of curving sidewalks lined with hedges and trees and long-leafed plants. Perfectly trimmed, always. When we moved here, that seemed nice. There weren’t chain-link fences or alleyways scattered with trash. Everything was clean and green. And there was room. But we’ve been living here over three years, and I still get turned around when I go more than a few blocks. Every neighborhood looks the same.
We stop at a red light near Nico’s street, and I think about making a dive for it again. Joel’s sitting sideways, and I can see that his eyes are closed. . . . The driver’s looking straight ahead waiting for the light to change. . . . If I can get out, I can ditch them, easy. But . . . would Nico even help me? He’s told me more than once that if I bring trouble, I’m gone.
Suddenly Joel sticks his leg out. “Down, girl,” he snarls, eyes still closed. “Don’t make me cuff you.”
How can he know what I’m thinking? I slump back, feeling way out of my league.
We ramp up to the I-5 freeway and head north, all five lanes to ourselves. I’m paying attention, trying to memorize how to get back to the neighborhood if I can get away.
I recognize the Costco turnoff, which normally takes twenty minutes of stop-and-go traffic to get to, and before I can believe it, we’re long gone, passing signs for Disneyland.
My heart hurts, thinking about Disneyland. Thinking about my brother. He’s never been Morris Lee Clemmens IV to me. He’s always been Mo, Mo-bro, or Mowgli.
My little Jungle Book buddy.
What are they telling him about me?
Will he believe them?
And how could they do this to me? My own parents!
We fly past Disneyland, leave it behind. I hold my head. My heart aches. I can’t seem to breathe.
How could they do this to me?