Molly couldn’t stop thinking about what Ivy had said.
What did she know? What were they keeping from her? It had to be important, or Ivy wouldn’t have made a point to mention it. She waited until Dad and Clarissa had gone downstairs to watch a movie, and went up to investigate.
The stairs were kind of terrifying. Every rung sagged, and the wood smelled like something dredged up from a shipwreck. Molly half-expected it to give out from under her, even after testing each creaky step on the way. Luckily, she made it up without incidence, crawling into the dust-and-probably-mice-infested attic. The repairs/purge of the house hadn’t ventured up here yet; there was plenty of work to do downstairs and nothing really important up here anyway. From the looks of it, it didn’t look like Granddad had been up here himself in about twenty years.
Amazingly, the light still worked, but the bulb was so dim that Molly flicked on her flashlight anyway, casting over the clutter and wondering what on earth she was supposed to be looking for. There was a ton of stuff up here. Cardboard and plastic boxes, a fire safe, an old telescope, more records, some metal scrap, even a half-finished dollhouse.
She decided to start with the safe. Maybe it was the obvious choice, but then again, why would he worry about hiding anything in his own attic? Especially this death trap. Anyone trying to rob him would probably just kill himself by accident. Molly waded into the mess, keeping her eyes out for rotten boards and rats.
It turned out the safe wasn’t even locked. She rifled through it, sneezing through the clouds of dust her movement stirred up.
A box of photographs. Old letters. Some legal stuff: land deeds, school diplomas— he had a degree in physics?— birth certificates. An old envelope with $200 folded inside. “Nice,” she said, pocketing the money. And that was it. Interesting and unexpectedly lucrative, but not exactly earthshaking.
Molly frowned. She hadn’t really expect to find anything, but… Ivy had made a point of bringing it up, and made a point to let her know she’d promised not to. So Molly pushed aside the fire safe and started investigating the boxes. Most of them were junk. Lots and lots of clothes. Some old jewelry of her grandmother’s. Empty picture frames, old tools and dishes. A painting that her dad would probably like. Even more records.
After a while, she leaned back on her heels and sighed. She’d been up here for probably an hour and had found nothing. The dust was wreaking havoc with her sinuses, too, she thought, sneezing for the hundredth time.
There were still a ton of boxes she hadn’t gone through, but she was starting to think there wasn’t anything up here to find. She toyed with the door on the dollhouse, wondering who it had been for. It looked too old to be something he’d made for her, but attics did weird things to wood sometimes. She was considering taking it downstairs—for some reason fascinated by the idea of cleaning it up, fixing it, finishing it—when something behind it caught her eye.
A box, with Evelyn scrawled across in hasty black marker. More of Grandma’s stuff? Molly climbed over the dollhouse and disentangled it from the mess. She tore off the brittle, browning tape, expecting more clothes or photographs.
Instead, she found files.
Dozens of folders were piled inside, alongside a heavy metal lockbox and a stack of notebooks. The notebooks were full of diagrams and graphs, written in impossible cursive, and the lockbox was actually locked. Molly put that aside and pulled out a folder at random. The Lartech logo greeted her, stamped in the corner of the first page, right next to a header that read: Dr. Matthew Lakefield.
Matthew Lakefield was her grandfather.
But he wasn’t a doctor. Or if he was, she’d never heard him called Dr. Lakefield. Ever. She scanned over the page. It was a boring piece of paper: some kind of formal request for resources. By her grandfather. Who had apparently worked for Lartech.
Why had she not known this?
Molly scanned over it again, and then flipped through the rest of the file. It was full of more internal affairs: memos, requisition forms, and so on. It was like trying to read someone’s email inbox. She set it aside and pulled out a few more files.
Resson field. Molly stopped and stared at the open folder. The word Resson stood out on the page, like her mind had bolded and highlighted it and sounded an alarm. It was in the middle of one of those dry reports, full of both boring memos and obscure physics. She went back to the top of the page and read it again, but it still didn’t make a whole lot of sense. What she did understand was that Matthew Lakefield had been involved with it. Her grandfather.
