~~I jolt awake, a layer of sweat covering me and shaking violently, I dreamt about Harper again last night, why is she haunting me all of a sudden? Obviously conquering my fear yesterday didn’t help. I look around and suddenly remember where I am. Ethan’s silently sleeping in his bed and watching him so vulnerable with his blonde hair in a shaggy mess on his head makes me forget about Harper for a few moments and I briefly smile at him. I silently get changed in the bathroom and do my best to finger comb through my hair wishing that I at l had my make up or at least some mascara. Oh well, it’s not like I need to impress anyone right?
I creep past Ethan and slip out of the door then head to the running track; I’ve decided to make it a regular thing now after my embarrassment yesterday. I need to get fitter. I secure the laces on my trainers then set off around the track, as usual I’m the only one here so it’s peaceful and nobody is here to witness me embarrass myself. I begin to feel fresh and more awake as I jog further and further. The screams in my head begin to vanish and I almost feel peaceful
“Why are you up so early, you didn’t even say good bye” Ethan’s voice almost makes me let out a squeal of shock but I swallow it. He easily catches up with me and matches my pace. He’s changed into his training clothes as well and I can see his well tones muscles under his black t-shirt. I look away and stare straight ahead, feeling a little flustered. “Sorry” I mumble and he frowns at me.
“Why are you out here so early, you could still do this and have another hour in bed”
“Because I want to” I say a little annoyed and I quicken the pace trying, unsuccessfully, to get rid of him. “Ok, don’t bite my head off, just asking” Ethan says putting his hands up.
“Could you leave me alone?” I snap at him and he turns his head towards me, confused.
“I need to think and I can’t do that with you here” I say more softly and he stops running so I start to leave him behind.
“Okay, if that’s what you want I’ll go” Then he walks off the track and out of the hall leaving me watching him in bewilderment. I shake myself out of it then quicken my pace trying concentrate on running again but I can’t get Ethan’s face out of my mind.
My heart starts hammering loudly after 10 minutes and I sprint as hard as I can until I’m staggering clumsily around the track then with one final gasping breath I collapse. Just like last time the fat wet tears start falling down my face and I angrily wipe them away as I breathe hard.
“Are you alright Ash?” I hear Ethan shout from across the hall and I hear footsteps running towards me, of course he didn’t actually leave. I turn away from him, already humiliated enough. “I’m fine” I say to him without looking up. “No you’re not, you’re a mess” He crouches down in front of me and pushes some loose strands of my hair behind me ear and keeps his hand there. I force my eyes up to look at him and I feel the full effect of his chocolaty eyes as they look into my soul. “You dream don’t you?” He says and I don’t even have the energy to deny it. “I heard you screaming last night” He whispers and presses his forehead against mine and my heart beat starts to pick up again. “I’m sorry” I say “I’m not usually this weak”
He shakes his head “You are not weak, we’re all scared of something, that’s what makes us human, that’s what makes us strong.”
I frown at him “Being scared if something doesn’t make us strong” I whisper.
A small smile spreads across Ethan’s lips “If we weren’t scared of anything then why would we need to be strong?”
His words slowly sink in and he breaks through the ice inside me and the rest starts to melt as I sit and breathe him in. “Come on, let’s go before someone see’s you” He pulls me up off the ground and I wipe away the last trace of any tears now thankful I wasn’t wearing mascara otherwise I’d undoubtedly have black lines running down my cheeks. He leads me back to his room and I clean up in the bathroom taking a quick shower and pulling my wet hair back into a pony tail. “You look nice” He says as I walk out and I raise my eyebrows at him “I’m wearing training gear and no makeup, what are you talking about?”
“I’m telling the truth, you always look nice but this morning you look sort of fresh, you don’t need the makeup” He says smiling at me. “Fresh” I repeat under my breath, shaking my head.
“Ready to go?” He asks, I nod then we set off towards the canteen keeping the convocation light and steering clear of anything too personal. “See you later Trouble” He says when we reach the entrance then he heads towards his table and I do the same and walk over to Sina who’s gawping at me. “What?” I say as I sit down grabbing the bowl off porridge that they got for me.
“Is it just me or did you walk in with Ethan?” She says her eyes darting from me to him and back to me again.“ Tamara laughs, “I knew it, we all saw the way he looked at you in training” and look at her in confusion “Come on Ashlyn, you have to be special to get looks of respect from Ethan Fisher” She says and I continue to stare at them and they smile “Well I’d much rather you get with him than someone like Clora” Sina says sighing in defeat and I shake my head.
“Who seems to be staring daggers at you from across the room” Tamara adds with a giggle
“Hang on are, you talking about me and him being an item?” I ask blinking with confusion
“Yes” They say in unison rolling their eyes together.
“No way! Ethan’s annoying arrogant and way out of my league” I say laughing.
“There’s no way you even have a league Ashlyn” Sina says
I frown at her “Yes I do and Ethan is in one way above me” I say stubbornly comparing Ethan to all the people I’ve hooked up with in my head and find very few similarities “Whatever Ash but when he asks you out I can’t wait to tell you that I told you so” Sina says grinning
I roll my eyes. “Never going to happen”
“We’ll see” Tamara adds.
