“Wendy, why are you talking like that?” Matt sounded more afraid than I had ever heard him before, and I couldn’t be certain, but I think he’d started to cry. “You sound like you’re never coming back. You can’t leave forever. You . . . Whatever is going on, I can take care of it. I’ll do whatever I have to do. Just come back, Wendy.”
“I’m so sorry, Matt, but I can’t.” I wiped at my eyes and shook my head. “I’ll call you again if I can. But if you don’t hear from me, don’t worry. I’m okay.”
“Wendy! Stop talking like that!” Matt shouted. “You need to come back here! Wendy!”
“Good-bye, Matt.” I hung up to the sound of him yelling my name.
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this was the only thing I could do. It was the only way that I could keep them safe, and it was the safest thing for me, which was exactly what Matt would want.
If he knew what was going on, he would agree with this completely. It didn’t change the fact that it was absolute torture to say good-bye to him like that. Hearing his pain and frustration so evident over the phone . . .
“Hey, Wendy. You did the right thing,” Finn assured me, but I just sniffled.
He reached over and took my hand, squeezing it lightly. Ordinarily I would’ve been delighted by that, but right now it took everything I had to keep from sobbing or throwing up. I wiped at my tears, but I couldn’t seem to stop crying.
Finn pulled over to the side of the road. “Come here,” he said gently. He put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me closer to him. I rested my head against his shoulder, and he held me tightly to him.
Taking a deep breath, I finally managed to stop crying. Even though Finn no longer had his arm around me, we still sat so close we were practically touching. When I looked at him, he seemed to become aware of this and moved his arm farther away.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Who were those people? Why did we have to run away?”
Finn looked at me for a moment, then pulled back on the road and took a breath. “That is a very long answer, one that is best explained by your mother.”
“My mother?” I didn’t understand what more Kim would know about this, then I realized he meant my real mother. “We’re going to see her? Where is she? Where are we going?”
“Förening,” Finn explained. “It’s where I live—where you’ll live.” He gave a small smile, meant to ease my concerns, and it did, a little. “Unfortunately, it’s about a seven-hour drive.”
“Where is it?”
“It’s in Minnesota, along the Mississippi River in a very secluded area,” Finn said.
“So what is this Förening place we’re going to?” I asked, watching him.
“It’s a town, sort of,” Finn said. “They consider it to be more of a compound, but in the way the Kennedys have a compound. It’s just a glorified gated community, really.”
“So do people live there too? Humans, I mean.” I was already wondering if I could bring Matt along with me.
“Not in the sense you’re talking about.” He hesitated before he continued, and glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. “It’s entirely Trylle, trackers, and mänsklig. There are about five thousand who live there in total, and we have gas stations, a small grocery store, and a school. It’s just a very small, quiet community.”
“Holy hell.” My eyes widened. “You mean there’s just a whole town of . . . trolls? In Minnesota? And nobody ever noticed?”
“We live very quietly,” Finn reiterated. “And there are ways to make people not notice.”
“You sound like you’re in the Mafia,” I commented, and Finn smiled crookedly. “Do you guys make people sleep with the fishes or something?”
“Persuasion is a very powerful ability,” he said, and his smile disappeared.
“So you have persuasion?” I asked carefully. Something seemed to upset him, and as I expected, he shook his head. “Why not?”
“I’m a tracker. Our abilities are different.” He glanced over at me, and, sensing that I would just ask more questions, he went on. “They’re more suited for tracking, obviously. Persuasion isn’t particularly useful in that arena.”
“What is useful?” I pressed, and he sighed wearily.
“It’s hard to explain. They’re not even real abilities in the sense of the word.” His jaw ticked, and he shifted in his seat. “It’s more instinct and intuition. Like the way a bloodhound follows a scent, except it’s not actually something I can smell. It’s just something I know.” He looked over to see if I was getting it, but I just stared at him blankly.
“For example, when you went to visit that woman the other night”—that woman being someone who I had thought was my mother my entire life—“I knew you were far away, and I knew something was distressing you.”
“You can tell when I’m upset? Even when you’re not around me?” I asked.
Finn nodded. “As long as I’m tracking you, yes.”
“I thought you said you weren’t psychic,” I muttered. “Being able to know my feelings sounds awfully psychic to me.”
“No, I said I couldn’t read minds, and I can’t.” Then, with an exasperated sigh, he added, “I never have any idea what you’re thinking.
“I can’t even tell everything you’re feeling,” he went on. “Just distress and fear. I need to be alert to situations when you’re in danger so I can help you. My job is to keep you safe and bring you home.”
“How do you know how to track people like me? Before you find us, I mean.”
“Your mother has things from when you were a baby. A lock of hair usually,” Finn elaborated. “I get a vibe from that, and the parents usually have a general idea where you are. Once I’m around you, I start to get a real scent of you, and that’s it.”
An odd warmth filled my chest. My mother had things from me. Kim had never treasured anything about me, but someone out there had. She had taken a lock of hair when I was born and kept it safe all these years.
“Is that why you stared at me all the time? Because you were feeling this . . . this vibe?” I thought of the way his eyes were always on me, and the way I could never make sense of his expression.