Why is it so cold this evening? Being in September already is not an excuse. The leaves haven't even begun to change yet. How lame.
I shake my head to get all of the auburn curls out of my face. I clutch my sweater up by my neck as if it'll give me some extra warmth out of nowhere. It's so windy. The trees sway back and forth almost violently.
I jump but manage not to squeal. I have been told to work on that. When I'm surprised I shouldn't act like it. Instead, stay calm and think of the best way to attack if need be. In this case, all I have to do is turn around and look at Valentia's smiling face and big brown eyes... All as she hangs upside down from a tree.
"Hi, Valentia. How have you been?" I ask.
"I've been better," she says dropping down from the tree. Her wavy brown hair is tied back, a usual. She still wears the black jacket that I found for her a year or two back. It was left at an abandoned campsite and was too small for me, so I gave it to her. It fits her much better. "It's been forever! How have you been?"
"Same as always. Decent."
"How is selling drugs? Or have you quit that?"
I cringe at just the mention of those horrid things. To make money I must sell those disgusting substances to disgusting people. It was the first thing I could find and it was the easiest, unfortunately. And you'd think with me being exposed to drugs at such a young age like I habe been, I'd be doing them, but no. They absolutely disgust me. I am only a dealer. Not a user. It all makes me gag.
"It's fine," I mumble.
Valentia laughs. I find nothing funny about it, though. I am actually kind of ashamed. But nothing ever goes right when your family goes and gets killed and you just happen to be an Outcast--the most hated "creature" on the planet.
Ah, Outcasts. We are human. Lots of people don't act like it, but we are. We just have certain abilities that make us unique, or Outcasts more accurately. My ability is nothing much, just heightened senses, but it doesn't stop Mortals from wanting me hung and burned.
Rebels are the people who fight for us Outcasts, or at least disagree with the whole "us getting hung and burned" thing. We Outcasts can't fight by ourselves seeing that our numbers are seriously decreasing. Still, Outcasts are being discovered everyday around the world, and most of them try to marry Rebels in hopes of having babies that will not have to deal with hiding what they are.
"So, where are you headed?" Valentia asks me.
"To the market. My food supply is getting low."
"I've told you that you are always welcome to stay with me and my family whenever you need to."
"I have told you that I don't take charity."
"It's not charity. You're my best friend."
I turn and walk up the trail towards town. Valentia follows me. We walk into the least popular market as usual. The less attention I get, the less likely it is for me to get hung. Also, it's on the edge of town, so it's closest.
I go straight for the deli in the back. Valentia goes somewhere else. We always know to meet up by the beverages when both of us are done. That is just what we decided when we stated making these trips.
The butcher sees me, nods and prepares my usual order. I put money on the counter then lean against it, back turned, and watch the rest of the market. It's practically empty as usual. I love it. Too many people in one place makes me uncomfortable. Same with people touching me. I'm not claustrophobic or anything, I just don't like people. You can never trust them.
A young, thin boy walks over with two heaping baskets of groceries. He sets them down on the counter and sighs in relief. He's not particularly strong and the baskets seem heavy. That must be why.
"You in line?" He asks.
"Yeah. I'm waiting for my order," I say kind of quietly. I'm not a loud person. I don't ever have a reason to be loud.
I repeat what I just said a little louder. "Your turn for grocery shopping?"
"Yeah, ever since both of my brothers moved out it's always been my turn," he laughs.
I nod. The butcher, I honestly don't know his name, gives me my order and I organize it into two plastic bags as the boy orders. As he goes into his pocket to get money he knocks over both baskets. Everything goes flying across the floor.
"Dammit!" He says crouching down to pick everything up.
I roll my eyes but set my bags down and help him clean up while I'm there. Just as the two baskets are filled and everything's off the floor, that boy grabs them and my two bags and runs. He's fast and seems to have no problem with the baskets now. What an actor!
