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Alice awoke. Struggling to breathe, soaked in sweat, she sought to overcome the fuzziness of a first morning glimpse of her dark, familiar room. She coughed slightly in hopes to achieve a solid breath, and a wet tear rolled down her pale face. She hastily wiped the weakness away with the back of her hand and began to regain control of the situation. Control, yes, control was essential.
She knew her ragged breaths and bloodshot eyes weren’t helping the situation. Her eyes darted between shadows that made themselves visible in the night. She heard every imaginary sound the darkness eagerly had to offer to her paranoia. Her ears picked up on creaking floorboards, rattling limbs, and then a muffled, male voice. A whimper escaped her lips and her hand flew to the lamp beside her bed, blindly fiddling with the switch, before finally being pleased by a warm light. The night was then quiet.
She ran a hand through her long, dark hair and hung her head low into her palms. It had seemed all too real, but of course it wasn't. She was at home, safe, and in the same place she had lived for as long as she could remember. Alice swallowed, her heart rate steadying, before uncertainty began to run through her. She was completely unsure of what would happen to her, what they might do, because tonight she had broken an unbreakable law. She had dreamt.
They said dreaming was torturous, impossible, and it had been. However, something inside Alice told her that this, whatever had just happened to her, was not dreaming. She slowly exhaled a shaky breath and looked out her window at the large moon that gradually carried its way over Greaton City by night.
Her thoughts were stopped abruptly as crashing sound from the floor below her traveled to her ears. Alice froze, fear coursing through her, before she threw the blankets off of her legs. Quickly, she tiptoed through her bedroom. Taking cautious steps, she followed the long hallway out of the room and down the dark stairs and to the first floor. Then, every thought came to a pause, and instinct took over. Slowly, she took on the living room, staying near walls and moving quickly. She stopped right outside the kitchen door, not daring to move further towards the light that shone through the cracks in the wood. She pressed her ear softly against the door and listened.
"No, please, don't take her! You already have one of ours, isn't that enough?" Alice’s heart wrenched for the sound of her mother’s voice. Her strong, caring mother, who always seemed to be on top of everything, pleading and crying. She sounded so confused, so helpless. Part of Alice wanted to barge in and demand for answers, but the logical part of her brain was advising her to stay put. She inched closer and remained silent.
"Calm down, Jen, this man isn't worth it." This voice came from her father, Aaron Knight, the male root of their family. Her mom then spoke again. "Maybe not. But Alice, your daughter, is." That shut him up. Alice heard a man’s voice that she had surely never encountered, and she crept closer to the door, eyebrows furrowing with question. Company at 2 A.M. wasn’t common for the Knight household.
"I know it isn't what you want to hear, but you've been through this before, and it isn't always a bad thing." The young man spoke, attempting to be gentle as the practiced words rolled off his tempered tongue.
Unable to stand on the sidelines for any longer, Alice pushed open the kitchen door and walked onto the cold, kitchen tile. Every head in the room turned to her as she stood, unsure of what to say or do. And then she swallowed, her breath deepening, her shoulders straightening, and she composed herself. She pretended that her hair wasn’t streaked in sweat and her face wasn’t pale and clammy. She acted like there wasn’t a strange man in her house, watching her every move with young eyes.
She took in the faces that were looking at her, because it seemed that was all anyone was doing, just looking at her. Her mom, who looked distressed, her eyes brimmed with tears, and her father, his lips pursed and his features making his way to her, gently, but unhappy. Her family, for once, was showing their true colors. As a whole, they looked disheveled and broken.
Alice’s eyes then glanced to the young man in his suit, who wasn’t half bad looking, causing Alice to fall back into the sad reality of still being in her crew socks, pajama shorts, and sweatshirt. She awkwardly caught the man's eyes and he tried to give her a small smile, but by then she had turned her face from him and back towards her mother.
"Alice, honey, why don't you go back upstairs?" Her mother’s voice was fluid with sweet, but shaky tones. Alice’s eyebrows only furrowed further, because there was no way she was leaving them. Alice clenched her jaw, trying desperately not to show any physical signs of fear. The anonymous man bit his lip, repressing a childlike smile. It fit him and his heroic stature.
It was then she realized that her family didn’t stand any chance against this young man, because he had come prepared for this. The young man had armor, evidence, and all her father held was tired eyes and baggy pajamas. Alice sighed and shut her eyes, hoping more than anything that none of this was real. She fisted her hand beside her, because somehow she knew that she was the prize for this battle, and she didn’t even get the chance to fight.
Aaron Knight’s voice sliced through the quivering air and Alice felt all too much like a little girl when he spoke to her. “Alice, please, just go upstairs.”
She swallowed, her foot twitched, and she considered following orders, but then the young man spoke out to her. “No, stay.” His voice was strong, compelling, and impossible to disobey.
He took a step towards her, his eyes searching for her face. “You deserve to know." His voice was slower than it had been before, almost hypnotic.
Alice's head shot towards the man. Her eyes finally met his, questioningly, and she knew she would stay, because he was right, she did deserved to know. She turned her body to face him, and realized, as he gave her a small smile, that she wasn’t at all scared of him. “Besides,” He started, “You will be coming with me.”
Her mouth opened, trying to comprehend his words fast enough to respond. "Excuse me?" Her high-pitched words carried throughout the room and Alice was numbly aware of her mother’s jaw slacking, her eyes wide. For a second everything seemed to be in slow motion, like thick liquid streaming between the four of them, but then the thick fluid hardened and failed to endure the pressure and inescapable tension. Everything shattered.
"No, please, not now." Her dad pleaded, walking towards the young man with heavy steps. The stranger’s eyes softened, his throat became dry, because he didn’t have any sort of choice in the matter. Aaron’s face hardened and his steps changed from begging to threatening, and while his aura changed as did the stranger’s. The young man wasn’t one to be thrown around by adults, and he had not come to argue with his client’s parents.
“She isn’t going.” Her father’s voice was stone that pushed against the young stranger, who just shook his head. "Do you expect her to just stay here? She isn't one of you anymore." The young man spoke the inevitable statement. There really wasn’t any way around this process.
"How do you even know that?" Aaron questioned, clinging onto his peace in denial. His words hoped that his family could leave this scene unscathed. He hoped he wouldn't have to loose his daughter.
"Just look, she is already developing the mark." The stranger said, turning towards the teenage girl who stood, speechless.
Alice numbly heard the shuffle of his footsteps and they became somewhat louder as they neared her. She braced herself as the young man reached out towards her and spoke softly. "Give me your hand.”
Her eyebrows shot up. Her first reaction was to recoil, to run, to deny, and to do everything but what the stranger had asked. "What?" Her voice grew an octave and she desperately searched for an excuse to keep her hands to herself.
