As we descended stairs to what I assumed to be our rooms, Lily and I were left alone. We'd let everybody else travel ahead of us and we were then left in stony silence, ''I noticed you and Brian–''
“Wow,” I guffawed, “Look, Lily, I've been here for all of five minutes. I don't have a thing for Brian. I don't even know him.”
“Oh, don't lie and tell me you don't think he's into you.” she chuckled, “He gave you his jacket, for Christ's sake.”
“Oh, yes. He gave me his jacket. It must be love.” I scoffed.
“Brian isn't like that, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let me put it this way. If we were on the Titanic, he would've pushed any kid out of the way to get on a lifeboat. He worries about what he can do to better himself. There's never any of this, lending jackets and offering to train rookies. It just doesn't happen. Not with Brian.”
“So he's got a crush. I'm assuming I'm the first new kid around here in quite a while. It's probably just refreshing to have some new blood around.” I shrugged, “Look, we had one conversation. I was in shock and he helped calm me down.” After walking in silence for only a few more moments, it struck me, “You have a thing for Brian, don't you?”
Her rough facade quickly melted away as her cheeks flushed, “No, don't be stupid.” she grumbled, trying to stop the tiny small that tugged at the corner of her mouth.
“How long?” I whispered, even as we came to a stop in front of my room. It had my name written across a place card on the door, “I'm not leaving until you tell me.” I quipped, weaving my arms across my chest.
“He wouldn't go for it.” she gave a shaky laugh, refusing to look up and make eye contact.
“Oh, I knew it.” I cackled.
“Yeah, well, it doesn't matter, because he doesn't like me like that. You know, we've been training partners for almost two years and not once has he looked at my boobs.”
I let out an exasperated sigh, “Lily, that could be a good thing. Maybe he's a gentlemen. You know, gentlemen like girls with manners. And I don't want to break it to you, but putting someone in a choke hold and slamming them against the wall isn't exactly the epitome of class.”
“And you think you're such a lady?” she questioned, letting her guard fall slowly and cautiously.
“I'd like to think so. I took etiquette lessons with some other girls in town when I was younger. I was one of the best in the class. I'd be happy to teach you what I know. Say, tomorrow after I get back from training?”
Her eyes lit up at my offer and she took my hand, shaking it so strongly that is caused my insides to quake, “Thank you, Lucy.”
“I think we're well on our way to a good friendship.” I grinned, even though I could feel the exhaustion beginning to set back in. Knowing that there was a bed no more than ten feet away didn't particularly help.
“Oh, no.” she quickly retracted her hand, “Make no mistake. I still don't like you.”
“It's okay. You'll come around.” I laughed, opening the door and sliding inside before she could pull me out of the good mood I was in. I never knew that having a conversation with someone who had been threatening me with my life an hour prior could be such a form of stress relief.
I just barely gotten settled into bed when there was a knock at the door. Before I had an opportunity to so much as cover my exposed skin, the door creaked open and Brian stepped inside, “Jesus, Man. What's the point of knocking if you don't wait for a response?” I gasped, sitting up, covering myself with the duvet.
“I knock to alert you to my imminent presence.” he laughed, sitting at the edge of my bed, “I came to apologize for earlier. You seemed kind of pissed.”
“Well, you could've told me you were Alexius' brother. Maybe then I would've shown a little restraint with the things I'd said.”
“How was I supposed to tell you?” he questioned, “We'd known each other for all of ten minutes. What was I supposed to say? Hi, I'm Brian, next in line for the super power. I'm sure that would've gone over really well with Lex.”
“Like you said, you're second in line for the super power. You're immune to everything that girl has up her sleeve. You could set the boarding house on fire and she would still have to deal with you. The rest of us are expendable. Forgive me for wanting to tread lightly.”
“We aren't as close as you might think. I'm only second in line by blood. If she had her way, she'd be shipping me back to Utah in a paper sack.” he laughed, “Lex never was very fond of me.”
“Utah, you say. So your family isn't from Kansas originally.”
“Lex was taken when she was your age from our home by the old headmaster. Then she came and collected me when she was nineteen and just finishing up her studies. She was always sensitive about our past life. It really affected her more so than it did me, because she was married.”
