Rite to Life

-THIS IS A DYSTOPIAN-
In a future, yet illusive world, society is divided into three factions. No one ever speaks of Faction One since the feud between people and the king. Nara is from Faction Two. She has survived sixteen years under the care of volunteers. Sixteen years of living in Faction Two is like living in eighteenth century London, although that place doesn’t exist any more. Nara has dreamed of life in Faction Three, a safe, prosperous haven, a sanctuary, where her birth parents wait for her. Only the Rite separates them. Every citizen at aged sixteen must undergo the Rite to gain access into Faction Three, the land of the perfect beings. The Rite corrects all imperfections and flaws, gives people the Third Eye. A higher level of consciousness. When she finally gets to Faction Three, cracks begin to show. Secrets are soon revealed to Nara and she must do everything in her power to expose them to the population. Faction Three is not what it seems. It is a dark, cryptic place

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6. Chapter Five - Nara

The next few days dragged by painfully slowly, and eventually, the weekend arrived. Although, time had passed sluggishly, I had been care free. I had no worries and no reason to stress out. Blaze and I had spent a lot more time together now that I didn’t have to worry about the Rite. I had made the right decision, staying here in Faction Two meant that I didn’t have to lose my best friend. He was all that mattered.

“Nara,” Blaze called from the kitchen. “Do you want me to make you a sandwich?”

My carers were out and Blaze had decided to come over, and as he rootled through my fridge for food he liked, he’d so politely asked if I’d like a sandwich. As if he owned the place.

“Sure...” I sighed. “But don't waste anything. We only just bought that loaf, okay?”

"Yeah, yeah,” he sighed and after a few moments of rummaging around in the kitchen, he slammed the door shut.

Sat on the sofa, I stared at the old TV, the signal was bad and we had hardly any channels. Most of which were in languages I didn’t even know the names of. I clutched one of the tatty cushions close to my body as Blaze returned with two paper plates.

“Thanks,” I smiled at him and took a huge bite out of the bread.

The ham tasted sweet and warm against my tongue. It wasn’t very often we had such a luxury as meat, even if it was scraps. We normally had cheese; all the money tended to spend on food was used to pay the bill for the TV.

We both sat together whilst happily munching away at our delicious warm ham and bread sandwiches as we watched a game show in a bizarre language. Everything finally made sense. Nothing had to be thought about thoroughly. Things didn’t need to be worried about any more. After finishing our sandwiches, he took our plates out and came back with two plastic cups full with water.

“Cheers,” he smiled, tapping the edge of his cup with mine.

“To our future,” I could feel my cheeks burning. It sounded like something that belonged in a romance novel. Fairy tales and happily ever after simply did not exist in this world. There had always been a dark side to things. Nothing had ever been as dandy as it seemed. Wherever the sun’s light may cast, there will be a shadow.

“Cheers,” I replied quietly. And in all fairness, everything seemed good.

Blaze would forever be in my life, I’d never have to hug him for the last time, or shed my tears as the strings of my heart were ripped out. The crucial moment of our departure would not have to be endured. I wouldn’t have to suffer the emotional turmoil. Everything would be as it had always intended to be. Life would make sense. I wouldn’t have to change or move or say goodbye to anyone. Everything would be right.

“You know,” I started, taking a slurp from my cup. “I’d be a complete wreck if it weren’t for you.”

Blaze’s eyes glimmered as they smiled, and his lips tugged at the corners slightly. Everything about him seemed to scream at me perfection. There wasn’t a single bad thing about him. Yeah, sure, at time he crawled right up under my skin, but I’d always forgiven him. He was my rock, after all. Nothing would ever change that, and King Aldwyn would have to get used to the idea that he cannot control everyone. His precious little Rite had never been the centre of the universe. We were not under his thumb like he had so gullibly thought. For the first time, I felt confident, something I had never really felt before. Somehow, I had the confidence to stand up for what I believed to be right. Should people be manipulated, brainwashed into thinking that they were perfect? That their lives were perfect? Nothing could ever be perfect, no matter how hard the King, or anyone else, tried.

