Home > The Ones (The Ones #1)

The Ones (The Ones #1)
Author: Daniel Sweren-Becker



CHAPTER 1

Four weeks earlier

THE BREATHING HELPED Cody relax. She ran right down the middle of the street and took huge gulps of air, each breath serving to calm her down. The town was silent, the streets empty, but the quiet actually scared her even more. It reminded her of those eerie moments before an earthquake, when all the birds and insects and animals disappear to somewhere safer. Where do they all go? And how do they even know?

Maybe they all had a mother like Cody’s—the type of mom who would, without any warning, sometimes give you a look that sent shivers down your spine. Cody always wondered what was in that look, that weird combination of love and hope mixed with something much darker. She had come to sense that it was guilt. Guilt over the choice her mom had made for her. A choice that, in hindsight, was putting Cody in danger now. Cody didn’t see it that way, but it still made her uncomfortable. As they sat together watching their old, boxy television, waiting like everyone else to hear the news, she felt her mom staring at her with that look. So Cody grabbed her tattered sneakers, threw on a faded T-shirt, and slipped out the door. Running was always easier than talking. When she ran, she could breathe.

Outside, Cody loped across her patchy front yard and down her gravel street and opened up her stride as she left her crumbling neighborhood behind. She sliced through barren intersections, ignoring the glow of televisions coming out of every home, her dark green eyes staring straight ahead, her thick burgundy hair streaming behind her. Inside those homes, the whole country was watching now, waiting for the decision. But Cody knew what was coming, could smell it in the wind like the birds did. She knew how the Supreme Court would rule and what that would mean for her. Before it happened, she wanted to find James.

Her legs beat a winding path two miles across town, her usual route now too dangerous to traverse. There were houses she didn’t want to run past, people in town she’d rather not see. Flags and signs and graffiti everywhere that she wanted to avoid. If she zigged and zagged at all the right places, she could forget about what the rest of the world thought of her.

When she made it to the stately brick house at the end of Argyle Street, Cody cut across the perfectly manicured lawn and went around to a side window to peer over the square hedges. Sure enough, James and his whole family were huddled in front of the TV in their living room. James sat with his perfect posture, his expression calm under his mop of brown curls, even in the face of what he was watching. Cody knew that if she waited a moment, he would catch her gaze eventually. James was oblivious to a lot of things, but never to her. Not the worst trait for your seventeen-year-old boyfriend.

When James finally looked over, she gave him a flick of the eyes, and a minute later he joined her in the street. Before they could speak, Cody was running, James was rushing to catch up, and they were off, the only things moving as dusk settled on Shasta, California.

To see these two run together was like watching a pair of hawks carve through the air or two dolphins crest a wave. The motion suited them, as if they were born for this exact activity. Their bodies were perfectly proportioned, legs and arms churning in mathematically ideal ratios, their powerful inhales timed with exact symmetry to their powerful exhales. They were both beautiful, and the ground flew by underneath them.

They ran to the edge of the residential neighborhood, then climbed the scraggly foothills on the outskirts of town and entered the thicker pine groves, the trail growing rougher, narrower, and steeper. Their gait remained true, each step agile and soft on the dark, rocky earth.

And then, miles above the town, they emerged into a clearing and finally stopped, catching their breath in the clear, piney air. Below them, the town was still, half-lit in the fading sunlight, and a cold autumn wind blew up from the valley.

“What do you think happens next?” Cody asked, finally breaking their silence.

James never lied, so she knew he’d answer honestly, even if he was worried. She looped an arm behind the small of his back and leaned into his body, trying to find shelter from the wind and everything else.

“I don’t know,” he said. “But no matter what, we’re going to be fine.”

She pressed into him tightly and tried to believe it.

* * *

On their walk back down the trail, they couldn’t resist playing a favorite game: trying to kick a single pebble all the way down the hill without picking it up. Most days the pebble would eventually skitter off a ledge or get lost in a bush, but if they ever got it down safely, Cody would take it home and save it. Nothing like a pile of rocks to make your bedroom look cool. They complemented the rest of the mess on her floor—the various telescopes and scales and old medical junk that she liked to pick out at flea markets. It was all part of what James called Cody’s “unique” aesthetic: science-geek chic filtered through a vintage lens. But a stranger seeing her room would probably make her out to be a Wild West snake-oil salesman.

James kicked the stone a few feet ahead, taking care to keep it in the middle of the trail. “You gonna stick around for dinner?” he asked.

“And get trapped in a cross-examination about current events from your parents?”

“My mom saw you loitering outside the window.”

“Loitering? Yikes, she better hide the good china.”

“Her word, not mine. She said that if you won’t come in, she’s going to put a saucer of milk out for you. I told her a tray of brownies would work a lot better.”

“Sounds great.”

“Come on, Cody. I know they’re kind of intense, but they like you, I promise.”

Please, Cody thought. Do they ask other dinner guests if their coats have bedbugs?

“It’s your brother, too,” Cody said. “Every time we’re together, he can’t help staring daggers at us.”

“He does not stare daggers at us.”

“Fine, butter knives. But it’s still weird.”

“It’s not easy for him to be the odd man out. When the three of us are together, he’s the one who’s different.”

“No one would even know if he didn’t make a big deal about it!” Cody exclaimed. She kicked the stone and took a breath. “And today … he’s going to be gloating.”

“Even more reason why I need you around. Unless, of course, you want me to deal with it all alone,” James said, slumping his shoulders in exaggerated rejection.

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