I chase after him but easily lose him in one of the aisles. So I dart for the front and only door. I beat him there.
"That kid stole my bags!" I yell pointing as he runs towards the door.
No one responds. Was I too quiet or did no one care?
The boy tries to run past me but I grab him by the arm. He struggles a bit to continue running. I follow with him still in my grasp. A police officer comes over to us as the boy kicks me in the shin. I loose my hold for a second but don't let him get away.
"What is going on over here?" The officer asks.
"He stole my bags in the store over there and tried to run off with them along with other baskets," I say.
"That's not true! This girl here is trying to steal my groceries," the boy argues. "Did you see her attacking me?" Of course no one is ever as innocent as they seem.
"Hmm. Should I just take both of you to jail?" The officer suggests.
"No!" We both say. What a stupid idea.
"The butcher in that market over there. He saw everything. Go ask him what happened," I plead.
"In that store over there?" The officer points.
"I'll go check it out. But first--" the officer takes out handcuffs and cuffs us together. He puts the chain of the cuffs through the handle of a garage can attached to the ground. "Now neither of you can't run away."
"Ugh, are you kidding me?" I mumble.
The officer disappears into the market, leaving me cuffed to a burglar and a trash can. Just lovely! I bet Valentia is wondering about me. Speaking of her, where was she when this happened?
"Well, thank you very much!" The boy huffs, kicking the can.
"Anytime, man," I say.
Suddenly he starts begging ."Please, please don't do this to me! My family is broke! We really need this food!"
"Why are you broke?" I ask.
"Are you all criminals?"
The boy looks down at his hands."No."
"That's not very believable."
He looks at me. "What's your name?"
"Meribella Thompson," I lie. It's the name I always use when I don't want to give my real name.
"Meribella. That's a really pretty name."
I look down and try not to blush. He's just trying to make me put my guard down and I know it. But why is it sorta working? Something is seriously wrong with me. And this kid's an idiot. A complete and utter idiot.
"What's yours?" I ask him. I know he'll lie, too, but its better to have something to call this kid.
"Oh, uh... Zane Macias."
I nod. His hesitation is an obvious lie. But it's a creative enough name. I guess it's an Outcast thing to be able to think up lies quickly, even if you don't say it convincingly.
"Listen, please," Zane says. "I know you don't believe me, but my parents are seriously broke, and my brother's girlfriend is sick, too."
"You said your brothers all moved out," I interrupt.
"They had, but my brother Ash became ill with the Phoenix Flu so he and his girlfriend moved back. Ash got better but Delly got worse."
"What? Why are you telling me this? I don't even know your family!"
"I know. I'm probably going to get locked up in jail. At the very least, can you go to the Datrebil Restaurant down the street an tell my aunt Merriam what happened to me?"
"Please! If you're a Rebel or an Outcast you must understand!"
"And if I'm a Mortal?"
The officer comes back. "I got the story from the butcher." He unlocked the handcuffs and fixes them on Zane's wrists. "You, sir, are being arrested for attempt at burglary."
Zane looks genuinely scared, regretful and sad. I almost feel bad for him. Almost, but not quite. He'll be locked up for about a week, probably. I have been told that apparently there used to be a thing called a "trial" to prove if a person is innocent or guilty. The Mortals did away with it when they took over to give them an excuse to arrest Outcasts for no reason.
I grab my bags and his baskets. Then I head back to the market and finish my shopping.
Somehow I still end up finishing before Valentia does. Some times she does take a while, though. This gives me time to think about what I'm going to do. I can't really go to the Datrebil Restaurant and tell "Zane's" aunt what happened, can I? What if he's just trying to make me waste my time and look dumb? His name can't really be Zane Macias, anyway. Whatever lady works there will have no idea who I'm talking about, even if it really is his Aunt Merriam.
"Day dreaming about anything interesting?" Valentia asks me when she comes over to the beverage section.
"Oh, not really," I say. I pick up my things. "You all finished now?"
