Chapter Twenty-Eight

Time For a Change

My brain was numb, no ideas forming other than somehow getting to those files. I hung off the end of the bed, dangling upside down.

"Ugh, I can't think of anything," I groaned. "Any ideas?" A chorus of 'no's echoed at me.

"Maybe we need to take a break," Ken suggested, "We could head down to the pool."

"Yeah!" Jane said, sitting up. "That sounds awesome."

"Except for the fact that none of us have any swim suits," I added.

"Didn't stop you before," Milo said, grinning.

"Shut up!" I laughed, shoving him in the chest. "Maybe a change of scenery is what we need, but we can't just-" My stomach grumbled, interrupting me. "Maybe we should go get some dinner." Milo laughed and fiddled with his glasses, pushing them up the rim of his nose, the gesture taking me back to when we first met.

"Oh no, my glasses."

"Oh, I'm so sorry! I didn't see them, I just-"

"No, no, it's all right. I'm Milo."

"Uh, hi. I'm Megan."

And however long ago it was that we shared that first kiss.

"No, stay here. I've gotta go, Milo."

"Megan, wait."

I found myself blushing at the memory. Milo smirked at me and stood from the bed, rolling his sleeves up.

"Well, if we're gonna get food, we should head out," he said.

"Yeah, let's head out," Micah added, heading towards the door.

"You guys go ahead," I said, "I'll be down in a minute."

The group started walking down to the van, while I remained sitting on the bed. I picked the hotel's phone off the nightstand and punched in Tim's number, realizing I was shaking as the phone rang. I hadn't talked to Tim in what felt like years, thought it had only been a couple of weeks.

What's the date now, May 5th? I've lost track.

"Hello?" I heard Tim say.

"Tim, hi," I managed to choke out.

"Megan! I've been so worried about you. What's been going on?"

"Listen, I can't tell you exactly where I am, but I am safe."

"Where?"

"Away from Dad."

"You mean you got out? How?"

"I can't give you setails right now, Tim. I just wanted you to know I'm okay."

"Okay, all right. I'm glad. Just one other thing- I love you, kiddo."

"Love you, Tim."

The phone line clicked off. I ran a hand through my hair and pressed the reciever down, dialing Allison's number in next. I was procrastinating making the one call that was most neccesary.

"Hello?"

"Hey-"

"Oh my God, Megan! What the hell happened to you? One minute you're on your way to my house, the next you're gone! I haven't heard from you in over a month!"

"I know, I know."

"Where are you?"

"Can't say. But I figured you should know I'm alive."

"That's something I never thought I'd have to hear from my best friend."

"I know, Allison, I'm sorry I haven't been able to keep in touch."

"What happened? Really?"

"Allison, it's serious. I can't tell you. And I really have to go."

"Okay, Megan. Just try to get home soom. Your dad left a while ago to go look for you.

So that's what he told everyone?

Allison continued, "and, uh, I miss you."

"I'll do my best to get back."

Once again, the phone line went dead. One final call needed to be made. My hands were shaking as I pressed the buttons down. It rang. And rang. And rang.

"Thanks for calling Stella's Hounds. I'm out walking the beasts right now, but feel free to leave a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I can,"

Wow. Guess I wasn't really expecting her to be much help anyways.

"Hi, Mom. Everything's okay. Can't give details. Micah's fine, too. Bye." I slammed the phone down, more than ready to collapse. Walking into the bathroom, I investigated myself in the mirror. I looked better. Still pale, still different, and still not great, but better. My hair was bushy and tangled, winding itself into far more knots than it used to. My hand hovered over a pair of scissors someone abandoned on the edge of the sink. I picked them up, thinking about how unhelpful my mother really was to us.

God, she did absolutely nothing. I look just like her. No, I have Dad's nose. But my hair- wavy, dirty blonde…I hate how similar it is. I hate it. I-

I jumped, the van honking outside. Going quickly, I grabbed the bag that held whatever we had left from the Institution, jammed the scissors inside- burying them under the extra clothes I'd stolen- and ran down the stairs.

Micah drove down the street, looking for somewhere nice, but cheap enough that nine of us wouldn't use up the last of our cash. Eventually, we settled on a run-down Chili's. Micah parked and we poured out of the van. The twins ran a little ways ahead of us, pulling the door open. I walked in beside Milo, a cool breeze rushing over me. Milo gripped my hand, turning to me.

"Are you okay?" he asked in a hushed voice. I was only vaguely aware of what was going on around me.

Turning back to Milo, "Yeah, I'm fine." My mid drifted back to the scissors in my bas. I wasn't really sure why I'd grabbed them, but it was something my mind kept going back to. The nine of us were led to our table, a corner booth, and sat down. I murmured to nobody in particular that I had to go to the bathroom and stalked off, turning the corner past a couple of people, but the restaurant was mostly empty. I pushed the bathroom door open and once again studied myself in the mirror. Digging through my bag, I pulled the scissors out.

I could be doing something far worse with these. Whoa, morbid thought. My mind just went to a dark place.

