[**WARNING: Contains Gory Details in this chapter!! Read at your own risk**]
This chapter is dedicated to one of my fellow classmates, Auston McLellan (17), who recently died in a one-vehicle collision with a utility pole. He will be forever missed :') #14Strong!
December 13, 1995 - August 18, 2013
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Reaching the blast zone, we surveyed what was left of the demolished suburb. My friends and I, including Blake, immediately went to search for the source of the blast; it didn't take very long.
Meanwhile, I was getting absolutely worried for Kyle. I was hoping, by some miracle, that he was still alive, that nothing horrible had happened to him; he'd be alright! - but I doubted it. I just wasn't ready to take his place just yet. I needed more practice! More TIME!
"Ohmygod, GUYS! Over here!" Jackie called, her voice coming from far off. I was the first to reach her, and my heart dropped dramatically down to the pit of my stomach. What I saw would haunt me for the rest of my puny life...
[What I am about to describe to you might be a bit of a gory detail - nothing too gruesome - if you're not comfortable with something like that, you can skip the next few paragraphs…]
Kyle had been blown apart to smithereens, chunks of him strewn everywhere. It was all very bloody and so horrific that I almost gagged.
Jackie almost did as well. She turned away, unable to look at Kyle's gory remains any longer. I remained stoned, staring at the bloody mess spread every which way, a horrified expression in my face; I couldn't move, couldn't react, and could barely think... All I could do was stand there and stare. I heard a couple people sobbing, mostly Jane; you could hear her anywhere.
"I-is that...?" I heard Ella trail off, unable to say his name aloud for fear of being told the truth. A soft whimper escaped her lips as she tried to hold back her tears.
Sometime during all of this, Sal had arrived. He came up to me and rested a hand on my shoulder. I was so out of it that the comforting gesture didn't faze me.
"It is," he declared solemnly. Our fears were confirmed..
I rarely cried. I guess I was tough enough not to show emotion easily, as if my tears had dried up a long time ago, when my parents died in the Great War to End the World. Instead, silence fell over me and I became paralyzed. Kyle was dead, and he was never coming back.
"I'm greatly sorry, Roxanne. It's my fault. I should never have sent him on his own. I am so sorry..." Sal's voice broke, and he walked away. Trina followed him to comfort him. I could do nothing but stay where I was, still paralyzed. It wasn't his fault; I didn't blame him. It was just the way life was - it had been purely an accident.
"He must have tripped on a mine," Blake was saying, locating the black whole in the middle of the mess exactly where the mine had been.
Jackie came up to me, taking my arm to comfort me. "Come on Roxy. You shouldn't see this." She said. When I didn't move, she tugged on my arm. She had to practically drag me away, and I found that my legs could finally move.
I let my best friend pull me away from the gory crime scene. I was glad for that, I didn't want to look at it any longer. Jackie gave me a hug out of comfort. I tried to hug her back, but I was still tense, still in shock, so it probably felt like she was hugging a stone pillar.
The rest of my friends joined, gathering me in a big group hug, giving me words of encouragement and comfort. I was grateful to have my friends. Standing in that chilly air, however, I began to shiver. Rickie gave me his blanket he still had, and I wrapped myself in it, thanking him.
We waited while Sal assessed the damage. When he came back, he had on a sad expression, his hand in Trina's. He probably still blamed himself for Kyle's untimely death. "We haven't found anymore bodies so I believe there is nothing here, it's completely deserted."
Everyone nodded silently, while I shifted uncomfortable from foot to foot.
"Was this an accident or was the mine planted there for him?" Rickie wondered, unable to say Kyle's name aloud. Just thinking about him hurt, too.
"I have no idea. Further search of the place has come up with more mines, so this was purely accidental." Sal said. I could clearly tell Sal still blamed himself, but what else could you do? It would totally suck, being the leader. Everyone's deaths that happened on your watch, you would HAVE to blame yourself; after all, it had happened on your watch. It was part of being a leader, and I definitely wasn't ready for that. Kyle should still be here, should still be alive.