He suppressed a smile and tried again. His eyes flashed a friendly color and his stature softened ever so slightly. "Don't worry, I don’t bite. I just need to look."
Alice swallowed, not impressed by his joke, and slowly she reached out her subtly shaking hand towards him. The skin on skin contact made her shiver as his large hand took her left hand in his and his index finger traced over her palm.
Alice’s eyes widened. This, what she was looking at, couldn’t be her hand. Her hand was clean, unscathed, and certainly didn’t have a dull, brown colored design sunk into the edge of her palm. The design was foreign and undeniably scary as the imprint revealed itself, engraved in her skin. Her eyes darted up to see her mother, who was putting her head in her hands and then to her father, whose jaw clenched and his caramel eyes began to drown in grief.
Her father cleared his throat and mildly began to regain his running dignity. “I want more proof.” The young man looked at him, baffled. "More proof? What else could you possibly want? She is one of us now."
Us. The word mocked Alice and it bounced back in forth through her mind. Us. It meant, not only him, but her too. She was apart of something, and she had absolutely no idea what that something was.
Alice watched as her father battled with the stranger once again. He scrounged for a valid argument, but he continually came up short handed with each round.
Alice took another step back away from the two boys and her fingers rubbed against the fabric of her shirt. Nothing made sense. Nothing made any sense, and it was going to drive Alice mad. She was shaking.
"No she isn't! I don't care what has happened with her, she is staying here! Where she belongs." Aaron Knight’s last attack sprung at the young man, who didn’t budge from his stance. Her father was going to lose, and everyone in the room knew it.
Alice took this as her cue to step in and she took a step, both physically and mentally. They weren’t going to yell about her like she wasn’t in the room. "She is right here." Her forced voice hit them and a hush fell between them all. They all looked at her and the pain in her eyes. She silently begged them to stop.
Ben let out a breath and looked down at the floor for a moment, and then his bright steps carried him towards Alice’s dad and his fingers clasped around a badge that he pulled out of his pant pocket.
His face was apologetic and showed off his young features. He spoke the words he wished he didn’t have to speak, but words that were necessary. “I speak to you now as a representative of Greaton city, part of the marked community, and issued by both the national government, guard, and the royal family itself. I am here to collect Alice Knight and bring her back to Campus. That is where she belongs, and I don't need your approval." His voice had shrunk to meet his face, light eyes pouring into the man in front of him.
Aaron Knight accepted defeat. He took one last longing glance at his daughter, turned, and walked out of the room, slamming the door behind him. In that moment, Alice was only sure of one thing, her father was done fighting for her, and her mom had never been much of a fighter.
The young man then turned to Alice. His face grew cheeky and his dirty blond hair seemed to bounce with each step he took towards her. “Hi, Alice, I’m Ben." He smiled a genuine smile at her, but didn’t get much of a response. Did he expect her to smile back? Pretend that she was okay with all of this nonsense that was going on?
Alice bit her tongue and spoke with strain in her voice. “Hi.”
Her face tightened as Ben laughed an airy laugh before turning towards Alice's mother. He rubbed the back of his neck, not sure how to comfort the wet eyed woman. Her mom didn’t acknowledge Ben, but he proceeded anyways. “I suppose you know what to do? I'm sorry about this, and if I can do anything to help let me know."
Jen nodded a very small nod and lifted her face towards Ben. The words that tipped themselves off her tongue were structured between pain and gratitude. The two didn’t mix well, and her speech came out distorted and choked upon. “I suggest you go wait outside, I’ll pack her things up and send them within the hour. Give us a few minutes to let her get ready, please.”
"I- uh, of course" Ben nodded hastily before his nice shoes and his tailored suit exited through the chiseled door. He stuck one hand in his pocket and looked back at the two who hadn’t moved from their statured pose. The corner of his lip twitched and a tiny dimple creased into his cheek. His eyes locked with Alice’s, purposely, because he wasn’t the bad guy she thought he was, and he wanted her to know that. He hated it when his clients were scared.
He then ducked his head with a slight dip, scuffed his shoe against the outdoor stone, and reached for the brass doorknob.
Alice watched silently as Ben shut the front door behind him and then her breath gave out. Alice began to panic. She didn’t want to go anywhere. How could she leave her home? Her friends? Her family? How could she be expected to go alone?
Jen spoke quietly, trying to hold her emotions together, trying to be strong. She leaned into her daughter and spoke fragile words. “Alice, do you remember how Riley left home when he was your age? Something happened to him, something special, and he went to a school.”
Alice nodded numbly, her mind racing. Riley? Her older brother Riley? She hadn't seen him in years because he went off to some boarding school and was now working in a big city somewhere, where she guessed, was far away.
“You’re like him Alice, and tonight, you are going to go where he went.”
Alice took in the words and she realized that no matter what she thought, no matter what she said, she had no say in this transfer. It was inevitable, a fixed point in time, and it didn’t matter what she did, because she would be leaving tonight.
Feeling the hot beads of waterfall down her shoulders, Alice thought over her mother’s words. Her eyes grazed the tiles of her shower as thoughts bounced in her head. Maybe I’m being punished… but for what? Dreaming?
She remembered sitting in her old history class listening to the teacher go on and on about Nation History. “It was in the 3000s, about 100 years ago, and all the other governments around the world had just fallen due to the world war. Foreign people from all over the world were coming to America, looking for security. We were the last nation still standing, but the effects of the rest of the world were starting to influence the American people. The government tightened the laws, set curfews, and harsh rules. The people started to rebel, one by one, turning against our government, who were only trying to help them.
“Luckily, our faithful president found the cause of our rebellions, dreaming. Dreams that were causing us to doubt things. Dreams that created us a place where we could be anything we wished to be. Dreams that aren't, and never would be real. The president worked and worked until he found a cure. An antidote was given to every person who lived on American soil, the vaccine was said to cure us and all of our children to come, a peace from dreaming. This curing act was called the Realistic Evolution, for it brought everyone back to reality. The rebellion stopped and our nation was free and for the first time and stood as the only country that inhabited the lands, giving us the freedom of all wealth and resources."
Alice supposed that the world she lived in was very different than the one her ancestors had left behind them. She lived in a place where families are weak, people only reach for what they were sure they can grasp, and it was a place where Alice honestly felt she didn't fit in. Every day was the same. Ever since the government passed The Realistic Act years ago, America stopped moving forwards. They've had the same technology, styles, buildings, and sadly government for as long as almost anyone could remember.
Alice took her time getting ready that very early morning. She was vaguely aware that it was the last time she might feel the tiles of her shower, see her reflection in the gold edged mirror, or smell the smell of the old, wooden panels that stabilized her home.