Is that what Ivy had been hinting at? That he’d been involved with the Resson field from the beginning?
And they hadn’t told her?
She pulled some more files, reading a little more closely. Now that she knew what she was looking for, she realized that a lot of those boring memos had something to do with the Resson.
The obscure physics probably did, too, but there was no way she was figuring that out. Flipping through the notebooks didn’t do much to clear it up. She could barely figure out high school physics, much less…whatever this was. Maybe Selena could, but Molly had shut that door pretty hard.
She started to sigh, but inhaled a lungful of dust and started coughing instead.
She had to get out of this attic. After going back through the files and notebooks, she picked what seemed most important, and tucked those and the lockbox under one arm. It took a while to figure out how to climb past all the clutter without dropping everything, but she eventually managed it.
Thankfully, the ladder didn’t break on the way down, either. She was still coughing when she made it back to her room and dumped the whole mess onto her bed. I need a shower, she thought, brushing at the dust bunnies clinging to her shirt. And then she could look at this stuff again.
She glanced at the phone lying on top of her dresser. If she called one of them, would they answer? Did she want them to? She still had Ivy’s number, too….but Ivy could Ivy really help? Anyway, her first loyalty was to her brother and his friends. She’d told Molly about her grandfather because it could help them, not for her own sake. Ivy might be sincere in her attempt to be Molly’s friend, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have ulterior motives. She’d also made it very clear that she wanted Molly to talk to Aaron.
Who could probably help.
She sighed and picked up the phone.
Well, she wasn’t going to call him. He’d made it pretty clear he didn’t want to talk to her. Molly plugged her phone into the wall and went to shower off all the dust.
* * * * *
Early the next morning, she went out to Granddad’s old shed, to find something that could break open the lockbox.
There were a ton of tools in here. Molly didn’t even know what half of them were for. It wasn’t as dusty as the attic, but it smelled like rust and animal hair, and the lights flickered for a minute after she turned them on. Molly set the lockbox on the workbench and went to grab a hammer.
It took a few minutes of trying and a close call with her thumb, but Molly finally managed to hit the stupid thing just right. She pulled out the remains of the lock and pried open the box.
More notebooks. An envelope of pictures, and a glasses case. She opened the case first, expecting to find some kind of memento. Instead, she found hair. A long swatch of dark blonde hair inside a plastic bag. Also, a sealed tube of something that Molly really hoped wasn’t blood.
“Okay, Granddad, this is getting kind of creepy,” she said, putting it back. She opened the notebooks, expecting to see more physics. Instead, she found a journal. The entries weren’t dated, and the writing was almost impossible to read. Molly hopped onto the workbench and worked her way through it, line by line.
It was about her grandmother. Evelyn Lakefield. She’d died before Molly was born, and no one talked about her much. She had the vague idea it had been some kind of cancer, and this journal seemed to confirm it. At first. But then it got weird.
Eventually, she realized what she was reading.
She flipped through the notebook, scanning pages with a growing sense of nervous excitement. She grabbed her phone and called Aaron. He didn’t answer. She sent him a text message, and a photo of the notebook. You REALLY need to see this.
* * * * *
Molly spent most of the school day trying to track down Aaron. He wasn’t in biology, and Carter and Lucia were too busy being lab partners for her to get their attention. There was no chance she was getting Selena alone, and Brennan seemed to be avoiding her again after their conversation yesterday.
So it was after lunch before she managed to find Ivy, who told her that he’d stayed home sick. “Migraine,” she said, with a shrug. “So you decided to talk to him?”
“Um, not exactly,” Molly said. “I found something. In Granddad’s attic.”
Her eyes lit up. “For real? Can I see it?”
Molly hesitated. “Yeah, I guess so.” She swung her backpack off her shoulder and started to unzip it. It wasn’t until her hand was around the notebook that she became very aware of how crowded the hall was. “I don’t know if this is a good idea.”