As we departed, I walked next to Sal on his other side. "I know you probably resent me for Kyle's death, and I'm terribly sorry. You don't know how much."
"Sal..." Trina patted his arm.
I shook my head. "I'm not, Sal. Quit blaming yourself! You couldn't have known that there were mines there."
Sal looked at me. "You're not mad?" He seemed surprised by that.
No, of course not. It wasn't you're fault. Horrible things happen to good people; we both should know that very well by now." I told him.
"She's right, Sal. You couldn't have known what would happen. There was no way anyone could have prevented this. Not even you. We're only human." Trina reminded him insistantly. I could tell her heart was breaking for him, that she hated seeing him like this. I did, too. He always took full responsibility during times like these. He WAS the leader after all.
"But I told him to. I'm a leader; it's only natural. I'm just glad you're not furious with me." Sal hung his head, squeazing Trina's hand and giving both of us a sad but grateful smile.
I attempted a small smile as well. "Don't worry. Yeah, I'm terrified that I'm going to be taking his place, but I'm not mad. You're a great leader, Sal."
"Thank you, Rox. That means a lot." He said, smiling a little. It didn't totally reach his eyes.
Trina looked up at him with those beautiful soft gaze of hers. "I told you she didn't hate you." They shared an intimate look that made me feel like I was intruding on something special, so I looked away. Gah, all this lovey-dovey stuff was tiring to watch.
I awoke early the next morning, before the sun even came up. I heard chattering close by, and saw Blake and Sal talking to each other and warming themselves by the burning embers of the dying flames of our old campfire.
My friends' sleeping bodies surrounded me, snoring loudly in their sleeping bags. The twins' snoring was what probably had woke me up most likely, since their snores sounded like a freight train. I had no chance of falling back to seep; once I was up, I was up. Period.
Seeing me walking towards them, they turned to greet me. Blake smiled at me; it wasn't big, but it was definitely a friendly smile.
"Morning, Roxanne." Sal greeted conversationally. It looked like he hadn't got much sleep; the bags under his eyes proved that. I know I probably did as well.
"Hey," I replied, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. "What's up?"
"Blake was asking if he could join us. He could be in charge of the guards. You know we need many of those." Sal said.
I nodded. "Great. Not a bad idea," I said. I had no problem with it, though Jackie would tantalize me constantly, of that I knew.
Blake nodded, looking somewhat relieved. "I'm glad you agree. I don't want to intrude on anything, what with being a stranger and all."
Sal placed a hand on Blake's left shoulder. "I trust you completely. I have faith in you that you will lead the guards sector well. Everyone else who has a problem with that can deal with it or talk to me. You'll fit in just fine." he assured him with his trademark charismatic smile that was breathtaking to look at. I couldn't help thinking that Trina was one lucky girl.
Blake brought out a weak smile. "Thanks. I hope so, too."
I had a feeling we'd be hearing Alec complain about it, but I could care less; he would have to deal with it.
Sal left us to check on the sick and wounded, leaving me - unfortunately - alone with Blake. 'Oh goodness. I think I'm gonna die.'
I shifted uncomfortable from foot to foot, the silence between us becoming even more awkward. I was going to make up some excuse to leave when Blake finally spoke.
"So, what's your story?" He asked, genuinely curious. He plopped down on a rock nearby, leaving me standing alone and feeling even more awkward. The question had taken me totally by surprise, leaving me speechless for the moment.
"I mean, like, your background and all that. If you don't want to tell me, it's perfectly okay. I just thought..." Blake added, smiling awkwardly, embarrassed at having to explain himself.
"No, you're fine. I was just surprised is all." I said, deciding to sit on the rock opposite him. "I've never really told people about my past. My friends know very little because I don't like to talk about it much." I played with my fingers. I was always secretive about my past. It had been gruesome, and talking about my parents always tore at my lonely heart, so I kept away from the subject, keeping my feelings guarded.