"Yeah. It looks like you're getting more than usual. Can you actually pay for it all?"
I look down. I guess I've already subconsciously decided what I'm going to do because I have kept Zane's baskets. Damn, this is going to take some work.
"Of course I can. I just need you to help me with something afterwards, okay?"
"Oh, of course!"
"Excuse me, is your name Merriam?"I ask the lady at the register at the Datrebil Restaurant.
"Yes, that's me," the lady replies.
"Do you know Zane Macias by any chance?"
"Yes, he's my nephew. Why?"
"He wants his family to receive these," I say putting the baskets and the counter in front if Merriam. All she does is stare at them.
"What? What happened to him? Where is he?"
"He was arrested today for burglary and sent us here as messengers," Valentia says.
"You're not serious, are you?"
"I'm sorry, we are.”
Merriam leans over onto the counter with her elbows resting on it. Her hands cover her face for a few moments. I wonder if she's crying. She takes a breath and uncovers her face--no tears.
"That boy is an idiot, you know. Sharp as a tack in school, but out of it?"
Merriam shakes her head. "Dumb as a damn goat!"
Valentia and I just listen.
"If he sent you two, he must trust you. What are your names?"
"Meribella Thompson," I tell her.
"Alice Moyer," Valentia says.
"Your names aren't familiar do you I to school with Zane?"
We shake our heads.
"Then how do you know him?"
"It's a long story,"I say. Out of nowhere I get an idea and decide to pursue it. Then I lean closer. "What if I told you that we could break him out tonight without getting noticed?"
"I'd say 'go ahead'."
"Then we'll see you again later tonight."
Valentia and I walk out of the Datrebil Resaurant.
"Ready?" Valentia asks me as we sit in a tree above the roof of the jail.
"No," I reply. My heart is pounding. What if we're caught? What if it's found out that I'm an Outcast? What if the Mortals hang me? What if this is all some giant plot against me and Zane's family just targets Outcasts. What if I'm hung?!
"Come on. This was all your idea. And you already promised Merriam that you'd get her nephew back."
"You are not backing out now."
Valentia drops down from the tree. She falls onto the stone roof of the jail. I take a breath. Here we go. I drop down, too. She directs me to the edge. We climb down the side and sneak in an open window onto the top floor hallway. Both of us check for guards.
This is the jail where people who've been charged with minor crimes go. They're usually only in here for a month or two, six at most. Since it doesn't hold major criminals, it isn't heavily guard. They save all of the guards for the Galbraith Prison. A place I hope to never step foot in under any circumstances.
I suddenly stop walking, dead in my tracks, as I zone out.
Okay, so hold on. What am I doing here? Why am I saving this boy that I barely know? He's done nothing for me. He tried to steal my food plus two other baskets full. He is a criminal. He belongs in here.
But I promised Merriam... Another person I barely know.
My question goes unanswered. Why am I saving Zane? Is it because he seems kind of familiar? I guess he sorta does. The way he acted--trying to help the his family at all costs, doing bad things for good reasons, being able to lie quickly but not efficiently, trying so hard to hide the fact that he's an Outcast but not quite doing it. All of it is familiar, like a distant memory I can't quite grasp.
"Hey, are you okay?" Valentia asks me.
I wake from my daze. "Yeah, I'm fine. Lets go," I whisper back.
We walk down the hall with only torches on the walls as light. It's late so the torches are used as sort of a night light. Valentia and I reach the end of the hall. She shoulders her bag and looks around.
"Which cell do you think he's in?" She whispers still searching with her eyes.
"I don't know. Zane could be be on a different floor for all we know," I say.
"Okay," Valentia says.
Valentia walks down the hall and stops in the middle. I just stand where I am and watch. She takes a breath.
"Listen, you criminals. I know that not many of you, if any, are really asleep. So could somebody do me a favor and tell me if there is a boy here named Zane Macias?" Valentia says. As she spoke I heard every one of them sit up in their beds or walk up to to the bars.