Ivy’s enthusiasm deflated. “Oh,” she said, clearly hurt. “Okay, I get it. I’m not one of the gang—”
“I didn’t mean that,” Molly said quickly. “But we’re at school, and I don’t want to risk someone seeing it. Hey, listen. I’m going to be helping my Dad unpack boxes at the cafe this afternoon. It’s on Westford Street, down—”
“Down by the ice cream shop,” Ivy said. “I know the place. It’s been empty for ages. Okay. Cool. All right, see you then.”
“Okay.” Molly started to turn away, but stopped to add: “If you talk to Aaron—”
“I’ll let him know you’re looking for him.”
* * * * *
The retail space her dad had leased was pretty much right in the center of town. It was about halfway from the school, the library, and right next to the only ice cream shop for twenty miles.
Clarissa was behind the counter, stacking dishes and humming to herself. She didn’t react to Molly’s entrance, and it was only after she’d said, “Uh, hi?” that she noticed the bright pink cords dangling from Clarissa’s ears. Molly was about to tap her on the shoulder when she turned, a stack of bowls in her arms.
Clarissa yelped, and the bowls slipped out of her hands. Molly lunged forward, and managed to catch them before they crashed into the floor.
“Oh, my god, you startled me,” Clarissa said, pressing a hand to her chest. “I didn’t know you were there.”
“Sorry,” Molly said. “Where do these go?”
“Um, just set them on the counter. I haven’t started organizing them yet.” She seemed nervous, and not just from being “startled.”
“Okay.” Molly put them down and then shoved her hands in her pockets. “Where’s Dad?”
“Trying to track down an oven,” Clarissa said. “The shipment went missing,” she said. “He’s trying to sort it out, but he should be back by lunchtime. You can help unpack until he gets back.”
Molly never thought she’d miss Clarissa’s incessant chatter, but quiet Clarissa was just plain unnerving. Every now and then she’d start up a conversation, asking about school, or her opinion on the menu for the cafe, but it would quickly fizzle into an awkward silence where they avoided looking at each other. It seemed like every time Molly moved unexpectedly, Clarissa would give a little start, along with a high-pitched squeak that was barely audible. Meanwhile, Molly was distracted by thoughts of the notebooks she’d found, and kept glancing toward the door whenever she heard a noise outside. It was driving her crazy; she needed someone to talk it over with, confirm what she’d found.
“Molly, can you take these boxes out?” Clarissa said, breaking through her thought spiral. “It’s getting a little chaotic in here.”
“Huh? Oh, okay.” She set down the trio of mugs she’d unpacked and grabbed a couple of empty boxes. She dumped them on the sidewalk, and leaned against the wall to check her messages again. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she almost didn’t notice Aaron walking toward her.
“Hey,” he said. He didn’t look happy to see her, but he didn’t avoid her either. Ivy was with him, but she hung back a few steps.
“Hey,” Molly said. “I didn’t see you at school today.”
“Wasn’t feeling good.”
“I texted you.”
He glanced away, and she thought she caught a brief look of guilt on his face. “Yeah, well,” he said. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to come.” He glared at Ivy as he said it, who shrugged innocently.
“I know you’re still mad at me, but—” Molly started.
“Ivy said you had something to tell me,” Aaron said.
Molly took a deep breath. “Better if I show you,” she said. “I’ve got it in my bag inside.”
He pinched his nose like it hurt— a headache, maybe— and sighed. “Yeah, fine,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
Ivy said, “Think I’ll go get some ice cream,” like it had just occurred to her. “Be back in a few.”
“Ivy—” Aaron started.
“Don’t worry, Molly can babysit you until I’m done.”
“You’re not my babysitter!”
Ivy just laughed and jogged down the street.
Inside, Clarissa was inspecting a plate. “I think there’s a crack in half of these,” she said, turning it around in her hands. “We’ll have to—Oh, hi, Aaron! Nice to see you again!”