"Well, I can go first if you want me to." He offered, clasping his hands together on his lap, his soft blue gaze held mine, strong and trusting.
I shifted uncomfortably under that gaze. "Sure go ahead."
In a solemn voice, Blake began his tale of how he came to be where he was now. He had a clear, storyteller voice that automatically drew me in, rapt into Blake's sad tale. The scary thing was, it was almost similar to mine. Almost.
"I grew up in Wyoming, in a small little town. My parents were rich and had a big job that earned them a lot of money. I was raised well. My mom taught me to be a gentleman and so I never grew up spoiled like most kids in other rich families. From the beginning, I was different. Years later, the second Big Depression hit."
I remembered that day; I had been only six. Those had been hard times...
"When I was six, my mom got sick and we had lost so much money that we couldn't pay for a doctor. Eventually, the sickness took her. My Dad couldn't afford to raise me anymore, so he sent me off to some academy and I never saw him again. He used to be a political advisor or something."
Blake's posture became stiff and he went on with a tight expression, his eyes downcast. "I went through a brutal childhood after that. Eventually, the wars began and everything erupted into chaos. I was thirteen and living in Kansas by that time and the academy burned down. I ran, becoming homeless, moving from place to place, and fending for myself."
He played with his hands as he spoke, looking at them. I did the same, watching him fidget. "I was fifteen by the time I reached D.C. I was captured and sent here to a prison. Eventually, when they came up with the Sectors, I was placed in this one, eventually joining New Ferry, where I am today."
He lifted his eyes to mine and caught my gaze. He continued on in an ominous voice that sent a cold shiver down my spine. "I was trained to kill back at the academy, that's all I can say. I could follow NGO, hunting down rebels like my people in New Ferry including you group. But I didn't want anything to do with the NGO and I didn't feel like killing innocent people just because the NGO was power-hungry. Instead, I chose good over evil; I chose to protect. I was good at it, so New Ferry took me in as their guardian, so to speak. Now they don't want me, so my only chance for a future in protection is with you guys, where I think I rightfully belong."
When he was done, neither of us spoke a word. Finally, Blake spoke up. "I'm sorry if I scared you." He apologized, his expression changing back to his usual handsomely polite self.
"Nah, I'm okay. You had better not mention the killing part to our party back at the mall." I said. "They might worry that you'll murder them in their sleep or something." I joked, trying to keep the conversation light. I was probably failing miserably.
Blake cracked a half smile. "That wouldn't be good."
"Yeah, not too good for your reputation, I suppose." I agreed.
"So, what's your story?" Blake asked again, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees, resting his chin on his hands to gaze at me with those mysterious dark blue eyes of his.
I took a deep breath and began. "I grew up here for most of my life. My parents died when I was six, because of the stupid war, so I was on my own for about a year until I joined this band of misfits. Sal has taken care of me like a second father and Kyle was like a brother to me." I stared at my hands to avoid Blake's gaze as I tried to compose myself at the mention of Kyle. I closed myself off after I watched my parents disappear that night. I cried all my tears out and haven't cried since, hardening over the years.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Blake said, sounding sincere. I stole a quick glance at him. Luckily, he was looking away into the distance.
"Looks like Sal got everyone up. I think we'll be leaving soon." he said, getting to his feet.
Sure enough, everyone around us was up and gathering their things, getting ready to head out. I got up and Blake followed.
"It was nice talking to you. I hope you'll like it back at the Rebel HQ. It may not be very stylish nor the most ideal place to live and all, but it's definitely better than nothing." I told him, keeping up the small talk as I was wringing my hands out of nervousness. Saving me from the awkwardness of saying goodbye, I heard Jackie call my name. "See you around?" I began walking away.
Blake nodded, giving me a small friendly smile. "Yeah, definitely."