Shaking and unsteady, I pulled the scissors up to my hair and let them snip shut. A long chunk fell into the sink. My mouth dropped, momentarily regretting what I'd done, but the initial shock of hacking off that much hair faded quickly, and I continued to slice across my hair with the scissors. When I was finished, I glanced up, looking at my new appearance in the mirror. I'm not even entirely sure why, but cutting my hair gave me a strange sense of relief. It didn't even reach my shoulders anymore- I'd snipped it down to my jaw line. The waves in it were nearly gone, the short cut laying flat and almost straight against my face. I smiled, feeling almost normal, and then remembered the chunks of hair still clogging the sink. I scooped it out and threw it into one of the toilets, flushing it before I walked out, not bothering to pick up the scissors.

Milo raised his eyebrow at me when I slid into the booth next to him. The look on his face mae his thoughts- actually, everyone's thoughts- apparent.

"'What happened to her hair?' I bet you're wondering. I just decided it was time for a change. Anyways, did you guys order yet?"

"Uhm, not yet. We were talking about how-" Micah started.

"Oh, okay," I interrupted. I knew what he meant; how to get back into the Insitution, but the whole plan needed to be kept secret.

"It would be really helpful if we knew someone still there," Anna said.

"Yeah. We can't just go marching in there, the guards and nurses will recognize us," Milo started, his eyes widening.

I know that look. That's the look he gets when he's got an idea.

"Except for Micah."

"What?" Micah nearly did a spit-take, choking on his water. "You're kidding."

"No. All you have to do is get in, then find some way to let us in."

"But I-"

"Can I take your order?" A waitress appeared behind me. Her nametage said Kimberly, and she was completely disinterested in her job. We went around the table ordering, but I wasn't really paying attention. I ordered a salad, Kimberly left, and we went back to planning.

"And how do you propose I get in there, Milo?" Micah said, a harsh note indicating clearly his distaste for the idea.

"I don't know, disguise our voices and call it in?" Milo suggested.

"Or I can have Tim call it in," I added.

"Tim?" Leslie quipped.

"My brother."

Micah leaned back with a sigh, squeaking against the upholstery.

"All right, fine. I'm game," he said, resigning.

"Are you sure?"

"There's not really another way, is there?"

"Well…not really."

"There you go, then."

I gave a small smile, mouthing a 'thank you' to him. Kimberly came back with our food with an enthralling lack of enthusiasm, and we did our best to enjoy it. Micah paid the bill- leaving a miniscule tip- and we left, piling back in the van.

Micah slowed to pull in to the motel parking lot, but there was a black sedan parked outside their lobby and a bunch of guards lurking around.

"Don't panic," I heard him murmur to himself, "just drive slowly away."

"No, Micah, wait. Take this," I said, handing him my map. "You have to let them take you in." Micah nodded, a flicker of panic in his dark eyes. He stepped out of the can, slipping the map into his back pocket, and pretended he was walking back up to our rooms. I clambered into the driver's seat and pulled the van away, watching through the rear-view mirror as Micah talked to one of the guards, only to be shoved into the back of their car.

We drove for a while. I wsa too scared to turn around, but we'd have to follow the cars eventually to get back to the Institution. Eventually, I pulled over at a rest stop and hopped out, frustrated.

"How the hell do they keep finding us?!" I shouted. I wrung my hands, my finger rubbing up against the embroidered number on my wrist. It felt different, less like thread and more like wire. I glanced down at it, the setting sun giving it a hint of shine.

"What the…?" Pressing it against my ear, I heard a faint beep. "What the hell?!" I darted back to the side of the van, leaning in through the open window. "Leslie, Jane, do either of you have a bobby pin?" Jane shook her head while Leslie pulled one from her bangs and handed it to me. I wiggled the end under a loosening strand of the bizarre material. I strung it to the bent end of the bobby pin and pulled upwards, wincing as it ripped off the top layer of skin. I pinched it in my fingers and pulled, letting the whole thing come unraveled.

Ha. Unraveled. Like my entire life. Fighting with Dad turned to warring against him, wishing Mom was around turned into knowing why she's not, being close with Time turned to possibly never seeing him again…not to mention these freaky powers and a stranger becoming my best friend, becoming…what, my boyfriend? Oh, and an adopted brother I never knew I had, who I just had to turn over to guards for my father's evil science experiments. Yeah, my life is totally normal.

I finished pulling the string-like material out of my wrist, leaving a rip in my skin in the same pattern.

Great, I'm scarred by this forever.

"What're you doing?"

I jumped. Milo was standing right behind me.

"They've been tracking us. You have to take yours out, too. We all do."

It took a while, but eventually, everyone's numbers were gone. We all had similar scars now, except for Leslie. Hers had healed instantaneously. Jane went around healing everyone else's, and she came to me last.

"Want me to get that for you?" she asked.

"No," I heard myself saying, "It's a reminder of what I have to fight for."

A/N: I know this seems really drawn out, but I'm building up to this big huge thing between her and her dad and everyone. BLAH.

And I know the last few chapters have been busy, so here's a recap.
-They spend a couple days in the forest
-Megan meets her mom and adopted brother, Micah
-They get normal wardrobes
-Leslie and Jane are healers: Leslie herself and Jane for others
-Charlie "betrayed" them, but she was really brainwashed
-They get away, leaving Charlie behind
-At a sleazy motel, Megan admits she wants to be with Milo
-They formulate a plan to take down the Institution
-Kadee sees people's dreams
-Justin's a fish
-Micah gets captured
-They destroy their ID numbers/trackers

And yeah that's pretty much Book 3 so far.
Also, I would still love reviews. I'm sure I could use some. :3