“Jocelynn? What is going on?” Peter stands behind me while I peer at my reflection. “What happened to you tonight, you sort of disappeared after… well, this,” he gestures to my reflection.
“I was Determined, that’s all. This stuff happens all the time… right?” Am I some sort of freak now?
Peter shrugs and says that he needs to go to bed. Is he just trying to get away from me? “Okay, goodnight. I love you brother.”
“Goodnight,” he calls over his shoulder, tersely. He used to say ‘I love you sister’ back.
A dull throb in my head wakes me up the next morning. Looking out my window the sun hasn’t risen yet. Colors stand out vibrantly to me and I recall what happened last night. The Zenith, my Determination, Jared, and my eyes. I am a Zenite.
Right now I do not particularly care what that means. I am exhausted from the ceremony and do not want to think about anything at the moment. I lay back down on my hard, straw mattress to resume sleeping. I can’t though, of course.
Instead I hop back up again and noiselessly slip my boots back on. I went to bed in my leggings and shirt so I just slip on my white cloak. Once the strings are fastened I pry open my window and squeeze myself outside, feet first. I suck in my breath as I slip and land on my butt in the freezing snow. My hands remain clutched at my sides as I walk toward the edge of the forest and start up into the cold Vertebrae Mountains.
The sun is rising before I get to the top of the first hill. Sparkling diamonds cover the village like a thin layer of frosting. My breath plumes out in front of me and I blink my eyes over and over, amazed by the beauty of the world.
I stand in place for longer than I intended. I do not know how much time has passed but I can see the townspeople waking up. Time to go, I think solemnly. Reluctantly, I jog back down the hillside and wander through town. I do not want to talk to anyone yet this morning so I avoid the usual places that I go to. I do not visit the town square where the ceremony took place and the small bed of wild flowers on the edge of the village.
After five minutes the governor’s house lays in my path. Melissa sees me through the front window and waves at me. I am not looking at her though, but rather behind her. Henry stands behind her and he looks at me thoughtfully. After awhile, he waves at me and motions to what must be the front door. He wants to talk with me.
Snow squeaks beneath my feet as I move toward the house. What could he want to talk about? Does he know that I am a Zenite, could he tell me what that is? But, I am getting ahead of myself. I left the ceremony sooner than everyone else, perhaps he just wants to congratulate me on my Determination.
Henry is already standing on his front porch when I reach him. Melissa didn’t accompany her father.
“Jocelynn, how are you? You seemed a little shaken up when you left last night. Is everything alright?” He gives me a sympathetic smile and reaches forward to shake my hand in greeting.
His hand feels rough and warm around my slim, cold fingers. I reply with a forced upturned mouth, “Good day, governor. I am fine, really. The Zenith just wasn’t what I had expected. It didn’t tell me what I thought I would hear in my Determination.”
“It never does,” he chuckles, “Is there anything that I could help you with? I can try to help you make sense of all this, if you would like.”
I consider his offer in my mind. I would like to know what my Determination meant, but can he really tell me the answers I need to know? Is he just trying to figure out what happened to me, because he looks at me as some sort of freak or threat now? Unless he already know the answers and really is trying to help.
“Sir, is there something that you already know and want to tell me?”
He glances around and then motions me closer. When we are mere inches apart he leans in closer, his breath tickling my neck, and whispers, “I know what you are. And I need your help… Zenite.”
My breath catches in my throat as I recall what Jared told me last night. This could be dangerous ground and I do not know that I trust Henry Lars enough to tell him the truth.
Without waiting for a reaction he goes back inside, not quite shutting the door behind himself which leaves me with two options: Reach forward and finish shutting the door, or walk forward and open it and follow him inside.
Taking a deep breath I walk forward, my cloak trailing behind me.
Jared is already in Henry’s living room. Did he spoil my secret? I sit down on the wooden chair across from him and Henry sits in one next to Jared. Melissa is no where to be seen.
I inquire, “Where is Melissa?”
“She went to town. But that is not why you are here-”
Jared interrupts impatiently, “Why are we here?”
Henry glares at him and answers, “I was getting there. I need your help, both of you. Jocelynn am I correct that you are a Zenite? I’ll take your silence as a yes.” He says after five seconds. This man is beginning to get on my nerves. “Jared, I assume that you figured this out. Though how you know about the Zenites I do not know. But, that is your business not mine. In your Determination speech you said that you would return changed. And Jocelynn, you said that dangers awaited you. Because of this, I have figured that you are the two people that I have been waiting for for twenty years.
“Twenty years ago, during the Summer Zenith, it was my turn to be Determined along with seven others in The Gate. I can still remember everything I heard that night. It went like this, ‘Leadership for the selfless, family for the kind. Happiness for the thoughtful, problems for the worried. Remember the two: the Returner and the Zenite.’ The Returner could refer to you, Jared, and the Zenite you, Jocelynn.
“As I am sure you both know, after your first Zenith you attend one when you turn sixteen, signaling the beginning of your adulthood. During my second Determination ceremony I was told, ‘In your year of six and thirty, crisis hits and chaos floods. Unless the two of whom you’re told, can stop the spilling of the blood. Return the stolen prize and once again the moon shall rise.’ ”
Jared and I stare at eachother, mentally asking what the other thought of this. His eyes have a sort of hungry look in them that I haven’t seen before. His lips are pressed into a thin, hard line that almost resembles a grave smile. I am not sure of this whole thing. It sounds like a bunch of guessing on Henry’s part and too much trust on my part.
“What is the ‘stolen prize’?” Jared points out the obvious question that I hadn’t even considered asking. I focus on Henry as he prepares to answer.
“The… I do not want this to become common knowledge. Perhaps I should tell you after you have agreed to my plan.” It wasn’t a question but I replied as if it were.
“No, perhaps not. You will tell us now or we walk out the door and forget this whole thing.”
Henry glares at me, his nice coating disappearing, and I stare back unblinking. An unspoken staring contest breaks out, neither of us willing to look away or give in to the other. His eyes twitch and mine begin to water, but not enough for me to blink or for any tears to actually fall. Henry breaks first by blinking.
I still don’t look away but continue to wait for his answer which I get after another minute of looking at his red face and graying mustache. “The Elixir. Last night the Elixir was stolen.”
I am still looking at Henry but my eyes are now unfocused. The Elixir, stolen? Who would do that? “What does that have to do with us?”
“Haven’t you been listening? I have known that something like this would happen for nearly twenty years! And at the same time, I happen to know both of you, both of whom have come of your pre-adulthood. And I believe that-”
“We are supposed to be the ones to bring it back,” Jared finished.