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Carly blanched. “The same place . . . you mean the place that’s so bad, Keith would rather be sent to jail than risk going back?”

“We’ll get her back,” said Marcus gallantly. “I swear it.”

“I want to help,” she insisted.

“You already have.” He held up his phone. “This address may have done it. You don’t need to risk yourself anymore.”

Carly leapt to her feet, fists clenched at her sides in defiance. The resemblance between her and Sydney was particularly remarkable just then. “She’s my sister! Of course I need to risk myself. You think she’d do any less for me?”

I felt a lump in my throat. “You’re right. She wouldn’t. But at the moment, we’re still just gathering info. If we get a clear lead and you can help, we’ll let you know.”

“You better,” she growled. “Here, I’ll give you my phone number.”

“I’ll take that,” said Marcus quickly.

While he got the info, I told her, “In the meantime, the biggest thing you can do is not tell anyone—especially anyone you’re related to—that we were here.”

She scoffed. “I assume you mean my dad and Zoe? No problem there. They hardly ever check on me, especially since the divorce.”

“So it’s final?” I asked. I’d been wondering, but Sydney and I hadn’t exactly had a chance for small talk in our dream.

“It’s final.” Carly’s face turned grim. “I did my best to help Mom’s custody case, but in the end, Dad’s ‘evidence’ was just too substantial. I wondered why Sydney didn’t testify for either side . . . now I know. If she got in trouble with those people, probably not even Dad could get her off the hook.”

Obviously, Carly wasn’t aware just how substantial her dad’s role had been in getting Sydney in trouble, and I wasn’t about to stir up more family angst by telling her the truth. “Sydney would’ve been there if she could,” I assured her. “I know she really wanted to support your mom.”

Carly nodded. “I wish she could have. I mean, I get why the Alchemists do what they do, but sometimes . . . I don’t know. It’s like they go overboard and lose sight of the big picture. Now that Zoe’s with Dad all the time, I worry it’s just going to get worse for her. At least with Sydney—the last few times I talked to her, that is—she seemed to be getting more perspective on life. I don’t know what was going on, but she seemed more balanced. Happier. I’d hoped she could do the same for Zoe, but I guess that’s not possible anytime soon.”

I don’t know what was going on, but she seemed more balanced. Happier. Carly’s words triggered a mix of emotions, and I couldn’t muster a response. That change she’d observed had been my doing. Carly thought it had been for the better, and I liked to think so too—but there was no denying it was also what had gotten Sydney in trouble.

As we moved to the door, ready for the next leg of our trip, Marcus paused and looked back at her. I thought he was going to ask her out, but instead he said, “What’s up with that Cicero quote? I studied a lot of Roman history and never heard anything about his philosophy on life.”

Carly grinned. “Cicero’s our family cat. Sydney and I used to joke that he’d figured out what life was really all about: eating, sleeping, and taking baths. She was so sad she didn’t go to college too, and I tried to downplay it, telling her I probably wouldn’t learn anything better than what Cicero taught me. When you mentioned it, I knew you were legit.”

Maybe it was the family resemblance coming out in Carly’s smile again or just the mention of Sydney’s college longing, but I felt an ache in me begin to surface that I hadn’t felt in a while. Go away, I told it. Mourn for Sydney later. Focus now on getting her back.

Marcus shook Carly’s hand, holding it a little longer than he probably needed to. “Thank you again for your help,” he said. “We won’t let you down.”

“Forget about me,” she said. “Don’t let Sydney down.”



CHARMING SALT WHILE in re-education was certainly more convoluted than it had been as a free woman, but it wasn’t impossible. It was just a slow and unwieldy process, smuggling out small amounts of salt and then getting private moments in the bathroom to infuse it with elements. What proved to be far more difficult was getting the syringes.

“Someone’s in the purging room almost every day, either because it’s routine or they did something,” said Emma, when I told her that would be the hardest part to pull off. “We’ll just put the word out that anyone who’s in there needs to smuggle out a syringe and get it to you.”

“Even if they’re able to successfully do that, the supervisors are going to eventually notice that many syringes going missing,” I pointed out. “And I’m not sure I want the ‘word out’ with everyone.”

She shook her head. “I’m not stupid. I’m only letting in select people I know we can trust, others who value their minds more than they do turning you in. They all know something went down with Jonah. They’ll keep your secret for the chance at getting that same protection for themselves.”

“That doesn’t really make me feel better,” I grumbled. My last encounter with Adrian had left me feeling optimistic for the future, but that didn’t mean the present wasn’t fraught with complications. “And it doesn’t solve the syringe issue.” We were almost at our next class, meaning this conversation was just about up.

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