I hold my breath while I wait for an answer. It feels like an eternity.
"Yeah, that scrawny, brown-haired boy," a scary sounding man says. "He came just this afternoon. I saw him being stuffed into a cell on the third floor. God, that kid put up a fight. He kept squirming and yelling something about helping his family and his brothers girlfriends being sick."
"Thank you," Valentia smiles.
She skips back down to the hall to me and we walk down the stairs.
"At least this boy's story is staying consistent," I say.
"Yeah, that could mean it's true."
I shrug. "Doesn't mean I believe him."
"He hasn't given us a reason not to believe him yet."
"Nor has he given us a reason to trust him."
We walk down five flights of stairs and finally get onto the third floor. Looking into each cell on the left side, I see Zane in the sixth one. I signal for Valentia to come over.
"Zane, is that you?" I whisper to be sure.
He sits up in his bed. "Yeah, who are you?"
"Meribella, remember? You tried to steal my groceries. I'm the reason you're in here."
Zane stands up and walks over to the bars. He rests his hands on two of them. "I remember. Did you talk to my Aunt Merriam?"
"Yeah, we promised her that we would break you out of here tonight without getting caught. That's why we're here."
He looks over at Valentia. "Who are you?"
"Alice, her friend," Valentia says. "Meribella, go stand guard."
I do as she says. Valentia takes out her knife and goes to saw at the bottom of a bar.
"You'll never break through that with a knife," Zane says looking at her in disbelief.
"This knife was made by an Outcast. It can cut through anything," she says. It saws through an entire bar in about three seconds.
"So, are you both Outcasts?" Zane asks after blinking at the sawed-through bar.
"No," we can say honestly.
"Are either of you Outcasts?"
I look around, searching for guards. Valentia finishes sawing through the bottom of two more bars. Neither of us bother answering him.
"Is that a yes or a no?" Zane tries again.
"Are you an Outcast?" I ask.
"Listen. You're both obviously Outcasts," Valentia says. She has started sawing bars at the top.
"Valentia!" I exclaim.
"You said your name was Alice," Zane says to Valentia.
"Valentia is a Spanish curse word. I called her something mean," I tell him.
"No it's not! 'Valentia' means 'bravery' in Spanish." I see Valentia stop, frozen. "You must be from the Rebelde, or at least your family is. They're the only Hispanics that survived from when they thought that Outcasts were only in Spanish-speaking countries. Am I correct?"
Valentia stares at him for a second. "How did you know all of that?"
"I have a Spanish class at my school. We learned all of the history of that. Do you speak Spanish?"
"Sí, mi madre enseñó cuándo estuve una niña. Pero mi familia no hablamos en español. Mis padres creen si nosotros hablamos, vamos a ser expuesto."
"¿Cómo tú acordas a hablar español?"
"Pienso en español."
I am lost. Don't ask me what they said. I only speak English.
Valentia continues sawing through the bars. Zane just stands there watching her. I look down the hall again. This time I hear a guard walking up the stairs. I run over to them, silently.
"Hurry up! There is someone coming!" I whisper urgently.
"I'm almost done!" Valentia says as she places another cut-off bar onto the floor, quietly.
In just seconds, Zane slips through. Valentia and I climb out the window. She helps him out and we all hide in a tree. Valentia tries to blend in with the night as she usually does. Zane seems to be having trouble keeping his balance on the branch. I try to listen for the guard. All I hear is him groaning then picking up a bar. He soon sets it down and walks back down the hall and up more stairs."
"We're clear," I whisper.
Valentia drops down from the tree. I almost follow her.
"We're jumping down? It's at least twenty feet down!" Zane says, making me pause before I jump.
"So? Be a man. You won't die. Besides, the objective is to jump to a lower branch and then to the ground. " Then I follow her.