The only thing close to perfection was Blaze. Everything about him emanated perfection, from the straight slope of his nose, to his porcelain skin, the deep sea blue eyes to the sweep of his black hair. I could not find a single flaw. His arms were strong and muscular, quite like the rest of his frame. He had changed a lot since he was seven. I remember the stout and skinny little boy he used to be and a rather lazy one too. Back then, his carers went through a phase where they thought it morally correct to neglect their child. They stopped feeding him, but Blaze managed to steal a loaf of bread from the local bakers now and again. Sometimes, I’d sneak him a little parcel of food. Several months past and his parents snapped out of it. Coincidence or not, it made Blaze healthier again.

I, on the other hand, had always looked more or less the same, long brown hair, bright blue eyes like my birth parents. Although now, I tended to wear a bit of makeup, whatever I could afford from the shop across town. Sometimes, the shop owner would give me a tester free of charge. It was not like anyone around here bought makeup anyway, they never really saw the point. If you live in this dump, why make an effort? That’s what some women thought. Some women looked awful. Skinny, bony, skin a dismal grey and eyes a similar, fading colour that reflected the dying and decaying of their personalities. Nothing about them emanated life. They may as well climb into a coffin and be dead. They sure looked like it. My words were harsh but they were true, no? Men really didn’t have a choice around here. They had to live with a woman who was suitable to look after a child. Carers volunteered as pairs; however, there had been the odd case of single parent families.

“Well I’m not going anywhere,” he replied. “Now that you do not have the Rite to worry about, we can unwind.” I looked at him oddly, frowning slightly. Was he completely stupid?

“Blaze,” I sighed, fiddling with my fingers. “Just because I am not sitting the Rite, doesn’t mean we will be living some fairy-tale and life will be dandy.”

 He seemed to disagree; I could see it in his eyes. He collapsed back against the sofa and closed his eyes. After several long, silent moments dragged by, he opened his eyes and stared at me.

“I will have you, Nara,” he said softly. “And that is good enough for me.”

My heart kind of broke as he said that. I noticed the pain in his eyes, as if begging me to understand. I sighed and sank back next to him, curling up closely to his side. I could hear the steady, rhythmic beat of his heart as I rested my cheek against his chest.

“Life isn’t going to be easy, Blaze,” I tried to explain. I could feel the slow rise and fall of his chest as he sucked in air. “We will have to work damn hard for very little money, barely scraping the poverty line. Does that sound like we have time to unwind?”

 He didn’t answer straight away. Slow moments passed us by before he opened his mouth.

“We will make do with what we have got,” he said quietly, wrapping a strand of my hair around his finger. “We can’t spend our lives worrying about everything. We just gotta do everything it takes so that we survive, and believe me, it will be so much easier for me to survive if you are here with me.”

I knew his words were supposed to be affectionate, but I could not shake off the pressure that now rested on my shoulders. Turning my back on Faction Three and the Rite, had been the best decision I could have made, but I would still have to face challenges and the hard life here in Faction Two. I had sacrificed the chance of a better life so that I would not lose my best friend. He owed me, surely.

I decided against replying to him. Instead, I listened to his heartbeat as he took my hand in his, entwining our fingers together. Then he brought my hand to his lips and kissed it gently, and did the same with my fingers. I watched, completely hypnotized, as he did this with my other hand. I had never thought I would share such an intimate moment with him. In fact, I had never really thought of him as lover material. Blaze had always been there, waiting to catch me if I fell, but I had never thought of him as anything more than a friend. But lately, my mind was changing,

With his broad frame to the right of me, I cuddled up closer to him; he traced circle and lines lightly, on the palm of my hand. I watched him tentatively as he did so, my stomach knotting and my breathing hitched. My heart hammered in my chest, what was happening? None of it made sense, did it? We were best friends; things like this didn’t happen between best friends. I only read that sort of thing in my romance novels.