She felt her dark brown hair, which could easily pass as black in the winter, fall down her back as she brushed over it for the countless time that morning. Most people would probably be bursting with questions about where she would be going and why, but Alice knew that even if she asked the questions they wouldn't be answered, at least not now.
She looked up to see her mom walking in the door. "I just wanted to let you know, pack warm clothes. It will be warm there this time of year, but the campus gets very cold." Alice just simply nodded and looked back at the reflection in her silver vanity. She had a very light, tan complexion with icy blue eyes. Her cheeks were edged with a blush and lightly spotted with a few freckles. Her lips pursed with a natural pink, it was the everyday her. The same reflection she had seen her whole life, never changing. Yet, suddenly she found change all around her, and change was definitely scary.
She looked down at her hands and a small smile graced her lips. The champagne color painted on her nails reminded her of the summers at her family’s beach house. They would swim and bathe in the sun, taking time to lay in the grass and star watch at nightfall. Alice loved it there, and so had her brother. She hadn't seen him in almost five years. He used to come home occasionally and meet them at their summer home for weeks at a time, but even Alice noticed the tension between their parents and him. Riley and Alice would talk and laugh and eat sweets, only sleeping when they simply couldn't keep their eyes open any longer. They would wake in the late afternoon and listen to their mother scold them while making a very late breakfast. Alice and Riley hadn't spent a summer together in a very long time.
It was then that she stopped and thought about the possibility of her never getting to spend the summer under the warm sun and stars ever again. She quickly brushed that thought away and sighed, shutting her eyes.
She fingered her hands through her soft, wavy hair before getting up and walking over to her closet. She put on a dark pair of tight jeans that tucked neatly into brown leather boots. She pulled on a hunter green, V-neck sweater meant for a person much larger than herself, so it hung loosely around her, falling to about mid-thigh. She looked around her room for the last time and left, and feeling far from comfort with the lights off, she left them on.
While on the road, Alice found Ben to be a fairly nice guy, who sadly was very impatient when it came to car drives, and listened to a disastrous arrangement of old rock. Alice sighed and tapped her fingers on the dark leather seat. The parting with her mom had been uncomfortably sappy, resulting in a tight hug, a tear stained blouse and the soft words of, "I love you, stay safe! Don't worry about your father. Remember, I love you Alice, sweetie, never forget that."
Parting, as always, was such sweet sorrow. Alice liked to think that she was emotionally more like her father, but every time she sees the man she can't help but think how different they really are. She remembers dinners as a child when she would sit there at the table watching her parents discuss a variety of economics, to the house, to shopping. Her father was a lawyer and her mother had interned at many different workplaces when she was younger, before she married Aaron. They settled down, had children, and Jen had given up on trying to find her perfect career and had retired to raise her son and daughter.
During meals, Alice would listen to the two adults and try to figure out how people like them could possibly have someone like her. Sure, there's a little resemblance in looks, such as her mother’s eyes and hair, but when it came to charisma, well, let’s just say you would have to follow some serious bread crumbs to find wherever Alice gets her personality.
She was blasted out of her head by the overbearing blaring of Juke Box Hero by Foreigner. She gripped the railing of the car door and thought about how in the world a boy like Ben could end up with a job like this. She could practically feel his smirking smile on her as he spoke.
"So I take it you’re not a big fan of Foreigner?" Ben questioned, trying to bring a bit of fun into this unknown adventure. It seemed he had forgotten she still had no idea what she was getting herself into at the moment. The car’s destination was a mystery to her, and Foreigner wasn’t exactly the comfort music she was looking for. "Nope, not a fan." She responded with drags of haste.
Ben tried again, in attempt to make his cheery aura contagious. "Well what are you a fan of? We've got all sorts of stuff in this thing, you see, it’s not really mine, it’s the companies car and-"
Alice cut him off, immune to his disease of happiness. "In case you haven't noticed, I’m not really in a music mood. So, if you could just tell me what’s going on that would be great." That was partly a lie, Alice was always in a music mood. However, considering that she was currently in an extremely stressful and confusing situation, the sound of the music seemed simply overwhelming.
Ben sighed and turned the music down to a whisper. "You’re right, sorry. I keep forgetting that you don't come from a family like mine."
She looked at him, eyes narrowed, her face creased with question. "What do you mean a family like yours?" The questions were swarming in her head. Ben chose wisely, deciding to begin explaining things to her.
"I grew up knowing about the council and Alcazar. Both of my parents went there so it’s kinda a family thing." It was normal for him to pick up teenagers who’s families were already apart of The Marked Society, whose parents rejoiced in their child’s ‘coming of age’ nightmare. Finally, they could carry on the family trait. That’s how his family had been, all on the same path, waiting for the night where he would fall into the family name.
Alice, on the other hand, was a little more than confused. She had been silent for way too long. About to reach her boiling point, she was ready to explode. She put on her sweetest smile and turned towards Ben with a question. "You wanna play twenty questions?" He looked puzzled for a moment and glanced away from the road to look at her. He tapped his fingers against the leather of the steering wheel and shrugged. “Sure" He drew out his response, not sure of the outcome.
"What the hell is going on?" She blurted out, her voice high pitched and sounding more like a teenage girl than she normally did. Ben looked at her and chuckled at her frustration. She looked like a wet, angry kitten. Sure, she was feisty, but she probably couldn’t do much damage. Alice sighed and decided to take a different approach. Taking a deep breath and speaking as calmly as possible in a situation like this. "Please, Ben, I don’t know what is going to happen to me and I would love it if you maybe could fill me in."
He was more serious in his answer, calming almost. For a second, Alice could see why this was his job. "Trust me, Alice, you will know everything soon. We are about to get on a transport train to Alcazar, which is the name of the place you will be staying. The train rides lasts about an hour and a half and I’ll explain anything and everything to you there."
Sighing with slight defeat and gratitude, she spoke softly, her words tired. "Thank you."
It was raining, she knew that, feeling cold dark ground below her, gravel stinging into her back, all the while water drenched her face. She sat up slowly only to find absolute darkness, her hands shaking, too scared to move, and then it happened. Everything changed at once. Color dripped down the sky and onto walls creating images. She inhaled sharply, think Alice, think. She remembered going to bed and- Oh my god. I'm dreaming.
She let out a small whimper before she let herself move. Slowly she got up, shivering from the rain. The colors were everywhere, mixing with the now, slightly visible rain. It was too dark, too quiet. Her head looked up towards the building in front of her, which was now dancing in flames. She shot back, hoping to get farther away from the burning building.
Her eyes widened just long enough to hear an ear-piercing scream from inside the building. Adrenalin rushing through her, she shut her eyes, hoping for a second of peace when a searing pain shot through her.