When we got back to our hideout, we delivered the terrible news of Kyle's untimely undoing to the rest of the rebels. To be expected, they didn't take it too well either.. Many broke down crying, some sobbing into the shirt of the person next to them, and many others who didn't cry just looked solemnly off into the distance, faces withdrawn.
The Rebel Committee came together to discuss what to do next, later coming up with a plan: we'd hold a vigil for Kyle, and build something in rememberance of him.
Then we discussed Blake's position into our Cause, which started off a little crazy - thanks to Alec, of course.
"How can we trust him? He may be an NGO spy for all we know. We don't even know his background, where he came from!" Alec pointed out.
"He's informed me about his past, that he'd been imprisoned most of his life until he was placed into our sector, where he escaped and went to live in New Ferry. He's just a boy looking to make a difference in this world, and he wants to take down the NGO as much as we do." Sal pointed out, sounding very authoritive and most convincing.
I knew that Sal's tale wasn't the full one, but I didn't dare point that out; Alec would've just loved to hear that Blake used to be trained as an NGO soldier..
"Plus, he used to be in charge of security back in New Ferry before he was recently replaced. If I recall, we currently need someone to head the security department, and he's the right guy for the job." He added, quite cleverly - I might add.
There were murmers at this point as every Rep and Junior Rep discussed this new idea amongst themselves. Most of them looked like they agreed with what Sal had said, but only a few looked very skeptical.
Alec noticed this, too, because he started to look annoyed. "Oh, come on.. Don't tell me you believe this nonsense! This Blake guy could be lying; how are we to know he's not telling us everything?"
Sal bent forward, resting his hands flat on the table as he looked Alec straight in the eyes. His usually warm gaze looked fiercely as he went on in a serious, absolute voice. "I trust him. I've met him, and I've seen him in action. He's charismatic, selfless, and strong willed; he cares about people and he always wants the best for them." He pulled his gaze from Alec to look around at all the other Representatives, one by one. "If you don't believe me, see for yourself. Bring Blake in and ask him if you want. Isn't this what we do to everyone who joins us? Afterwards, we can decide for ourselves and put it to a vote."
Every Rep nodded in agreement at this, and it was officially decided.
"Then we'll interview him before Kyle's vigil tonight.. Now that that's settled, there's another matter we need to discuss." This time, Sal's gaze connected with mine, and I was filled with a dark feeling of dread.
Oh crap... I wasn't ready for this!
"Since Kyle is no longer with us, his Junior Representative is to fill his place as the Representative of the 15-18 year olds, as is custom. Roxanne Monroe, would you stand please?" Sal announced, his eyes trying to appear encouraging as he looked at me. At the other end of the table, I could see Alec giving me one of his usual dark-and-murdering expressions, frowning. Thankfully, he didn't rudely interrupt Sal to complain and argue it - though a small part of me secretly wished he would.
I felt shaky as I rose to my feet in front of the whole Committee. My stomach plummeted a few more inches as I felt everyone's eyes on me as I stood there. I was SO not ready for this!
"Roxy, I know this is so sudden, and you may not feel like you're ready to step into your mentor's shoes, but I believe you're braver than you may realize. There's no one else I'd want to be in your position. I believe you can do the duties that your position requires, and that you'll do it the right way that you know how...
"Now, for the real question: Will you accept this duty presented to you?" Sal looked at me, an easy, reassuring smile on his face. He really did believe I could do this. I could see it clearly looking at his face right then. Why he had so much faith in me, I'll never know - until much later, of course...
Taking a gulp and a deep, drawing breath, I nodded. Oh Lordy... I couldn't believe I was actually doing this. "I do. If you have so much faith in me that I can do this, I might as well accept." I agreed, rather begrudgingly.
Sal smiled and nodded, approving wholeheartedly of my choice. "Good. Roxanne Monroe, you are officially a head Representative and my right-hand advisor." he announced, practically beaming.