He opened his mouth, as if to say something; then closed it again. He did this numerous times. What had he been trying to say? I noticed Blaze chewing his lips as I peeped up at him. He looked at me, and I could see the desperation in his eyes. Why didn’t he just say it, for god’s sake?

“What?” I snapped at him, and then felt instantly guilty. I had always been impatient and he definitely was not helping the situation.

Instead of him saying something, like I had anticipated, he leaned forward and rested his forehead against mine. I stayed imperiously still, barely breathing. He closed his eyes and breathed slowly. I had never thought such a thing would happen between us. The same thought kept whirling around in my mind. If I went through with the Rite, like I had previously planned, then I would never have shared this moment with him.

He slowly slid is hand up my arm, the skin he had touched felt on fire. I feared he would be able to hear my heart hammering loudly in my chest. Blaze cupped my cheek in his hand and looked into my eyes, our foreheads no longer touching. I held my breath as he slowly moved forward. Completely hypnotized by him, I didn’t move a muscle or say anything. I forced myself to breathe slowly through my mouth, trying to keep myself calm and collected.

Excruciatingly slowly, he leaned forward and just as his lips brushed mine lightly, the front door flung open and Jonathon and Tallulah waltzed in. They barged in through the living room door and saw Blaze merely inches from my face.

“What is going on?” Tallulah exclaimed, hands on her hips.

Jonathon peered around the door, laughed and then headed for the kitchen. I heard the fridge door open and the rummaging of food. They’d just gone to do some food shopping. The fridge was almost always empty so hopefully, they had bought enough food to last us a while.

“Nothing,” Blaze and I said in unison as we untangled ourselves. Blaze stood and looked at Tallulah whilst my cheeks burn a brilliant red.

“I think you ought to leave,” Tallulah said, sternly and stepped away from the living room door.

 Blaze looked at me apologetically and left the room. Once she heard the front door shut, Tallulah looked at me as if waiting for me to explain.

“We were just hanging out,” I explained. But why was I trying to explain myself to her anyway? She never cared what I did with my life, so why was she so interested all of a sudden?

“Sure didn’t look like it,” she frowned, tapping her foot. “I do not want someone else’s child in my house, you hear me? I don’t want you giving our food to a child that is not my responsibility. He has his own fridge, doesn’t he?”

I looked at her, completely shocked. I thought she would have a go at me for being so close to a boy, but instead, she worried about food. I thought that by sharing food, helping others, everyone would get by. Sharing was the art of getting by in this place.

“He is my friend!” I gasped. I flung myself up off the sofa, and shot evil glares her way.

“I do not care if he is your friend, Nara,” she scolded. “Do not bring him into this house again. Understood?”

I shoved past her and ran upstairs to my bedroom. Locking myself inside the four walls of my bedroom, I sighed loudly. How could she do that? Blaze is not a scrounger. He did not come here for food, although we did eat. He did not come here to steal anything. We were just spending time together. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that.

I collapsed on my bed and thought about Blaze. We had been so close to kissing, I had felt his lips lightly skimming mine. And they had to come in and ruin the whole thing. But why had it taken Blaze so long, what had he been waiting for? Or had he been trying to pluck up the courage?

I leapt up off my bed and headed for the window. Opening it, I peered outside, how high up from the ground was I?

Underneath my window, there was a sloped roof with a gutter at the edge. Holding my breath, I climbed out the window and onto it. Shakily, I palmed the tiles, finding it hard to keep my balance as they were wet from the rain that had poured down earlier. Holding my breath, I plucked up the courage, and jumped off the roof. I landed in a crouching position, with my hands on the floor. That could have gone a whole lot worse. I launched myself into a gentle jog down the street and through town. Within ten minutes, I was stood outside Blaze’s house. A thin, tall tree sprouted from the front lawn. The tree looked dead, not many leaves grew from the thin, twisted branches.