She fell to her knees. Pain, everything was pain. She heard the agonizing scream once again, scared to death realizing that, this time, the agonized screamer was herself. Fire was everywhere she turned. The heat, the sound, it was too much for Alice to realize that she was inside the very building that just seconds ago stood several yards away from her.
Tears streamed down her face, sobbing, screaming for anyone, anything. And then pain. She looked down at her hands to find them, soaked in blood. Flames engulfed her. She pleaded for them to stop. Horrified, she closed her eyes begging to grip reality. A gush of wind rushed through her, almost as if she was pulled very quickly through a tight space, and then everything seemed to stop.
It was raining, pouring in fact. So hard that she had to squint to open her eyes. Laying on the cold gravel, no longer able to distinguishing the tears in the rain. Coughing, choking, she panicked, trying to find the strength to stand, to escape the fire. Alice looked up to notice that the building of fire was still down the street, as it always had been. Feeling her hands, she noticed the only thing that drenched them were the wet drops of salt and tears that rained. There it was again, the scream. Alice covered her ears, terrified that she would soon be engulfed in the flames once again.
Alice jumped out of her thoughts of the memory, all of which were replaying her nightmare over and over again in her head. She tried to focus on where she was now. Taking calming breaths, she remembered she was traveling by train.
Alice had taken trains before, and rode in several metros around Greaton City, but never one as fast as this one. It was a sleek, silver color, and could travel underground at a remarkable speed. Bench sofas lined the sides,but Alice chose a couch in a more private compartment. It seemed more spacious, with a large bay window. She needed space to think, not that she had seen anyone on the train other than herself. She glanced up and brushed a piece of dark hair from her fair cheek. Outside, she could just see the dark concrete of the underground tunnels zoom past as the train picked up pace. The sliding door to the compartment opened and her eyes darted up to see Ben walking in with a stack of papers in his hands.
"Alright, Q&A time. Ask me questions and I’ll answer.” He spoke as he sat across from her, his foot tapping softly against the flooring. It bugged Alice a little bit, the fact that it seemed he couldn’t sit still.
Contemplating her decision, Alice decided to start with the basics. "Okay, what is Alcazar?" Her mind reeled to try and figure it out. It sounded like the name of a prison, which wasn’t at all comforting.
The gears turned in Ben’s head as he wondered which tactic he should use to explain the situation to the girl. This was his job, he handled a lot of situations like this, and right now Alice needed information, not comfort. So, Ben decided to be blunt. He leaned forwards to her and watched as her eyes trailed over him. "Alice, tonight, before I came to get you earlier, you had a nightmare."
Alice swallowed and crossed her arms over her chest, sharp to reply as she took in the statement. "And if you want me to tell you about it, it isn't going to happen."
Ben held back a smile and shook his head as he spoke. The gesture only infuriated Alice, because now he was looking at her like she was childish, naive. "Oh no, you don't tell just anyone about a nightmare. It’s your private identity, your dirty little secret.” He hoped humor would maybe break up the heaviness of the conversation…it didn’t.
"Good to know." Alice mumbled slightly, not really pronouncing her words and getting frustrated at the unimportant answers.
Ben tried again. "Alice, it is said that you cannot dream, and that’s true. Having a nightmare is not dreaming. Nightmares are a subconscious mindset where things can happen that are so powerful that they become a reality and you are forced to live through it, or die. You and everyone at Alcazar have experienced and lived through a nightmare."
She bit her lip and fisted her hands beside her. “I just don’t understand how all of this is possible.” She said, exasperated, and ready to know everything in an instant. Not only was she getting angry with her problems and herself, but right then Ben had this look on his face that really bugged her. A look that spoke as if he was about to be able to retell his favorite part of a joke or story. His demeanor looked more like a kid on Christmas, rather than an ambassador explaining something certifiably insane to a teenage girl.
He leaned toward her as he spoke. “Do you know much about what happened after the third world war?” Alice’s confused eyes narrowed and she shrugged, because what she knew wasn’t anymore than common sense. “I know about The Reality Acts and rebellion attempts. I took basic Nation History in school.”
He smiled that ‘I know something you don’t know’ smile and nodded at her before continuing. “Yes, then you know about the studies and such, about the scientists finding the place where our main ideas were coming from. A subconscious state of mind where people can trial and error without fear of failure.”
Alice nodded, her eyes resting on the floor. She spoke in an almost whisper. “Dreaming.” She said it as a statement, because she did know. Everyone knew about that. He nodded at her and began again. “After The Reality Acts, the brain started to suffocate. It didn’t have any time to let off steam, to breath. So, as a result, after years of childhood, the energy and power of the human mind built up quite a bit, as you can imagine. So much so that from the ages of about thirteen to seventeen, some people have a very powerful nightmare. Not a dream, just a single nightmare. This nightmare is so powerful that they become a reality. Does any of this happen to sound familiar?”
It all hit her like a ton of bricks. They crashed onto her, surrounded her, and trapped her. The only words that she could possibly form was a strangled “Oh”
Ben continued his lesson, unfazed by the girl, and completely wrapped up in his own story. “Through this nightmare, you can either adapt some sort of Adaptation, an ability really, or you die in real life. The firsts to have a nightmare and live through it called themselves ‘The Marked’. They ruled over the others who joined them and their Royal name still carries on today. “
Oh great, Alice though, there’s a monarchy. She tuned back into Ben who still seemed enthralled by his story. “A society formed and we built Alcazar, which isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds, for students to go and, well, figure it all out.”
Alice numbly nodded. Frankly, it was a whole bunch of information to take in. In all honesty, it was just plain overwhelming. She needed to minimize the situation to a size that she could handle. “Is it like a school?", she asked.
Alcazar. Alcazar. She repeated the word in her head. Alice swallowed, because the word still sounded like the name of a prison.
“It’s kind of like a school, but more of a city. It’s for teenagers like you, Alice, its for survivors" The tips of his lips curved upwards and he sat back in his chair approvingly. He felt almost like giving himself a pat on the back, but then he grudgingly decided against it.
Alice ran a hand through her hair and let out a breath. No, it wasn’t prison, but it just might feel like one.
Her eyes followed down her arm and to her hand, where the intrcate marking on her palm seemed to be fading. “What's happening?” She asked the question under her breath, almost not wanting an answer. “The mark fades, but don’t worry, it’ll be back soon enough.”
Ben laughed and stood up to grab a glass of water. She looked at him oddly. Really? Was this really the time to sit back and sip a cool drink?
He gave her a smile and said simply, "Watch."
Out of nowhere, the water in the glass started to move. Drop by drop it floated out into the air like a bubble. Alice sat in awe. The little droplets were now coming to meet each other, bumping into one another to form a huge drop, before falling very quickly back into the glass like nothing had ever happened. It was a mini rain shower on steroids.