Zane stops being a scaredy cat and follows, too. The balance of his landing sucks, though. He holds his arm as if he banged it against a branch. I hope he didn't get hurt, cos even though we never promised him back in one piece, I think Merriam wouldn't be too happy about an injury.
"Come on," Valentia says running ahead. She's good with direction, not me. We follow and in about twenty minutes we've arrived at the Datrebil Restaurant.
"Well, here you are," I tell Zane, gesturing to the doors. The lights are off inside and I begin to wonder if his hesitation means he's locked out with no way of getting in.
Zane shifts from one foot to the other a few times. "Thank you both. I owe you for that. And I'm sorry if I caused you any trouble."
I scoff. Valentia glares at me. She says I should be nicer. Obviously, it's not a flaw I plan on fixing.
I sigh. "Just promise me you won't go stealing more food or committing any other crimes."
He just smirks at me. That's not reassuring.
"Why don't you guys come in? I think my family will be curious about who saved me," Zane says.
"I don't know. I have to get home. My family has probably discovered by now that I'm gone," I say.
Valentia looks at me. I can practically read her mind. 'Really? Of all excuses? Your family is dead.'
"Oh... Can you at least tell me your real name?" Zane asks.
"Sienna. Sienna Follese."
"That's a really pretty name, too."
Thank God it's dark outside. I definitely blush at his comment that time.
"Thanks," I say.
"Well, goodbye then, Sienna, Valentia. Do you think I'll ever see either you again?"
"Come on, Sienna. You know that you don't need to be home. What's the harm in meeting his family?" Valentia pleads.
"Yeah, it's warm inside and we can give you something to eat. It is a restaurant after all," Zane says opening the front door. Why wasn't it locked?
"Come on." Valentia grabs my arm and practically drags me in there.
Zane leads the way into the restaurant and down the stairs to what seems like a basement with a guard. The guard opens the door for Zane but stops me and Valentia.
"Password?" He says.
"They're with me. These girls just saved me," Zane says.
The guard lets us pass. What's that about? Is this the overrated VIP section. I feel so special.
Valentia and I walk into another restaurant. The one upstairs looks like a fancy, high-priced, rich people kind of restaurant. But this place down here is more casual. It has wooden floors, red and blue colors booths and a long counter with stool chairs like a bar on one side of the room. The place is also pretty small which makes me wonder exactly how popular it is.
"The password, by the way, is 'libertad para parias'." Zane's tells me and Valentia.
"Freedom for Outcasts," Valentia translates.
"Did you come up with the password, Mr. Spanish-Speaker?" I ask.
"No, my oldest brother did," Zane answers.
He walks over and sits in a stool next to a lady I recognize as Merriam. This is the first that I notice how many people are over by the counter. Who are all of these people that are practically dying of happiness for Zane's return? Never have I ever been cared about this much.
Valentia forces me to go over with her. We sit down on stools next to Zane. Somehow I get stuck between the two, with Valentia on my left.
I look at all of these people. The man and woman behind the counter must be Zane's parents, they both look like him in different ways. The young man next to them might be Ash. The man next to Merriam is probably her husband. But who is the teenage boy with grey eyes and dark, wavy hair? And the younger girl who is obviously his sister? And the other man that sort of looks like Zane and Ash? What about the woman that he's holding hands with? I'm not sure, but I'm beginning not to care. All I know is they all seemed to be relieved, and they're bombarding him with questions.
"Well, these are the girls who saved me," Zane says somewhere in the conversation. He turns to smile at us like it's an invitation to join the conversation. Invitation denied.
"Ha! You got saved by girls!" The one I think is Ash laughs.
The man who is possibly the oldest brother slaps his shoulder. It doesn't stop Ash's laughter. Everyone else seems to just ignore him.
"At least he's safe and out of jail now," Merriam's husband says.
"Gosh, just think of what would've happened if they found out about our family," Merriam says. She looks at me and Valentia cautiously. Zane must see it, too.
