The ceiling hadn’t changed in all the time Wyn had been staring at it. It was the same expanse of white that it had been when she lay down to go to sleep. The same frilly lampshade that was probably as old as she was and a pattern of light that Wyn could trace in the daytime. The dawn was still some way off but no matter how many times she glanced at her alarm clock, it stayed stubbornly distant.
Her sleep had been plagued with confusing dreams where the faces of past lovers morphed, taking on those of the dead and recently arrived. Torment and lust mixed in a chaotic stream that left Wyn full of bile, at herself, and at the world. All leading to the perennial question, when her parents had left why had they not taken her with them? Why had they done it? Had her parents seen something in her, a weakness, a deviancy that had influenced their decision? Her brother was the gifted one, driven, able to create beautiful music. Was that why they chose him, was he simply better? Wyn struggled to remember her childhood and what she had been like. Had she been funny, loving, a terror, a source of joy or misery? It was all lost in the shadow of her brother. All their attention on him and his gift, while Wyn had existed in the shadows. They had forgotten her, that was it, Wyn decided, choosing the least harmful explanation. Her parents hadn’t hated her they had just forgotten her and when the moment came to make the choice, they had only remembered that they had a son.
It was Auntie that had brought her out of her shell. Taught her the difference between her and the others. They took their right to exist for granted, but she had to demand it and through force of will take it, and that’s what Wyn had done, despite the pit that existed within her, she had gone out there every day and stood as tall as she could but now in the lonely dark, she felt lost.
“Inadequate,” Wyn said, imagining the word in red upon her service record, forgettable on the next line.
She was wallowing and she knew it, detested the taste it left in her mouth. She should get up, go for a run, get her heart pumping, and prove to the world that she had a right to be there.
The phone buzzed on the bedside table and Wyn knocked it to the floor in her haste to answer it. She leant out over the side of her bed, and picked it up, number withheld.
“Hello,” Wyn said before answering the call, fumbling with the button. “Hello, who is this?”
“Detective,” a familiar voice said. “I’m sorry for the early hour.”
“Mr Wilkin, is that you?” Wyn sat up straight. The alarm clock still said it was just after four.
“I am so sorry, Wyn. I wanted to get in contact earlier, but it was impossible,” Mr Wilkin said. “The crossing point is closely guarded, and the networks heavily monitored. I hope things have not been too arduous for you?”
“It’s okay, I understand. Things have been bad, to be honest. I could really do with some good news.” Wyn pushed the duvet away. “How did you get this number? I’ve had it less than a day.”
“I was wrong. I’m so sorry. I thought I understood the patterns, but I read them wrong.”
“I don’t follow.” Wyn turned on the lamp. Her mouth felt dry, and she took a sip of water. She put the glass down and wondered where it had come from. Her clothes were hanging on the back of her chair, with her trousers neatly folded.
“I tried, I wanted to make things better, but I have failed. You put your trust in me and I let you down.”
“You’re going to have to explain, Mr Wilkin. I haven’t quite woken up yet.”
“Tay, I was wrong about her.”
Wyn rubbed at an eye. “Yeah, I figured that out myself. She’s connected to everything but she’s just an addict. Whatever help you thought she was going to be, it didn’t work out that way.”
“No, I was wrong about her purpose.”
“Is everything okay there? You sound anxious.”
“I don’t have much time, but I couldn’t let you think that I had abandoned you. If I had read the data correctly in the beginning, then maybe things could have gone differently but now it’s too late.”
“Differently? I’m not following.”
“I would have told you to put a bullet in her head.”
Wyn listened to his breathing.
“I’m here. If this is some kind of joke, it’s not a funny one.”
“I am so sorry. I wanted you to survive, that was my purpose. I still have hope that you will find a way but...”
“But what?” Wyn swung her legs out of her bed and put her feet on the ground. “What’s going to happen?”
“I’m not the only one that saw her, that knew she was something special. That was my mistake and your burden. They knew years before me and nurtured her. Anything we could have done would have been too late.”
“Stop speaking in riddles and tell me what she’s going to do.”
“She will bring about the death of everyone.”
“Tay? She couldn’t do that if she wanted to.” Wyn stared down at her bare feet, long toes on a threadbare rug. “Tay’s just a screwed-up kid. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone.”
“I am so sorry, Wyn.”
“Stop being sorry and start explaining yourself, Mr Wilkin... Mr Wilkin?”
