“Joy no! What are you doing?!” I protest on the verge of tears as I watch my sister light a match.
“I can’t do it any more Meri,” she shakes her head, tears falling down her cheeks, holding the flame up. “It’s killing me slowly anyways.” Her green eyes meet mine. “But not you. You have to leave now. Before it’s too late. You can still go on with your life Meri.”
“No I’m staying here with you until the end,” I shake my head teary-eyed.
“Meridelle I love you... but I can’t be that selfish.”
“No!” I scream as she pushes me out of her room and locks herself in. “Joy!” I sob, banging on the door. Seconds later, the strong smell of smoke fills the air, escaping from under her door. “Joy please!” I cry, trying to burst the door.
“Joy!” I shout in fright, sitting up in bed. I’m panting in sheer terror, sweating madly from the roots of my hair to the tip of my toes. I’m hot all over, even though my nightmare has once again turned my room into a freezer.
“Starting immediate heating of the room,” the robotic voice declares as the usual series of vents appears in the ceiling.
I dig my face in my hands, still shaken by the vivid memory. I’m trembling.
Ever since my entry at the R.I.S.G, I couldn’t stop reliving parts of that painful night over and over again while I slept. Every second was haunting me. The nightmares came at night, but the painful memories drowned me during the day. And to make it worse, Samson still hadn’t brought me the books he promised, making the hours excruciatingly long due to the fact I couldn’t use my usual escape from reality.
When my room finally completes its heating, consequently returning to its normal climate, a knock resonates through the glass door. I lift my head up to see the devil enter.
“Meridelle you’ve been here for almost a week,” Samson states in disbelief as he walks in. He stops at the foot of the bed, eyeing me.
“Congratulations you can count,” I mutter, laying back on the bed and digging my face into the pillow.
“No Meridelle I am not in the mood for your child games. I meant that you have scarcely left your room during the last few days. Apart from going to the bathroom across the hall, you haven’t left at all to be more precise. You haven’t been properly feeding. You are growing weaker by the day and I can’t have that.”
“See if I care,” I mumble.
“You are useless to me if you’re dead.”
“Well I don’t want to be used! So maybe it’s a good thing if I die.”
“Enough,” he sighs, rubbing his temples. “I just want the best for your health,” he continues on a calmer voice.
“What’s best for my health is sleep. Now leave me be.”
“No. You are going to head to the common room today whether you like it or not,” he responds very dryly.
“To eat a proper breakfast to begin with. And to have a little social interaction to empty your mind of your sister’s death. This recycling of memories isn’t good for your mental health.”
I lie unmoving.
“Do I have to fetch Derek again? Or maybe I should get Tristan over instead.”
No thank you.
“Then stand up, and put your uniform. I’ll wait for you outside the door. If it takes you more than five minutes, I can promise you won’t like the events that’ll follow,” he ends before turning on his heel and leaving the room.
Reluctantly, I pick myself off the bed, grunting in displeasure. This sucks.
My fingers curl around the fabric of the discarded uniform as I lift it off the floor, inspecting it. Mainly grey with white bands around the waist, it looks like a complex one-piece tennis outfit: a skirt and a t-shirt joined together. The fabric seems to allow the pores of the skin to breathe like sportswear and also be waterproof. Subject 013 is embroidered on its back, and a little snowflake design is stitched to both shoulders.
I slide the uniform over my body, zipping the fastener up the middle of my torso. I grimace.
“I hope you aren’t planning on making us superheroes,” I scoff as I step outside my room. “These uniforms suck.” My fingers pull the fabric, testing its elasticity.
“You are the first girl so yours is pretty much a prototype,” Samson says, looking at me up and down. “I’ll be glad to modify it if you wish to make specific changes linked to your ability.”
Yeah last time you told me you’d do something you didn’t.
“The books are in my office. I’ll let you take one after our sessions,” he supplies, reading my mind.
“Oh right,” he frowns, leading me down the hallway. “I forgot to tell you: I’m the psychologist here. Every single subject has at least two hours with me per week.”
“And what do we do during these sessions?” I question warily.
“We talk. I know being a teenager is hard so being different certainly doesn’t make it easier, that’s why I’m here to listen.”
I roll my eyes. More like trying to find our weaknesses and making us feel bad.
“I know you don’t believe me, but I really do want what’s best for you Meri.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Fine.” He shrugs, pushing a set of double doors open. I’m momentarily stunned once I enter what I assume is the common room. First thing that strikes me is the massive couch shaped like a giant donut right in the middle of the room, followed by the great chandelier right over it. About ten faces turn towards me as Samson urges me deeper into the room.
“Good morning boys!” He says cheerfully. They all stay emotionless. I don’t blame them. Strife places a hand on my shoulder and squeezes it. “So yes the rumours are true: we brought in a girl. She was a little shy so I had to get her out of her room myself but now that she is out, I want you to make her feel welcome alright? You all know how it was when you first came in,” he continues, pushing me forwards. “I am warning all of you: no purpling. Got it?”
Some of them nod and others grunt their understanding.
“On that note I have to go, enjoy your day lads,” he pauses looking at me, “And lady. I’ll be seeing you very soon,” he adds to my intention before turning around and heading back through the double doors.
Uneasy, I look down and stir to return to my room but I end up walking into somebody’s torso.
“You weren’t planning on isolating yourself in your room again, were you?” Liam enquires, looking down at me. I take a step back.
“I hope not because that’d be really rude.”
I jump in shock as another boy literally appears beside Liam. Blue-eyed and brown-haired, he’s smaller than Liam, but still is a head taller than me.
“I’m Louis,” he continues, holding his hand out. “And you’re the ice girl Liam hasn’t shut up about,” he trails on, placing his hand back in his pocket when he realises I wasn’t going to shake it.