“Married?” I questioned, “You say she was my age and she was married. What kind of a place did you live that people get married when they're sixteen?”
“We lived in a Mormon polygamist community.” All of the blood drained from my face, “You know the things that you are facing because of your craft here? Think of that, only times one hundred and that's what it was like for her. We're talking – if someone sneezed without the permission of the Prophet, they were burned as a heretic. That's what we had to escape from.”
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked, pulling my knees in tight to my chest.
He shook his head, “I want you to know these things because I could tell that you were mad that I kept my status from you. And I want us to be friends. So I suppose you could say that it's in the spirit of full disclosure.”
“Okay, that's good enough for me.” I shrugged, “Then what did they do to you? After your sister left?”
“My father drove me to the town line, gave me ten bucks, and sent me on my way.” his voice wavered as he recalled the memories, “You know, I never really cared much for him, but I was shocked that my mother didn't try to do anything to stop it. She was a good lady.”
“What happened to them both?”
“Last I heard, Pop was still alive. He's got something like six or seven wives, I think. My mom isn't a wife anymore, though. She – um – wasn't able to produce anymore children, so he divorced her. Replaced her with some young, blond thing. Mom died a couple years back. Some kind of cancer or something. I don't really remember. Lex didn't really give me the details.”
“I'm so sorry.”
“It's no big deal. Nothing good ever comes from being a part of a religion that bastardizes the family unit. We never learned to love each other, because we never saw love. We saw business transactions.”
“Don't say that. They taught you the best they could.” I assured him, thinking back to my own town and their radical views, “That lifestyle has been around for hundreds of years. It's all your parents ever knew. They taught you the best they could.”
“And look how screwed up they made me.” he shrugged, “Wow, that was really deep.” he chuckled, “Maybe we should postpone the rest of that conversation until we're both fully conscious.”
“Yeah.” I nodded, feeling my eyes flutter a bit as a furiously tried to stay awake. I knew so little about this place and I was talking to one of the people who arguably knew the most about it. I had to keep pushing through so that I could get a bit of information to appease my confused mind, “What do you think of Lily?” I asked. Yeah, that definitely wasn't what I was going for – just the first thing that happened to pop into my mind.
He huffed out a sigh, slumping back, across my knees, placing an arm under his head, “I don't know about her. She seems so lost. I don't know her well. I don't really think anybody in the house really does. She mostly keeps to herself. I mean, to a normal person, she's kind of terrifying. She did threaten to tear your throat out with her bare hands.”
“Okay, well aside from her brashness–”
“I don't know. She's nice enough, I guess.” he shrugged.
“I think you should get to know her better. She's worth getting to know.”
“Like you know so much about her.” he scoffed.
“I don't know much about anybody yet, but I will tell you one thing that I noticed. She needs friends.”
“You need friends.”
“I'm working on that bit.” I admitted, “I'm still just a little bit too overwhelmed.”
“You know, I hear friends help you through things. So, how about I be your friend and help you through this by taking you to a party tomorrow night.”
“A party?” I questioned, “What kind of parties are there around here?”
“Good ones.” he chuckled, “Wichita State is only like ten minutes away. Come on, it'll be fun. You can meet some of the locals, blow off some steam. Lex lets us go out as much as we want. She says she doesn't want the Boarding House to be a prison.”
“I'll go on one condition.” I reasoned. At his questioning look, a smile slid across my face,
“I'll go if you take Lily.”
“You're really not going to let that go, are you?”
“Not a chance.”
He huffed a sighed of aggravation before nodding, “Fine. Yes, I will take Lily.”
“Good.” I smiled, but just as I was about to continue on to whatever topic was about to fly out of my mouth next, the door came bursting open and Alexius once again stood in the doorway.
“For God's sake, Brother. At least give the poor girl a day to settle in before you start barging into her room.” her face was stony, “I think it's best that you leave and let Miss Carter get some sleep.” she snapped.