Testing the strength of the branches by pulling on them, I began climbing the tree, hoping I would not fall to a messy death. Once outside his window, I slapped one of the branches against the glass, and cursed at how loud I had hit it. I hit it again, quieter, and waited for a response. A few silent, tense moments past before Blaze opened the window.

“Nara?” he questioned.

 “What are you doing? You must be freezing!” I laughed at him and nearly fell from the tree.

Blaze wore a pair of old grey bottoms that hung loosely from his waist. His chest was bare, and muscles tensed in his arms as he opened the window further.

“Get in.” I looked at him oddly before allowing him to help me in through the window. I stumbled in slightly as my foot caught on the ledge. Blaze grabbed me and wrapped me in his arms, warming me up. But in all honesty, I hadn’t been that cold.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, leaning back slightly, to get a better look at my face. “Why didn’t you just come through the door?”

“I didn’t know if your carers were home and I didn’t want to startle them.”

“They are downstairs eating dinner. As soon as I got home, I came straight up here. I needed to think.” He let go of me and wandered to his set of drawers. Opening the third drawer, he pulled out a purple shirt and yanked it over his head.

“What about?” I asked, curiously. “

Everything,” he muttered, turning to face me. “You.”

I stared at the ground shyly, not wanting to see the desperation for me to understand in his eyes, or for him to see how off I had been. There was just too much pressure on me, to be everything he wanted, to survive, and to take care of a child I would soon have to look after.

He smiled, pulling me to him and slithering his arms around my waist. I slid my arms up his chest and looped them around his neck. What had started this all off? Why had we become like this? Had it been the fear of him losing me, or the other way around? He gazed into my eyes, as if searching for something, trying to read me.

“What are you thinking?” he asked, inquisitively. I bit my lip. I couldn’t tell him how I felt or what floated around in my mind because I just didn’t know how to explain it.

“I don’t want you to expect too much from me,” I whispered finally. I had decided to tell the truth. Where would telling lies get me? “What?” he asked; confusion on his face.

“I can’t be everything you want,” I said, solemnly. “I’m not perfect.”

 Blaze sighed and shook his head.

“You are perfect to me.” He rested his head against mine, breathing slowly and softly. “As long as you stay here, you are everything to me.”

I squeezed him tightly, not wanting this moment to end. Burying my face against his chest, I closed my eyes, begging the tears to stay back. If only he knew.

“Blaze,” I said. I needed to tell him. “I need to tell you something.”

“Shh,” he whispered, stroking my hair. “Everything is okay. We will get through this. I will make sure we survive this.”

Tears began to leak from my eyes, how could I tell him about the pressure I felt, having to grow up, worrying about income and food supply? Suddenly, everything felt so wrong. I should not be here. I didn’t belong here. “I have to go,” I said instantly, shoving him away. “This isn’t right.”

“What?” confusion crossed his face. “Nara, what’s going on?”

“I can’t...I can’t stay here,” I stuttered, backing towards the window. "I can't deal with this."

“What do you mean you can’t stay here?” he said, worry and aggression rising in his voice. “Of course you can.”

“No I can’t,” I insisted. “I thought I could stay here, be everything you have ever wanted, but I can’t. It’s too much pressure. I can’t stay here with you, Blaze.”

His face went suddenly serious as he processed my words. Leaning forward, he tried to comfort me by stroking my arm. I shrugged him off.

“Nara, I won’t let you go,” he persisted firmly. “I can’t watch you leave for the last time. You can’t say goodbye to me forever.”

“Don’t!” I screamed, tears rolling down my cheeks and splashing on the floor. “You can’t guilt trip me into doing this!”

“What? I thought you wanted to stay?” Blaze snapped, annoyed. “Why have you so suddenly changed your mind?”