“You aren’t much of a social butterfly hmm?” Liam chuckles.
“I’m not social with people I don’t know,” I counter, glancing around. All eyes seem to be on me.
“Well you do know me now... you can talk to me,” Louis intervenes with a smile.
I flinch as a bell rings. The group of boys stop staring at me, all walking towards a door at the end of the room.
“That’s breakfast,” Liam explains. “I really do hope you’ll join us.”
“I-I well I―”
“It’s good food.”
“You guys don’t even let me talk,” I give up. “I’m going back to my room.”
“Don’t touch me!” I shout as his fingers latch around my arm, burning my skin. I gaze at his flaming hand, terror mingling with fear.
“Meridelle I didn't mean that-”
“Don't talk to me alright! Leave me be!” I continue angrily, eyeing the burn his fingers leave on my skin before stomping back to my room without a backwards glace.
I’m momentarily shocked as Louis appears in front of me and I reflexively push him away. Without my consent, cold seeps out of my fingertips, freezing Louis’s torso. I watch in horror as the boy grimaces and falls to his knees.
Liam is quick to help Louis while all I can do is run away to my cell without a backwards glance.
As I reach the door and pull the handle, the door doesn’t budge. I pull, twist and turn the knob with all my might, but nothing.
“No shit,' I snap to Derek, the younger boy leaning a few feet away from me. I rattle the handle again before giving up. “Leave me alone,” I mutter, sitting dejectedly on the floor.
“My father told me you'd probably come back to your room,” he continues casually.
I ignore him, tuning him out as I dug my face into my arms. Louis. Did I hurt Louis? Why did he have to stop me?
“He wanted me to make sure you'd be social today,” Derek ends, walking towards me. “I have to take you back.”
“Don't fucking touch me,” I seethe, not looking at him. “Or I'm freezing you to death.”
“Aww love don't be like that,” he chuckles, crouching beside me. “You wouldn't be able to do that, now would you?” He insists, his finger tilting my chin upwards. Our eyes meet. “You wouldn't do that, right?' he repeats, his gaze piercing through mine.
I feel my anger melt, replaced with trust and comfort.
“No,” I sigh, shutting my eyes. “I feel so moody these days, I'm sorry,” I apologize.
“That's completely normal. Let's go eat yeah? You'll feel much better afterwards,” he invites, holding out his hand. It seems like such a great idea I can't help acquiescing, my hand slipping into his without hesitation. My mind is fogged as I find myself following him back to the common room and out the door at the far end of the room.
He opens the door and walks inside.
Uneasiness fills me as faces turn once more. I move to step away but Derek keeps a firm grip on my hand, leading me towards one of the two tables in the small cafeteria. My eyes meet Louis’s at the table opposite to the one which Derek was leading me to.
I frown slightly, noticing he doesn’t seem at all phased by my earlier attitude, nor does he seem to have any scars of my small assault.
He sends me a challenging smirk before, tapping on Liam’s shoulder beside him. The brunette turns towards me as Derek urges me to take a seat with three other boys.
“This is Ryan, Thomas and Marcos,” he introduces, motioning a boy with pale blue eyes and jet black hair, followed by identical twins with blonde hair and chocolate eyes. They nod but don’t say anything, engrossed in their food.
I flinch as a plate is placed in front of me.
“Eat Meridelle,” Derek instructs, taking a seat beside me.
A small burst of my proper mind makes me form words.
“I want to leave,” I shake my head, unsure.
“No, Meridelle, you want to eat,” he contradicts, his eyes fixing mine. Without anymore hesitation, I nod and grab a toast.
“What do you think you’re doing Derek?” Liam snaps, standing up. Utensils clink as tension spreads through the room like a hungry fire.
“Why Liam, I am just making sure Meridelle interacts with us,” he responds smoothly, his hand touching mine. I want to talk but my lips can’t seem to form the right words, too focused on having to eat.
“By forcing her to be here?” the British boy retorts, his hands reddening.
“She wants to be here, don’t you Meri?” Derek replies, his eyes meeting mine briefly. I nod, a little confused.
“She made it clear two minutes ago she wasn’t ready to intermingle with us,” he counters dryly.
“Father deemed she was.”
“Yeah well we all know your father isn’t right most of the time and that you’re a manipulative bastard!”
Hell breaks loose as Liam sends a fireball to Derek’s head. Almost immediately, two men in white uniforms step out from God knows where and tackle Liam. He starts fighting them off and Louis automatically jumps on them. Ryan and Thomas hastily stand up and try to pry Louis off. The others eat calmly in their seats, witnessing in silence the jumble of bodies on the floor.
The fog in my mind dissipates and I finally get a proper grasp on reality.
What. The. Hell?! What am I even doing here? I look around, noticing Derek a few feet away from me, looking at the fight with interest but not taking any part in it. Why isn’t he burned? His eyes meet mine briefly and he smiles cheekily.
Frustration builds inside me as I comprehend he used his little mind games on me. Again. Without thinking, I hold my hands out and let the irritation fill me. A torrent of snowflakes escape my palms, hitting Derek square in the chest. He falls backwards and I jump on him, only to be restrained by a set of men.
“You dick!” I seethe, trying to free myself and hit him. “Stop playing with my head!” I shout angrily as I fight the men holding me. A hand touches my cheek. Out of the blue, the urge to cry overwhelms me.
Tears filling my eyes, I stop fighting and let myself get carried away, feeling utterly helpless and sobbing like a child.
As I’m dragged out of the cafeteria, I catch a glimpse of Louis and Liam crying and also being dragged away and I put the pieces together: one of those men dressed in white can make people cry with a touch of his fingertips.