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The Hunter (Chapter 16)

It was Dee who made the phone call, because Audrey and Michael were looking out the kitchen window together, and Zach wasn't the talking type. Jenny and Tom had moved a little away from the others.

"I wanted to show you this," Tom said.

It was a tattered scrap of paper. It had several things drawn and then crossed out-Jenny thought one was a rat. The only thing not crossed out was in the middle, and Jenny couldn't tell what it was.

"I'm a rotten artist. I thought you could tell by the yellow hair and green eyes."

"I'm your worst nightmare?" Jenny said, only half joking because she was completely bewildered.

"No. It was hard to draw, but it was what I meant at the end when I told Julian I guessed it had to happen. The name of the Game was face your worst nightmare, and that was mine. Losing you."

Jenny could only look at him.

"I'm not good at saying it. Maybe I'm not even good at showing it," he said. "But-I love you. As much as he does. More."

All Jenny could think of was hibiscus bushes. Little Tommy in second grade. The boy she had decided she was going to marry-on sight.

Something was tugging at her inside, but she knew she had to put it-even the memory of it-away forever. Never think of it again. And never let Tom know.

Never.

"I love you, too," she whispered. "Oh, Tom, so much."

It was at that moment they heard the glass break.

Dee was hampered by being on the phone. Tom was hampered by Jenny. The others were just plain frozen.

Still, it was only a few seconds before they ran back to the living room, just in time to see two figures ducking out the broken sliding glass door with really astonishing speed.

The white box wasn't on the coffee table anymore.

Tom and Dee, of course, ran into the backyard. But even Jenny, standing by the broken door, could see there was no chance. The two figures were over the wall and gone before their pursuers got close. After climbing the block wall and looking around, Tom and Dee came slowly back.

"They just disappeared," Dee said in disgust.

"They were flying," Tom panted.

"You're not in the best of shape, either of you," Jenny said. "It doesn't matter. I didn't really want to give the Game to the police anyway. It probably won't work for anyone else."

"But who were they? Shadow Men?" Michael asked.

"Shadow Men in sneakers," Dee said, pointing to a muddy footprint on the tiles.

"But why would they want to-"

Jenny tuned him out. She was looking at the broken glass and trying not to think. Even from behind, those two guys had looked familiar.

But surely what she'd said was true. The Game had been meant for her; it shouldn't work for anyone else. Besides, it was squashed now, ruined. And even if it did work for someone else, what were the chances of them making it all the way up to the third floor, into her grandfather's basement? And even if they did make it there, what were the chances of them opening a white closet door?

"Good riddance to it," Tom said. In the early morning light his dark hair shone, and the green flecks in his eyes looked gold. "Everything I care about is right here," he said. He smiled at Jenny. "No more nightmares," he told her, with open love in his face, in front of them all.

Jenny went into the circle of his arms.

In a vacant lot, two boys were panting, looking behind them for pursuers.

"I think we lost them," said the one in the black bandanna and T-shirt.

"They weren't even trying," said the one in the black-and-blue flannels.

They looked at each other in a mixture of triumph and fear.

They didn't know what the box was, despite a night of watching the blond girl's house. It hadn't

been until dawn that they'd worked up the nerve to break in-and then the white box had been there on the table, waiting for them.

They knew only that ever since seeing it they'd been compelled to follow it, fearing it and wanting it in equal measure. It had dominated their thoughts, sending them after the girl, keeping them up all night.

And now they had it, at last.

One of them flicked out a knife and slit the tape.

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