I tried to ignore the stares and cheers I received, as all around the conference room the Reps and their Juniors clapped for me. All this attention was causing my face to heat up, making me uncomfortable. But upon seeing Alec's seething face and Bailee's little wink from across the room, it made me feel a tiny bit better about this whole thing.
Shows you, Dirtbag...
"Who's going to take my place?" I asked once the applauses had died down.
"We'll think about that later. Right now, there's an interview to hear and a vigil to plan..." Sal said, getting down to business. I sat myself down immediately, waiting to hear the inevitable. I already knew my vote.
Later that night, everyone was gathered in the lobby of the mall for Kyle's vigil. In the front, a couple people had put together an alter-like structure in Kyle's memory. There were huge piles of items surrounding the alter; pictures, letters, and mementos. All to Kyle from all the Rebelz members who had something to give. A bigger picture of Kyle was the centerpiece of the whole alter, with stuffed animals and drawings from the littler kids placed around it. Right in front of the framed picture of Kyle was his damaged glasses; all that remained of him after the explosion that ended his life. Kyle was a good guy. He didn't deserve to go out like this!
The atmosphere was absolutely somber in the building. I could feel the tension. Everyone spoke in hushed whispers. No one laughed, joked, or smiled; this wasn't a very smile-worthy event. Nothing ever was.
I stood off to the side, out of the way of everyone, trying to keep my wits about me as I attempted to remain calm. Breaking down wouldn't help bring my mentor and friend back.
Kyle had been a whiz at knowing the inner-workings of politics and government. When he was younger, he'd wanted to be a lawyer when he grew up. Sadly, he would never get to fulfill that childhood dream. I know I shouldn't have to explain any further.
Since he was skilled at being a lawyer, Sal had appointed him his advisor a few years around the time I was 15. When I was 16, I became Kyle's Junior Rep, and we'd been friends ever since. He taught me pretty much everything he knew - including the boring stuff unfortunately. He'd always been patient with me, and knew how to handle my wise-cracks. I never knew how he did it, but I know he helped mold me into the person I was today. He was an absolute dork, but that's what made him sort of endearing. He was the big, smart, nerdy brother I never had (Rickie didn't count; he's more like an annoying, geeky, girl-crazy brother).
The first part was to be the funeral, where the people closest to Kyle got up and said a few words about him and his life - any part of it; his childhood and his life before the NGO had came into power and ruined it - including his distribution to the Rebel Cause and so forth.
The first person up was Sal, who said a few words about how Kyle had been a loyal member to the Rebelz; he talked about his smarts and his skills. Then he introduced a few of Kyle's friends and relatives to say a few words.. to say their goodbyes.
He had a younger cousin, Haley, who had just turned 15 a month or so ago. Through the tears dripping down her face, she went on to say what a kind and caring person he had been to her, taking her under his wing and watching out for her once their parents died. She went on to remember some of the good memories they had shared, the good and the bad. That she would miss him terribly and he was in a better place now, with his family once again. Everyone tried so hard not to break down upon hearing this tear-jerking confession, but many cries escaped some lips anyways, which almost made me cry. I was glad I managed to hold it all in and not bawl in front of them.
And then it was my turn. I didn't have the slightest idea what I was going to say; I wasn't very good at all this emotional stuff, and I never liked speaking in front of crowds like this.
But, for Kyle, I decided to do it anyways.
Reluctantly, I went up to the front of the room, next to Kyle's remembrance alter. I remained silent for a while, trying desperately to organize my thoughts. What was I supposed to say? I didn't have any heartwarming stories to tell. There weren't any words that would ever begin to describe what Kyle meant to me; there was nothing that seemed right at the moment.
Oh Kyle... why did you have to leave so soon?
"Ummm, well, nothing I can say would do Kyle much justice. His friends already covered all of that, so there isn't much left to say..." I cleared my throat, thinking. I must have looked absolutely stupid up there, clearing my throat like an idiot. "Uh, Kyle was a great mentor and a good friend. He definitely didn't deserve this fate, nobody does. He might have been a total dork, his glasses always lopsided with that thoughtful expression on his face when he was trying to come up with an expert plan to out-debate you."