I quickly finish breakfast and wave good bye to my friends then make my way to my new training hall but abruptly stop when I notice the class is waiting outside the hall and are all crowded round a sign on the door. I slowly walk over to Marcus who’s standing at the back looking a little confused “Hey, what’s going on?” I say as I reach him.
“Training is cancelled, it can only mean that the instructors are needed for a FREAM meeting and if we weren’t invited then it means it serious”
“They’re planning something” Cody says joining the convocation.
“I hope it means we’ll finally do something other than scouting” Finn adds and Marcus shakes his head.
“If it was something to do with an attack they’d have wanted us to join them”
“Well what are you gonna do with your day off then?”Finn asks.
“I’m thinking of hanging out in the den” Marcus says and the others nod.
“Hey Ashlyn do you want to come?” Marcus adds as they start to walk down the corridor
I quickly look up to see Ethan walking off with the giggly girl, Jilly, and a few other people I don’t know the name of so nod.
“Why not” I say then follow the crowd as they lead me down unfamiliar corridors into a room that’s mostly empty apart from a tatty old sofa and a mini fridge. The floor is covered in a dusty rug that’s faded with age. Cody crouches down next to the fridge and pulls the door open then he pulls out a huge bag of beer “Filled it myself” He says proudly and every one lets out whoop of excitement. Marcus swings his arm over my shoulder “So how bout it blondie, ready to get hammered?” I smile and pop open the cold beer that’s handed to me “cheers” I say to him and we cling cans then both take huge swigs.
Our group gets rowdier as the fridge starts to become empty and I begin to relax joining in with the banter feeling as comfortable as I was with my friends back home. Soon the room starts spinning and I feel a little giddy not caring that the boy’s drunken eyes had suddenly noticed that I was one of two girls in here. The other one, Sharon, had her tong down Cody’s throat. They start to flirt with me and before I know it I’m making out with Finn running my hands through his shaggy hair while his hands explore my ass. My head starts to feel foggy and I pull myself away from Finn and his hands slide away from me. “What are you doing?” He asks and I take a step back holding a hand to me pounding head. “I gotta go” I mumble then start to stumble towards the exit but the room is spinning too much and I stagger to the side landing on a bean bag. Marcus walks over and I see that he’s a lot more sober than I am. He pulls me up “You really know how to party don’t you?” He says laughing and I nod my head. He starts to lead me to the exit slowly because all I can do is cling to him and hope that the sickness I feel in my stomach doesn’t come up.
We’re just outside the door that leads to the apartments when I hear a familiar voice “What happened to her?” He asks and I moan
“Why do you always appear?” I ask then a giggle jumps up my throat out of nowhere.
“She’s drunk!” Ethan says and I feel another pair of arms lift me up.
“I’ll take her back” He says but Marcus shakes his head
“I’ve got her” he says then starts to pull me through the door.
Ethan keeps a hold of me “I think you’ve done enough already” and pulls me a little harder
I start to tell them to stop playing tug of war with me but instead of words coming up my throat vomit does and it sprays all over the floor and I cough and splutter trying to get the taste out of my mouth. Neither boy says anything they just lift me over it and Ethan unlocks his apartment then rushes me into the bathroom so I can empty my insides into the toilet. I hear Marcus mutter that he’ll get someone to clean up the mess outside. Ethan rubs my back and holds my hair back until I finally finish spewing. He leads me over to the sofa and I collapse shutting my eyes almost instantly.
As I slowly gain consciousness I wince as I feel the familiar ache of a well deserved hang over. “She’s alive” I hear Marcus gruff voice say as I blink the sleep out of my eyes and sit up. Ethan’s standing against the wall and his soft brown eyes open when I look at him. I try to remember how I got here but last night is a blur. “What happened last night?” I ask carefully not sure if I want to know the answer. “You drank a bit too and we dragged you in here cause you were too drunk to walk oh and Ethan’s bathroom stinks of your vomit” Marcus says then smiles weakly at me as I groan in embarrassment. “I’m such an idiot”
“Yes you are” Ethan hisses from the other side of the room then walks over to me “Have you any idea how stupid that was? If Julie had caught you she’d probably kick you out” I nod and hang my head in shame completely regretting my actions. The flat is silent for a few minutes until Marcus clears his throat. “I need to go and get ready for training” Then he gets up and nods at Ethan then leaves the room. I lick my dry lips and slowly stand holding a hand to my pounding head “I should go as well” I mumble then walk over to the door.
“Ash why do you do things like that?” Ethan asks softly as I reach the door and I turn around for a moment “To escape” I say then leave the room before I cry with shame in front of him. I reach my flat and see that someone has slipped a key into my pocket and almost smile as I think of Ethan doing it. I slide inside then hop in and out of the shower reviling in the hot steamy water. This makes me feel a little more relaxed, then I pull some fresh training gear on and pull my hair back into a messy bun sighing as I see my tiered pale face in the mirror. My eyes look very green today and they look sunken into my sockets. I look away not bothering with make up today. I check the clock and decide to give the run a miss today and make my way down to the canteen.