 “Because I cannot stay here and play happy families like you want. Fairytales don’t exist here, Blaze. I don’t belong here.”

There, I had said it. He stood, staring at me, wounded.

“You can’t just leave,” he hissed, but I could see the hurt in his eyes.

I watched him, saw how crippled he looked from my words. He thought I had just betrayed him and in a way, I kind of had. He had opened up to me, showed me the side I had seen in my dream. He had given me what I had wanted and I had turned my back on him in return.

“I’m sorry, Blaze,” I muttered, shaking my head. “This week has been great; you have shown me a kind of love that I have never experienced before. But I’m not what you need.”

“Of course you are!”

I processed his words. I knew how he felt about me, and lately his emotions towards me had gradually unravelled. The same had happened to me. I felt exposed around him. And then I said the only thing I could think of that would make him let me go.

“Well I don’t need you. You will never be good enough for me.”

Blaze gasped, and it was almost as if I could hear his heart break. His eyes glistened with tears, but I could see that he was refusing to let them fall in front of me.

“Don’t turn your back on me,” he warned, anger and pain in his eyes. I shook my head and climbed out the window. Blaze watched me as I latched onto the branch of a tree.

“Goodbye, Blaze,” I said solemnly and dropped to the floor. I winced as I heard the bedroom window slam shut.

As my heart hammered in my chest, I ran home. I should not have left in the first place. It had been an idiotic idea. When I reached my house, I came in through the front door, slamming it shut afterwards. I did not care if I woke Jonathon and Tallulah. The light glowed brightly from the kitchen. I guessed they were already awake. And I was in for a row. Entering the kitchen slowly, I braced myself.

“Where on God’s Earth, have you been?” Tallulah exclaimed, as if she could possibly care. Jonathon stared at his newspaper; at least he didn’t pretend to care.

“Oh give it a rest, Tallulah, it’s not like you don’t give a damn,” I snapped and stormed off to my room, slamming it shut behind me.

I screamed loudly and collapsed on my bed. Why did he have to expect so much of me, why couldn’t he just be happy without me? I had fooled myself to think that I could possibly live here. I had been right all along, this place was not home. Home's a place that provides warmth, care, food, shelter. Faction Two barely ever managed this. I had to go Faction Three.

Tallulah and Jonathon did not speak to me again that night, perhaps because I had shocked them that they decided to leave me to my own devices for the rest of the evening. As it was only 8.00PM, I picked up my romance novel and dove into it, getting lost in that world I loved so much. It might be possible that I could finish the book within a few hours of reading. The cocoon sealed around me, and I became completely consumed by the words on the pages. My heart hammered in my chest as I reached the ending. The climactic ending left me reeling. The thought of there not being a follow up to such an amazing book, depressed me. I had fallen in love with the main characters and their life stories.

Now fidgeting, and drunk on the book I had just finished, I had no idea what to do with myself. What would I read next? I placed the novel in one of my boxes, and grabbed one off my shelf. Surprisingly, I had picked a book I had not read yet. As I slowly walked back to my bed, I read the blurb on the back of the book. It sounded interesting, but I did not think I could fall in love with a book like I had done with my last romance novel. It would be virtually impossible for me to find a book half as good.

Crashing on top of my bed, I began reading the first chapter of the book. I did not hook me like the other had done, but I forced myself to continue reading anyway. After another hour of reading, I wedged my bookmarker inside the novel and closed it. Flicking the lamp off, I placed the book on the bureau and wrapped myself with the warmth of the patchwork blanket. Curled up with my knees to my chin, a wave of guilt washed over me. I had been harsh with Blaze, but hopefully, soon he would understand. I had not meant to be so cold, but it had been the only thing I could think of that would get me away from him. I just couldn’t be the girl he wanted me to be.

In two days, I would have sat the Rite; I would be in Faction Three, where I was meant to be. I would be home.

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