“Whatever you say, Sister.” he spat, “Goodnight, Lucy.” he mumbled, pushing past Alexius and out the door. A moment later, I heard a door slam down the hall and I felt my walls come back up. I wasn't nearly as comfortable spilling information to Alexius and I didn't know why. I just knew that if there was one person in this house that I could confide in, it was definitely Brian at that point.
“I see my brother has taken a liking to you.”
“He's shown me around, I guess. Your students seem to listen to him.”
“Yes, well, I would appreciate it if you would try to keep your distance. He likes the people who have the power and right now that's you, but a week from now, you have no way of knowing. You can befriend him, just don't be too disappointed when he tosses you out in a couple of weeks.”
“Don't think that I think it's more than it is. I'm going to a party with him tomorrow. He's taking Lily and I'm okay with going alone. I'm not above it. I don't want him. And that's that. I'm sure he's great, but the fact of the matter is, I haven't known any of you long enough to like or dislike you, but he's made a very good first impression.”
“Just know, Miss Carter, that people around here don't last very long. We take part in missions. We go in and some of us don't come out. That's the way this thing works. That's why I don't want you getting too attached to him or anybody, for that matter. There is always the risk that they won't come back from a mission.”
“Do you think Brian runs that risk? More than most, I mean.” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest. I hadn't exactly thought about how dangerous it would actually be to go into a town – unarmed – and extract somebody.
A smile quirked at the corners of her mouth, as if she'd found my question funny, “Of course he runs a higher risk. He is the brother of the headmistress. He constantly feels the need to one-up me and it makes him reckless. One of these days he will be killed. I just hope I'm not around to see it.”
“Don't take this the wrong way,” I murmured, after only moments of awkward silence, “but why are you here? Why are you telling me these things?”
“I just want you to be aware that in order to make it here you have to – tread lightly.”
“I'll take that into consideration.” I nodded, “Thank you.”
“Thank you, Miss Carter. Sleep well.” Without anymore conversation, she switched the light off and shut the door soundly, leaving me to my own thoughts.
The wind was whipping faster than I had ever felt before. It felt as though I were standing in the middle of a monster tornado, but that wasn't it at all. When I turned to my left, in order to shield my face from the wind. To my left stood Brian and Alexius and when my gaze shifted to my right, there stood my brother and another boy whom I had not seen before. A better look at the scene quickly told me that we were, in fact, inside of a tornado, or a similar storm. And I was using what power I could to keep these four from flying off.
As I became more and more aware of the scene, it was becoming more and more difficult to keep them all in place. It literally felt like the equivalent of having to dead lift four hundred pounds – a near impossible task for anybody, much less a sixteen-year-old girl.
“I can't hold it much longer!” I called over the roar of the storm. I shifted my glance to Alexius, “Tell me what to do! What do I do?”
“You have to let go of someone!” Brian called, “You have to let go!”
“What? No, there's got to be some other way!” I sobbed, my eyes darting around in circles to my peers, “Just tell me! Give me something!”
“There's no other way!” Alexius called back, tears streaking down her face, “You've got to decide fast, or you'll lose your grip on all of us.”
My mind went into over drive. The boy beside my brother – I didn't know him. Maybe it would be easier getting over the death of somebody I didn't know. I mean, especially if it were for the greater good, right?
I couldn't let go of Brian. As little as I knew about him, at this point, he was the only friend I had in the world. I wasn't ready to give that up.
“Lucy, we're slipping!” Nathan sobbed, reaching out for me with both of his arms outstretched.
I didn't know that boy. That meant I didn't know his background. He could have a family that loves him and a completely normal girlfriend who needed taking care of. Not knowing him meant I didn't know if he was a good person or a terrible person. I didn't know if he deserved to die.
Nathan was already dead. He couldn't die again. He'd already been burned. I'd made my decision. I turned to face my brother completely, “Nate–”
“Oh, God. No. Please, Lucy!” he wailed, flailing around, suspended in the air – completely hopeless.
“Nate, I can't help you, because you're already dead.” I whispered. And with that, he went shooting up into the atmosphere, the most gut-wrenching shrieks I'd ever heard piercing the air. The others hit the ground, breathing hard, as the storm began to dissipate.