She couldn't help but gape under her breath at him. These kind of things weren’t possible. In books and movies maybe, but in real life it wasn’t possible. Not possible. No, definitely not possible.
And now his once blank palm had The Mark on it, the mark that mocked her.
She shook her head slightly and then jerked up when she heard the melodic sound of laughter. Ben was grinning at her, something he did very often, and then he continued to explain.
"Everyone on campus has an adaptation. They are categorized into one of the four groups: Mental, recreational, influential, and offensive. My adaptation is the ability to bend water. It’s classified as offensive, but i never really did much about it.” He looked down momentarily before brushing off the thought and his voice came again. “You will find out all about your adaptation at your first private concepts of concentration session. For the meantime, you will be staying in an apartment with a roommate, who I’m sure will be happy to give you a tour." He handed her a badge that had a small, black and white photo of her and a small symbol that she noticed was also on the side of the train, the Alcazar crest. Under that sheet was a blue laminated piece of paper that had a schedule on it. The paper mocked her and Alice automatically hated it.
"This pass will get you in everywhere you need to be. On the back is what kind of looks like a bar code, which you can scan to unlock certain doors and to get into your apartment building. Underneath that is your weekly schedule. You have to take a few classes but other than that it’s a free life." Ben handed the stack to her and she attempted to half heartedly struggle behind the unbalanced and unfortunately flimsy sheets. The information was, to say the least, overwhelming.
She could see the train coming to a slow and she put a hand on the edge of the seat to stabilize her as the cart jolted forwards and the breaks came into command. Alice took a deep breath and sat perfectly still. She didn’t want to move yet. Her muscles were rigid and her breaths came fast paced and uneasy. She wasn’t ready. It was like taking all the panic and nerves of the first day of school, timesing them by a thousand, and then not giving any kind of fairwarning about anything. Like a pop first day of new school, and Alice hated it. She felt unprepared and so completely unaware of everything that was going on. She only knew one thing; she couldn’t stay on this train any longer.
Ben was giving her a weary look and then offered a small smile that Alice took gratefully. She stood, shakily, but with a brave face, and stood up to walk out of the train and into a new life. Her eyes trailed the wet ground and her feet paced over the wet gravel. Ben walked with her, out of the loading and departing dock, and pointed towards a large, gold gate. "I can't go any farther than this. Show the guard your pass and he will give you a map. You are staying in West End, where student housing is, building B, room 348. Good luck!" And with the short lived words of good luck she was off.
While finding her room, Alice realized two things. First off, that she didn’t have as good of a sense of direction as she thought she did, and secondly, this place wasn't as much of a school as it was a small city. She could practically see the streets and shops buzzing with people, all teenagers, socializing with friends. All though, at this odd hour of the morning, the streets were deserted, and Alice could easily say she had hoped for a warmer welcome.
The whole place gave of a kind of a royal village vibe with brick houses and large Spanish moss trees along with elaborate marble, and allot of it too. There were strips with different buildings and shops. Signs were scattered through the uneven paved streets and stores sat quietly with the lights off and the doors securely shut. She walked quickly, head down, feet moving step after step. She didn’t want to stop.
Her breath hitched when she heard hushed voices coming from somewhere in the near distance. They were bantering back and forth in cracking whispers and they echoed through the streets. Alice swallowed and her pace quickened, not that she knew where she was going. Her heart began to beat out of her chest and her eyes reached up, nearly blinded by the contrast of the dark streets and the lit lamp post that stood feet away from her. She licked her lips and her eyes bounced to the wall that lined a large, brick building. She was still recuperating from the illuminations when her breath caught in her throat as she made out a boy leaning against the wall. He was talking to a boy next to him, his face low, his eyes endearing.
“You can’t tell anyone I let you use this tonight. I mean it. They’ll kick me out!” His rough voice hung onto the other boy and he nodded and rolled his eyes. The boy leaning against the wall snatched something that looked somewhat like a bracelet of some sort from the other boy’s hands. He started to wrap it around his wrist and then his eyes glanced around him. Alice froze. She searched for a hidden path through the shadows, trying to escape unnoticed. But then one of the boys turned towards her, able to see right through her. She couldn’t escape, so instead she just froze, eyes wide, heart heavy and feet of steel.
“What are you looking at?” The boy’s voice came louder and as soon as the words reached Alice’s ear she realized that her feet definitely weren’t heavy as steel anymore. In fact, they were now light as a feather as she murmured a rushed “Sorry” and fled from the scene with impeccable speed.
Her feet carried her past new buildings and signs that directed her in the right direction. Her mind raced with negative thoughts that strained her every move. They made it harder and harder to walk forwards rather than run away. She didn’t run across anymore strangers before she was met with the entrance to The West End, which had a small, stoned walkway that opened up to a beautiful courtyard with roughly five buildings circled around it.
They were fairly large and looked a little like a tall, brick houses with white columns and a warm brown door for a giant. On the wall next to the door was a silver circle with a small, glowing red dot. Alice hastily got out her ID pass and swiped it over the circle few times. Her hands were shaky as she guessed what she should possibly do with this situation. She shivered under her sweater and her face whipped back and forth the dark streets. She felt like she was trespassing.
It took several tries, but she eventually figured out the trick to scanning the card, and the door unlocked with a click. She rubbed her hands together in refuge of the cold as she was greeted by a long hallway with several doors. Alice looked to the left and found an iron, spiral staircase that seemed to go on forever. With a small shrug, she ventured up the steps. One, two, three, the little voice counted in her head as she made her way past the different floors. The whole campus seemed to be a dream of cast iron, marble, and brick.
Floor three was much smaller than the previous floors had been. The walls were a deep brown with a rustic red design carpet aligning the hallway. Alice took in the sight knowing that this trip up the stairs would be the first of many. Her steady hand took hold of the door knob to room 348, but the scene that she walked into was not one that she had expected.
The girl looked to be about Alice's height, with warm brown hair that gave off an auburn tent. At the moment, she was standing on the kitchen table with what looked to be a broom banging it against the ceiling. Oh, well, if this is what I’m going to be walking into everyday at least she's pretty. Her thoughts rippled away and she pursed her lips at the girl.
Then, without a glance towards Alice, the girl started yelling...at the ceiling.
"Listen, in case you haven't noticed it’s four o’clock in the freaking morning! I have been sitting here for an hour listening to your endless complaints about how this so called Grant guy won’t ask you out, and you know what? Boo freaking hoo! Get over it! Some people here are trying to sleep! Don't ignore me! I know you can hear me! That’s right! I’m talking to you little Miss Macey you-"
Alice took a slow step forwards and spun back around when the door she had previously been blocking shut roughly behind her. Alice’s eyes widened and she turned back towards the other girl, who now noticed her. She stopped in her tracks, dropping the broom and blushing slightly, as if she caught her red handed. The girl then looked at Alice and smirked. "Errr sorry about that...I'm Riddley. You must be Alice. They dropped your stuff off about half an hour ago." Riddley seemed completely uninterested in Alice and looked back towards the kitchen.