The call had ended. Wyn checked for a number, but it was withheld. She sat for a moment running back through the conversation, trying to store every bit of detail but she couldn’t get past his advice to kill her.
There was a knock at her door.
The door opened and Misha stepped into the room. “Is everything okay? I heard you talking.”
“Sorry, did I wake Alex?”
“Nothing can wake that child. You sounded like you were arguing with someone. Who was it?”
“Don’t worry, it was nothing.”
“Don’t lie to me, Wyn,” Misha said, closing the door behind her. “If something has happened, I want to know about it. Was it the prison?”
“No, nothing to do with them,” Wyn said and tossed her phone onto the bedside table. “It was Mr Wilkin.”
“The old man from Central? I thought he’d stopped talking to you?” Misha came in and sat on the bed next to Wyn.
“He couldn’t before. He was apologising.”
“About not calling?”
“Yes and no. I’m not sure you want to hear any of this, Misha. I don’t really understand what he was saying.”
“Wyn, you’ve been there for me and Alex since Tom left us here, and not once have you made me feel unwelcome. I want you to be honest with me about everything.”
“Everything? That might not be a good idea.” Misha rested a warm hand on Wyn’s arm. “He was apologising about Tay.”
“I don’t understand everyone’s fixation with her.”
“Neither do I. He said he was wrong about her and that...”
“That I should have killed her.”
Misha recoiled slightly and glanced at the phone. “That makes no sense. She’s harmless. She’s a drug addict that bounces from one crisis to the next. It’s a miracle she hasn’t been run over yet.”
“I don’t know. It’s like you said, she’s involved with everything that’s happening, maybe not to blame but she’s involved somehow. If Mr Wilkin is lying to me, I don’t understand what he would have to gain by it?”
“He’s a powerful man and people like him get off on these games. He’s playing with you.” Misha kept hold of Wyn’s arm. “Go back to sleep and we’ll talk about it in the morning.”
“No, I’m awake now.” Wyn yawned and drank some more of the water. Her skin warmed up under Misha’s gaze. “I need to get up. The sooner I find Tay and the Temple the sooner they’ll be home. You’ll have Tom back, and we can get back to normal.”
“I wish I could do more. You’re bearing so much of this on your shoulders. Maybe I could ask Mo to look after Alex and come with you?”
Wyn felt a pang of guilt and turned her face away.
“What is it?” Misha asked.
“Nothing. If I’m going to find the Temple, then I need to move quickly and I can do that better alone.”
“But you don’t have to be. I can keep up.”
“I know you can,” Wyn said and managed a smile. “But there are things I might have to do that I would rather you weren’t part of.”
“Whatever it is, Wyn, I trust you.”
“It worries me though that...”
“You can tell me, Wyn.”
“That I might not be able to find them. The Temple’s gone to ground and I’ve only got a few leads. I don’t think I can do it. What will we do if...”
“I can’t think about it,” Misha said folding her legs up under her. “If I’d been able to visit him or talk to him then I think it would be more real, but they just took him that morning and it’s like he vanished. I have to believe that I’ll see him again, that Alex will see his father. I don’t know what we’ll do otherwise.”
“They’ll be back soon.”
“If anyone can help them it’s you,” Misha said taking Wyn’s hand. “When Tom brought us here, he said that I could trust you. I’m glad he did. I couldn’t imagine going through this on my own.”
“Have you considered reaching out to your parents?”
“No, there would be no point.” Misha scratched at her arm and shook her head. “Our parents are good party members. Mine wouldn’t open the door to me, not since Tom was arrested. They were never the caring types. I was raised by a nanny and then pushed into marriage at the earliest opportunity.”
“They arranged your marriage to Tom?”
“That’s the way it works in the party,” Misha said with a shrug. “Marriages are alliances, and my parents were ambitious, not that it worked out well for them. Tom’s mother was a party grandee, but she died four years ago, and his father is a vile man. I don’t need them, I’ve got you.” Misha hugged Wyn, putting a hand on the back of her head. Wyn closed her eyes and focused on remembering everything. “We’re a team, Wyn. We’ll get through this together.”
“I’m sorry, my head's just screwed. I need coffee.”
“There’s no rush.” Misha hugged Wyn tightly. “It will all be okay, I’m sure of it. Just focus on finding Tay and I’ll deal with everything else.”
Wyn buried her head in her shoulder and tried to believe her.