“We’ve got homework,” Molly said. “You mind if I take a break?”
“Go ahead,” Clarissa said. “I was just thinking about getting a snack and some coffee. Do you want anything?”
“A coffee, thanks. Extra sugar,” Molly said.
“All right. Nice to see you again,” Clarissa said, sweeping by them as she grabbed her purse. “Be back soon!”
A very empty silence followed her departure. After a second, Molly went to retrieve the notebook from her bag. She hugged it to her chest as she turned to face him again. “Look, I know you’re still mad at me. And I get why. I do,” she said. “I’m sorry things happened like they did. But I’m not going to apologize for keeping Azure a secret. You of all people should understand—”
“Maybe at first,” Aaron said. “But after everything we went through? We trusted you. Tell me the truth, Molly. Were you ever going to tell us about it?”
“I—Eventually,” she said. “Probably.” Molly swallowed. “But you didn’t tell me everything either. You knew about my grandfather. Matthew Lakefield?” She clutched the notebook tighter. “You knew he had something to do with the Resson field, and you didn’t tell me any of it.”
“Wait—he worked on the Resson field?”
“Ivy said you knew about it. Well, she hinted at it.”
“No,” Aaron said. “I knew he worked at Lartech, but only that he was involved with Avalon—”
“Wait, you knew about Avalon?” Molly asked.
“What do you know about Avalon?”
They stared at each other for a minute. Hesitantly, Molly offered him the notebook. He took it and frowned at her a second before opening it. After a minute, he said, “Is this written in English?”
“Yes,” Molly said. “It gets easier to read after a while. I guess he wrote it for himself so he wasn’t worried about making it legible.”
Aaron turned a page. “Your grandfather wrote this?”
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s a journal he kept through my grandmother’s sickness. She had a rare kind of bone cancer.”
“Not sure how that’s really useful. I mean, I’m sorry about your grandmother, but what does this have to do with anything?”
Molly reached over and flipped to the middle of the book, where she had bookmarked a page. “Start here,” she said. As Aaron started reading, she said: “He talks earlier about some kind of trial they were running at Lartech, chemo or something, and she was doing that. Both of them—my grandparents—were there when the Resson thing happened. Like, in the room. He thinks it had something do with what happened to her.”
“Uh, no,” Molly said, nodding at the book. “The cancer healing.”
After a minute, he sank to sit on one of the unopened boxes, absorbed in the contents of the notebook. “From what he describes,” Aaron said, “It sounds like the cancer seemed to get worse, and spread to her blood and skin, like it was taking over her whole body. And then somehow, the bad cells died off and left new, healthy cells in their place.” He propped his chin up on one hand. “Massive cellular regeneration. That’s what the Avalon project was about.”
“It was a codename,” Molly said. “He used it to protect her identity.”
“Why did he leave? What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Molly said. “There were a couple of books in the box I found, but it cuts off while she’s still…uh… recovering. Before he left, whever that was.”
“Dr. Haley said that the Resson field didn’t have any side effects. That he knew about,” Aaron said. He rubbed his head like it hurt. “So the question is: was he lying, or was he just missing a whole lot of research?”
“That’s not the only thing,” Molly said. “There’s a section in there where he talks about the Resson field. He says she described it as ‘a feeling of floating.’ Sound familiar?”
Aaron took a deep breath. “She was like us,” he said. He took another breath, and Molly noticed his hands trembling.
“Hey, Aaron,” Molly said. “Are you okay?”
He kept talking like he didn’t hear her. He clutched at his head and stood, pacing around the room while he talked. “She was like us. Renegerating. Healing ability. And Leveille is like us.”
“Who? Aaron, you should sit back down—”
“He knows something. If I could figure out what—” He stopped suddenly, flinching. “Oh….I think maybe I should…sit…” He faltered a couple of steps, like he was dizzy, and felt blindly for the wall behind him before sagging heavily into it. “Get Ivy,” he said, sinking to the floor. “Get Carte— ” Halfway through the word, he collapsed.