"Hi, it’s good to meet you." Alice said with a small smile. Riddley jumped off the table, picked the broom off the floor, and finally took a good look at Alice. It was almost as if she was inspecting her. Alice’s eyebrows slowly creased. She was tired, really tired, and not in the mood to stand here and be someone’s science experiment.
"Hmm" Riddley said, eyes narrow. Alice advanced and walked a bit deeper into the room and took in her surroundings before turning to Riddley. She couldn’t help but barely blink, because her eyes were practically glued open. She tried to ignore the spark of excitement that lit in her chest and she spoke to Riddley again. “I’m kinda new to all of this, so I just want to make sure I’ve done everything right so far.”
Riddley scoffed at her and leaned against the round, kitchen table. Riddley’s eyes brushed over Alice multiple times and her eyebrows flashed up. “Well, you're alive so I would say yeah, pretty much. Anyways, it was good to meet you, Alice, but I honestly can’t think at this ungodly hour so I am going to catch up on some sleep. Oh, and congrats, I think I’ll let you stay…for now.”
Alice held an oddly expressed face as she watched her new roommate turn and stroll into a dim lit bedroom. Exhausted and drained of all personality for the night, Alice decided to engage herself in her battles tomorrow. Riddley turned around once to glance at Alice and, out of pure desperation, she flashed an awkward three fingered peace sign at Riddley, who just half laughed and shook her head while closing the door behind her. Alice turned towards the other bedroom in the apartment, wide eyed, and scolding herself with a groan all the while. Really Alice? A peace sign? How old are you, six?
Alice, drowning in humility, and wanting nothing more than to sleep it all off, soundlessly groaned and walked into the only open door. She vaguely realized that her room was a light grey color with a cream comforter and detailed, wooden bed frame. Her clothes had been folded perfectly into drawers and it only took her much longer than few seconds to find her desired nightwear. She rummaged through every corner of every wooden drawer. Her hands piled and replied every article of clothing until she had touched every piece of familiar fabric. She stopped her frantics and let out a deep breath. Her eyes shut and her shaking hands reached blindly for a shirt and shorts. She put them on mechanically and wadded up her current cloths on the large window seat.
She stepped back and sat on her bed for a moment, her eyes drooping and her hands wringing themselves over each other on her lap. She didn’t know what to do. Well, that was a stupid thought really, because of course she knew what to do. It was late, she was tired, and the only thing left to do was repeat what she had done every night since she had been born. The familiarity of the clothes comforted her and she took a deep breath before slipping into the expensive sheets and falling into an unconscious state that wouldn’t be interrupted until late morning.
When Alice awoke the moon was far-gone and she took in the distant room in front of her. The walls were a light grey, and the furniture, a slick, warm chestnut brown color. In soft shorts and a thin shirt, she ventured into the kitchen with little to no desire of being awake.
The apartment was made up of several rooms: a kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, and a smaller room off the kitchen with a breakfast table. Alice yawned opened the fridge to find a small jug of milk and a few cups of an odd colored yogurt. Sighing, her ears picked up dragging footsteps and her head lifted to see Ridley walking down the hall wearing a cotton tank top and short pajama shorts. Alice heard her mutter under her breath with a blank face. “I keep forgetting I have to share this place now…”
Alice looked up at her and her mouth opened and closed again. It wasn’t the good morning she had been hoping for. “Do others not normally have a roommate?” Alice wondered her questioned out loud and closed the fridge to turn towards the conversation.
Riddley scoffed at her, finally reaching the kitchen and sitting at a bar stool. “Are you kidding? I was the only one who didn’t! Trust me, there were several girls they tried to out me with, but I never let any of them stay. They were all running away come morning.”
Alice nodded and wondered if she should feel somewhat accomplished from not being hated by her roommate. She cleared her throat and fidgeted with the growing tension. Riddley stretched out her arms and back and then fingered through her long hair. Alice licked her lips and decided on a reliable conversation starter. “So, what do you guys do for fun around here?”
Riddley shrugged. “It depends what you count as fun. There is shopping, eating, cliff diving...we do everything except for interact with boys.” She made a disgusted face and continued with her head tilted towards Alice. “We never touch those.”
Alice laughed. She laughed an awkward, half hearted, not sure if she should be laughing laugh, and desperately tried to figure out Riddley Hampton. She was almost completely sure that was a joke. At least, Alice hoped that was a joke. He laugh died down slowly and Riddley looked at her skeptically, eyebrows raised. “That was a joke, touch all the boys you want. Jeesh, ease up a bit, Knight.” Her voice was flat and verged the breaks of sarcasm.
Alice flashed a smile and nodded before momentarily glaring at the ground. Where had her social skills gone? She brushed her hand over her forearm and thought about how nice a warm shower would feel right about now.
Riddley ignored her and spoke nonchalantly. “We can pick up food on the road. There isn’t any use trying to dig through the cabinets, because I haven’t actually grocery shopped in years.”
Alice knew that, out of the two of them, she would have to be the one to clean, and grocery shop, and run errands, and do pretty much everything else. Riddley spoke again, but this time with an idea.
"I’ll be remarkably generous and give you a tour today. This place is huge so you’re going to need it if you plan on going anywhere."
And then with the set plan, they turned separate ways. Riddley trudged towards her bedroom and Alice vaguely heard the sound of rushing water as the shower came to life and Riddley came to its use.
Alice followed suit and felt the stinging needles of her own hot shower cascade over her body. The school had provided her with practically any necessity she could possible need. If anything they were over prepared for her arrival, and Alice only wished she would have felt the same way. She stepped out into the cool air and slipped on her new outfit for the day. Her hair dripped as her feet met the wood of her new room and she sat down in the chair next to her window to comb out her hair.
She didn't have long in her bedroom before it started to rain. The crackle of lightning brought her back to when she was kid. Living in the innocent light of laughter and love. She walked over to the window and placed a hand on the glass as the drops of rain crashed in waves. It bounced off the small stream outside that lined the perimeter of West End. It was killing her. She could feel herself drowning. She was falling deeper and deeper into the waters of uncharismatic nothing. This wasn’t her. Her body, yes, but her personality, no, not at all. Feeling so trapped in herself, she was slipping.
Not anymore, no, she wouldn’t let herself do this. She needed to laugh, to love, and she still needed to be a teenager. She needs to adapt, because there is no escaping this new life. Not now, not ever. Sighing, she sank onto her bed and closed her eyes. Letting go of it all, she smiled slightly and was brought back to a place in her mind she didn’t go often.