Sina looks up and smiles at me as I sit down then starts her usual chatter completely oblivious to my disgraceful night last night. “So how’s it going with Ethan?” She asks and I frown at her as I play with my porridge. “Fine” I say quietly and realising I’m not in the mood she shrugs and turns to talk to Tamara when she sits next to me. “You alright?” Jaylyn asks and I nod, the last thing I want is for them to start judging me for my stupid drinking. I slip away quietly and make my way to training and stand with Marcus who puts a protective arm over my shoulder “Hey it’s over now, just forget about it” He whispers into my ear and I give him a small smile.
Orave steps forward a stern expression plastered on his tight face, the class falls silent instantly as he opens his mouth “You’re probably all wondering what was going on yesterday when training was cancelled” He looks around at the group and every one nods “Well we captured a resident of Zone 3” Orave says and I look around and see everyone’s puzzled faces, people start whispering and frowning. “We wanted to see the effect the dreams they inject themselves with have on them to see what exactly they do” Orave explains then nods at Felix who opens a door and pulls out a pale man who stumbles over his own two feet and crashes to the floor. I look closely at him as he shakily pushes himself up off the floor. His hands are trembling and his eyes look glazed over. I blink hard and realise that he looks like he’s going insane because he starts crying out and pulling his hands through his hair, his eyes aren’t glazed over they’re rabid.
“This is an example of someone who hasn’t had a shot of what they call ‘Dream Dust’ As you can see he’s already experiencing withdrawal from it” Orave says as we all look at the crazed man on his knees. “I source from the inside of the lab where they create this says that they give everyone a free shot of these on their 18th birthday telling them that it will give them beautiful visions. It doesn’t but it makes them hallucinate for a few minutes. The feeling is apparently so good that they’re instantly addicted to it and they’re sent one every day from the government as a token of ‘appreciation’ They don’t even care that it doesn’t do what it originally said on the packet”
I stare, appalled, at the man on the floor, the government are hooking these people on drugs... made from people’s dreams. The thought makes me feel sick. The man on the floor looks at our group then opens his mouth and starts screaming “Please! Please! Make it stop!” Felix quickly pulls him off the ground then shoves him back into the room that he brought him out of.
“Seeing this has made FREAM think that we need to make an attack on the labs where they make these, concoctions” Orave continues when we can no longer hear the screaming man. “It will be your first real field mission, it’s very soon but we believe that you are ready” People start looking at each other and mummers of excitement and anxious glances are being sent across the room. “That’s why your game of capture the flag has been brought forward to today” The words sink in a nervous buzz starts tingling inside me. “You will be in your two teams, each of you will have a flag and the aim of the game is to capture the other team’s flag and bring it into here. It might end up being a race so you have to be quick. Each of you will get a belt with a tag on; it must be in view at all times, no cheating otherwise your team is disqualified. If your tag is taken you must leave the game, and come back here. Is everything clear?”
“Yes” We all shout the Felix steps forward holding two flags “You can hide these anywhere inside FREAM but it has to be in plain sight, Ethan you are the leader of the blue team and Katia you are the leader of the red team. Felix will follow the red team and I will follow the blues. You have 15 minutes to find a place for your flag then you can set off to find the other teams flag. Red team you have a 5 minute head start.” The red team leaves the room and the rest of us gather round Ethan in an unorganised circle. “So, anyone got any bright ideas?” Ethan says and the room is silent for a few seconds then everyone starts firing ideas at him all at once. “We could use the canteen” Cody suggests and Ethan shakes his head “To many ways to get in”
“How about the running track, they’d have a long way to run to get to the flag” Jilly tries, I resist the temptation to roll my eyes when I notice she’s standing right next to him, her dainty hand brushing up against his. “Nope, they could shoot us from the door way”
After the chaotic weeks I’d been having I’d somehow forgotten how clever Ethan is and watch as he calculates each suggestion in his head then gives a reason to cross it off. I can see why he’s been made leader. I look over at Orave and can see the same thoughts flashing across his eyes as he studies Ethan. “Well there’s the den?” Finn says and nobody likes that idea
“It’s to confined, they’d easily surprise us”
“Well what do you suggest man?” Marcus says and I can see the irritation in his hazel eyes. Ethan looks over at him for a second then shrugs “I was thinking maybe the stage but that’s too obvious” Every one stands quietly and I watch them as they try to think about everywhere in FREAM. I catch Ethan’s eye and he raises his eyebrows at me, I quietly sigh. He’s acting just like on the day of the test back when I was training with Sina, Jaylyn and Tamara. He’s telling me to think, to be part of the team, so I try to concentrate on remembering the base but can’t recall much.
Suddenly there’s a flash of light in my eyes and I see the room where I retrieved the goblet, and I smile a little. “Hey guys, I have an idea where we can hide it in plain sight.”