"It's okay, they already sort of know," Zane says. Every time he mentions us he looks back at us for a second. Other than that, I feel like we invisible to him, which doesn't really bother me.
"How much did you tell them, Zane?" His mother asks.
"Not much. But he almost implied that he's an Outcast. And don't worry, I'm a Rebel and Sienna, here, is also an Outcast," Valentia says.
Somehow it still feel like she's exposing me. Maybe that's just because I have never really talked about being an Outcast with anyone outside of my family and her family. Of course, I have never had anyone to talk to about it outside of our families.
"Are you Hispanic?" Ash asks her.
"Yes," Valentia answers.
"Rebelde?" The possible brother asks.
"So, why don't I introduce everyone?" Zane says glancing around at everyone.
'How about you don't?' I think to myself.
"These girls are Valentia and Sienna," he starts.
"How come you gave me different names earlier?" Merriam asks suspiciously.
"I didn't know if I could trust you with my real name or not," I say finally speaking for once.
Zane goes on to introduce everyone else. Behind the counter are his parents Nolan and Marigold, or Mary for short. Nolan is pretty tall with short dirty blonde hair and the same green eyes as Zane. Mary has brown eyes and dark brown hair, though. All three of the sons have the same dark hair as her, but they share their father's height.
Next to them is Zane's brother Ash, as I had suspected. He's got brown eyes one of those faces that always looks like he's smiling. Maybe it's just me, but I've only known him for a few minutes and it's obvious that he's the middle child of the family.
The other man is the oldest brother. His real name is Lucian by they call him Oakie. "Long story, don't ask," Zane says when explaining. Oakie's wife is Akila. They seem to be the clingy couple, not that I'm judging. Akila has blonde hair, pale skin and bright blue eyes. Everything about her is pale. I wonder if she doesn't get outside much or if she's just one of those people who cannot tan.
Merriam I'd already known. Now I know that she's Mary's sister, obviously the other older one because her hair is greying. Now I can see the resemblance. The sisters have the same eyes and round face. Next to her is her husband Cedric who has lighter brown eyes and a balb head, but his mustache is light brown going grey.
The teenage boy is the same age as me, Valentia and Zane. He's sixteen and his name is Alphonse. The sister is fourteen and named Marni. They don't look too much alike, though. The girl takes after her mother more with a softer face while the boy has more angular features. He looks athletic, but she's just simply a toothpik—probably a teen with a high metabolism who doesn't regularly exercise. Marni's hair is almost a caramel color and she has the same brown eyes as her father. But Alphonse's hair and eye color doesn't seem to come from either parent, making him look out of place in the family. Both children are Merriam and Cedric's children making them Zane's cousins.
"Do either of you girls want something to eat?" Mary asks us after the introductions.
"Do you have burgers?" Valentia asks.
"Of course. Would you like one, too, Sienna?"
"Sure," I say. It's easier than saying no and having someone, probably Valentina, insist that I eat.
She goes into the kitchen. Somehow subtracting just that one person makes it feel so much less crowded, maybe it's all just in my head, but it's hard to breathe.
The conversation has gone casual. They're no longer talking about Zane's return. Instead they've started talking about school. I listen, interested. I have never been to a school before. Ever. My parents and Valentia's family have taught me all I known my parents were too scared to send me and my brother to a public Mortal school. There is one in Valentia's village that she attends, but it's not the same as the one that Zane, Alphonse and Marni are telling stories about. Valentia keeps asking then questions. I stay out of the conversation.
Mary soon comes back our with two plates and a burger on each. We both eat them quickly. It's been a while since I had dinner. After Valentia's done stuffing her face, she rejoins the conversation which has switched to school sports. I know absolutely nothing about sports so I still stay out of the conversation.
"Are you always this quiet?" Zane asks me as if just remembering that I'm still here.
"Kind of. It's just that there's too many people I don't know here. I'm not used to being around people," I say quietly.
"Here. Follow me."