The crowd chuckled at my attempt at humor, which made me press on as I was starting to feel somewhat more confident than I had originally felt at the start.
"All I know is, Kyle would've wanted us to keep fighting, to keep on going, even after he was gone. He wouldn't want us to dwell on our hardships and problems, but to make a difference. Kyle would be proud; I just know it."
My friends, standing off to one side, smiled encouragingly at me with their familiar faces. Jackie even managed to give me an encouraging thumbs up through tears of sorrow.
'I think that went pretty well... Better than I had thought it would go, anyways,' I thought in relief, getting down off that podium.
Next came the vigil.
The vigil lasted the rest of the night. A large group of people stayed, kneeling and praying in front of Kyle's memorial altar, cupping their lit candles in their hands. When they were done, they placed their candle at the base of the altar, look at Kyle's photo one last time with tearful look, and then turned to walk away. It was so touching.
My friends sat with me on the ground, each with their own candles. No one said a word as we sat there, quietly holding our lit candles with heads bowed. I was comforted by their presence beside me, and it made dealing with Kyle's loss a bit easier to manage.. I seriously wouldn't know what I'd do without my friends.
Eventually, midnight came around and most of the lobby was cleared out and devoid of life. Each of my friends placed a comforting hand on my shoulder, one by one, before they left to head to bed.
Jackie was the last of them, giving me a one-armed squeeze around my shoulders before she left. A few minutes later, Blake appeared, sitting beside me.
"How did you think your interview went?" I asked him, my voice rough from all the emotion welling up inside me. I wanted something else to think about besides death for a change.
Blake shrugged. "I have no clue, but I hope I can stay. I really believe in your guys' cause and I want to help in any way I can. Do you think they'll accept me?"
I shrugged as well, my eyes remained focused on the floor in front of me, my hands cupping my flickering candle. "It's definitely a possibility. If I know Sal, you're going to be accepted into our ranks no problem. Everyone trusts Sal's judgment. If he trusts you completely like I know he does, then he'll be able to convince the committee to vote for your induction. So I don't think you have anything to worry about."
Blake nodded, and I didn't know how to decipher that, since I couldn't seem to tear my eyes away from the floor. "Is that Alec kid always so... judgmental?"
I couldn't help but chuckle humorlessly. Obviously he wasn't a big fan of Alec either. "Well, it's a definite yes on the 'mental' part... Alec argues about everything, and he's the most snidest, meanest person you'll ever meet. He's annoying, pompous, and he hates everyone's guts. And I know he's after Sal's job, because he always questions everything, and thinks he's better than everyone else. But in time, you'll learn to put up with him... maybe."
I could see Blake smirk out of the corner of my eye, but then it faded as the reminder of the somber death around us brought us both back to our senses. "I'm sorry about Kyle. From what I heard earlier at the eulogy, he was a great person."
"Thanks. And yes, he was. He'll be missed... but I won't let his death be in vain. It just makes me want to get back at the NGO in any way I can." My sorrow turned into anger - something I always did in order to deal with every crappy think going on in my life - and I wanted to punch something really bad.
"Just be careful. These people can't lose another person they love." With that warning, Blake got to his feet. "You should get some sleep soon. It won't do you any good to stay up. Kyle would want you to keep moving on. Trust me." And with that, Blake bid me goodnight and left.
I took a deep breath and got to my feet. Walking up to the altar, glowing from the light of a thousand candles, I placed my own among them, watching the flames flicker and dance for a while as I stood there looking at Kyle's alter one last time. My gaze landed on his broken glasses.
"Goodbye, my friend. You're in a hell of a lot better place than here... Say hello to Mom and Dad for me, and tell them that I will stop the NGO... for all of you." I vowed under my breath. I wouldn't give up until I fixed this messed up world I lived in, even if it meant taking risks.