The thunder cracked and rain poured outside the shelter of a warm house. A small girl ran down the steps, through the kitchen, and into a large study where a tall man was sitting on the windowsill looking out and into the foggy clouds. The rain was hitting against the windowpane, making the world appear like a big, blurred picture. Twisting and shielding a young girl from the realities of a harsh world, it poured, wet and never ending.
"Daddy" the small girl started. "I don't like it when it rains. The thunder it-it scares me." The man turned around with a small smile on his face. He reached out and picked the little girl up onto his lap. "Alice, there is no need to be scared of the rain. It does good things. “
She curled up into his chest, her muscles relaxing. She yawned, proving it to be far past bedtime. "Like what?" her big blue eyes looked up at him.
"The rain waters the pretty plants so that they can turn into beautiful flowers. You like flowers don’t you?"
The young Alice smiled and nodded, her dark hair falling out from behind her ears. The little girl looked out at the rain thinking about what her father had just said. Then she asked a question she had wanted to ask for a while now.
"Daddy, where is mommy?" And at that very moment, the father’s heart broke for that little girl in his arms. His eyes slowly leaked warmth and his heart bled love as they seeped in the hard stone of regret, remorse, and anger. She had left them, even if only temporarily. At the time, Alice’s father had thought she had completely and unconditionally abandoned them. He was alone to raise two children, two children with questions.
It hurt to be disgraced by the woman who held his heart. But, for now, he would be the kind father that his young Alice and Riley needed. He would be comforting and encouraging, just until she came back and he was free to resume his new post of a man with a broken heart. How could he still love her after this? He had wondered this question many times without an answer.
But he knew the question was a foolish one. Of course he still loved her, because once you truly love someone that much, you never really stop loving them. The love may change, but it never goes away.
The man cleared his throat and looked towards his daughter, who was the spitting image of his wife, only with a toddlers face and drowning innocence. With a calming breath, he spoke to the girl.
“Alice, your mom is on a trip right now, and I don’t know when she will be home. She had to go and take care of a few things. I’m sure she misses you very much.”
Alice’s mom and dad were young parents, they met right out of university and soon got married, and then there was Riley, and then there was Alice. All the while, he slowly learned about the life that his wife had left behind for him, a life far more eventful than his ever was. He continued for the eager child. “Alice, your mom loves the rain.”
The man looked down at the small girl in his arms to find her large eyes etched with concern. It nearly killed him sometimes, how much she looked like her mother, his wife. He let out a shaky breath, determined to bring her back to her family. Alice smiled at him.
His innocent little Alice, who got in trouble for fighting with the boys at school. His angel that had a hot temper and an attitude that could bring the coldest soul to their knees. Brought to tears just by having someone she held dearly to her caught troubled thought. Little Alice watched him and then let out the biggest sigh a four year old could make "Daddy, I don't like crying. It makes me feel sad.” Her Dad looked at Alice with a single ounce of truth. “Alice, always remember, it’s okay to cry."
Dragged back to reality, she felt a small tear slide down her cheek. There had been so much she had wanted to do, so much she didn't get to finish. Everything she had felt, and she was pulled away from her family, her friends, and her life. Wanting so badly to understand everything, but just feeling so lost. Worst of all, the feeling of simply not know what’s next. She had kept it all inside for too long. What if this school doesn't work out? What if my parents hate me now? Alice looked towards the grey sky and told herself something that she needed to hear. Something that she had to tell herself because, right now, there was no one else that cared enough to tell her. Alice, its okay to cry.
She put her hand against the glass window in front of her and watched as her hand became surrounded with a cold fog. She wiped her tear with her index finger and put her head in her hands. What's wrong with me? She hadn’t thought this way since she was a child. Alice couldn't remember the last time she had cared so much about what her parents might be thinking, or what others might think of her.
Her brother left them, her mom seemed to emotionally fall apart, her father hid all of his emotions behind his constant work, and Alice remembered it all too well. Her mother eventually recovered, her father’s work load became slightly slimmer, and the pain of her brother’s absence dulled, but while no one was watching, their little Alice grew up. She grew out her hair, turned towards the closed door of independence, and never looked back.
She became strong and willing. She stopped worrying so much about what other people thought of her, forgot the pain of her brother's and father's abandonment, and put on a tough outer shell. Determined to be absolutely positive that whoever she let in would never hurt her like her family did. Alice was a survivor.
The tour of campus was anything but simple. There was absolutely no way that Alice thought she was ever going to remember where everything was. Thank God for signs. They had stopped for lunch at a small restaurant near West End called La Table Ronde. It was a French restaurant, better known to students as The Round Table. It was one of the quieter restaurants on campus, and Alice loved the food, no matter how confusing paying for it had been.
“You pay with your student ID card.” Riddley had explained tiredly and bored. “The school puts on 200 credit points a month and that’s what you use to pay for your food and for your living quarters, correction, our living quarters. If you want more then you get a job of some sort or take classes. I had a job at the clothing store in The Circle, I quit after a few days. I don’t work, so have fun with that.” Her words dripped unregrettable sarcasm.
Alice vaguely wondered what sort of classes they had available. Math? Science? Riddley answered her voiceless question. “You can take Ancient Language classes, Concepts of Strategy, Marked History, Concepts of Research and Development, and, when you figure out what you want to do as a profession in life, you can take classes like that. Boring, stupid stuff for idiots and brainiacs.”
A map sat on the table in front of them and Riddley seemed to continue on for hours as she spoke and pointed to certain places. “You see this semicircle here? This is The Circle. Anything you could need clothing or shopping wise is most likely there. The library is also on the outskirts of the circle and there is a decent coffee shop inside. We are in the circle now, right here.” She pointed to a small shop across from green courtyards on the map.
Her fingers moved to the left slightly and she continued talking. “You have the West End, where student housing is, and then you have both the best place on campus, and then the worst.
She paused for effect before continuing.”Five points is right next to the West End, and the name practically describes it. There are five main buildings that you pretty much want to steer clear of. The campus security base, the entrance gates, student services, the infirmary, and the concepts building, where you will have your privates and classes.”
Alice tried to speak, but Riddley’s words seemed to be speeding up by the new topic. “And then there is The Cliffs. The greatest place on earth.”
Alice laughed slightly at her enthusiasm. “And what exactly are The Cliffs?”
Riddley smiled deviously at her. “I’d love to tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” Alice’s mouth opened to speak and then closed again, at a loss of words.
She glanced out the window where the rain was still dripping onto the glass. She could make out several people, probably about ten students, running around in the grass outside the restaurant. Boys were sliding in the wet lawn and running at full speed. They tripped and turned over each other as they ran. One of the boys kicked one of the balls high into the air and all eyes trailed the object momentarily before diving for it. “What are they doing?” She asked the question to her seemingly all knowing roommate.
Riddley rolled her eyes at the wet students. “They are playing Fortress. It’s a campus sport, a game people play, especially if they have an offensive adaptation.” Alice watched as a soaking wet, covered in mud boy thrust his hands forwards and set a kid flying ten feet backwards. Then the ball one of the girls was carrying became invisible and Alice blinked, wondering if she had just lost it or something.
Then it appeared again in the girl’s hands yards away. She turned to Riddley who was watching in amusement. “Is that legal?”
She laughed at the novice question and answered honestly. “It’s man to man combat, all about protecting a safe diatom and royals, and it’s Fortress, everything is legal.”
They turned their attention to a boy who was approaching them; he had dark hair and tan skin. His white smile was the first thing Alice noticed as she sipped her soft drink. Riddley avoided eye contact with the boy and looked up only when he touched they’re table. “Hey, Riddley, who is this?”
Riddley inhaled deeply and replied dully and completely un-amused. “Knowlen this is Alice. Alice, this is Knowlen Rhodes, the biggest flirt on campus.” He gave them a charming smile, and he spoke confidently at Alice. “It’s good to meet you. Having new people around is always fun.”
Alice was about to reply when Riddley stole her place and spoke casually. “Just don’t reply and maybe he’ll go away.”
He smirked and walked away easily back to his table where two other boys sat. Riddley sunk into her seat. “Jerk” she muttered under her breath. She looked pointedly at Alice to explain. “I’ve been here a long time. I know the best people on campus and the worst.” Riddley smirked slyly and stood before beckoning to Alice. “C’mon Knight, there’s still a lot to see.”
They walked along the wet streets, finger pointing, chatting. “You see the ocean over there?” Riddley asked and pointed to a place a few blocks away. Alice nodded, her eyes squinting to make out the water. “Those are the beaches. Most of them are attached to the private part of Campus, but some of them are open to everyone.”
Alice nodded, information, information, location, boys, and even more information. It was hard to retain it all. They stood still for a moment. “See those boys over there?” Alice tuned directions to look at them.
There were four boys, young boys, who looked a little out of place. They couldn’t be more than twelve or thirteen years old. “They’re part of the youth program. Some kids are exceptions to the rules and they have they’re nightmare really early, so Alcazar set up a youth program for younger kids.” Alice couldn’t imagine this happening to her at that age. She was barely coping with it now, but five years ago, at the age of twelve, she surely wouldn’t of been able to.
There were other teenagers sitting across the courtyard, but they were too far away to make out they’re faces. “Who are they?” She asked the general question while observing them aimlessly joke around.
Riddley looked and she shrugged lightly, as if they weren’t terribly important. “Oh, those are some of the royal descendants. In their case, having a nightmare is a genetic thing. Everyone in their family has to marry someone who is also marked, that way they’re bloodline stays pure. Everyone over there is probably either siblings or cousins.”
Alice watched as they laughed and began to disperse. “Are they fun?” She needed to know who and who not to make friend with. Sure, she could probably judge that for herself, but Riddley knew these people. An outside opinion couldn’t hurt.
Riddley shrugged, an unsure answer on her tongue. “Some of them.”
That had been about an hour ago and they were now sitting in their living room, inspecting a small pendant ring that had recently been placed on Alice’s finger. She had learned a lot about Riddley Hampton throughout the day. She didn’t eat a whole lot, she tended to shoot down every idea that wasn’t hers, and she knew absolutely everyone on campus. Alice would watch as she gave frugal nods or small acknowledgments to the large number of students they saw.
Alice turned a small, metal ring over and over again in her palm. She felt the cool metal against her skin as she slipped it onto her right ring finger once more, a perfect fit. Riddley was staring at her in almost disbelief. “I still can’t believe you got in.” Riddley exclaimed, wide eyed. Alice looked at her, her grey blue eyes unfit with her oddly placed eyebrows. Getting into The Cliffs was magical, visionary, and nearly impossible.
“I don’t even know what this means! But it fits…” She said sheepishly, her eyes still outlining and memorizing the detailed pattern on the ring.
Riddley rolled her eyes. “Of course it fits.” She pulled out a long necklace from under her shirt. It was a dark metal, the same as Alice’s, and held the same design that was on the ring. Riddley began to explain, something Alice noticed she had been doing a lot of lately. “This symbol is the symbol of The Cliffs. Not everyone gets into The Cliffs, you are chosen and sent a piece of jewelry or something that you can wear on you every day.”
Alice smiled a big smile and met Riddley’s eyes. “And what exactly did I get into?”
Riddley huffed as if Alice should already know all of this information. “The Cliffs are a private section of campus that’s blocked off to everyone except for the students who are handpicked for access. No one knows who chooses, but rumor has it they look at your family, personality, adaptation, and skill level. Only the best get in, and there are no exceptions. Part of the Cliffs is a teen nightclub, while the other parts are beaches, cliffs, and caves. If people see The Cliff emblem on you, it shows that there is something about you that is somehow better than another person’s. You are automatically thought highly of.”
The smile grew on Alice’s face. She was going to be thought highly of. A comfort surrounded her as she realized that maybe she did fit in here. Not only was she just accepted, but she was also given open arms from an elite club.
Riddley sat back and her eyes roamed Alice. “Maybe we should go red. Wait, no, black. Your hair is so…White? No…” Her eyes were narrowed in thought.
“What are you talking about?” Last time she checked, naming off colors at random wasn’t exactly normal.
Riddley smiled, a real smile, and her voice sounded out with excitement. “What I’m meaning is that we need to go find you some heels and a dress, because tonight we are going to party. "Alice caught on quickly to the idea that Riddley was very fond of The Cliffs. You see, that’s just Riddley, a party person, a rule bender, wild at heart.
The one thing she hated to be was bored, and maybe, just maybe, Alice Knight could bring some excitement into her life. Of course, she would never admit that her life had the audacity to even parallel the lines of ‘dull’, but students could only do so much at Alcazar. Stranded on a rainy campus, timely roaming the fields of self discovery, and boredom was something the students ran into often.
“I’m bored. I’m so, so, so dearly amazingly, catastrophically bored.” A blond boy hissed and repeatedly threw up and caught a small, bouncy ball. He was lying sideways on a large chair, his head pushed over the plush arm.
“Peirce, maybe you wouldn’t be bored if you actually got a job or took a class every once and awhile.” His roommate, James, walked through the kitchen, not daring to meet Peirce’s rolling blue green eyes.
“You’re such a stick in the mud, did you know that?” Peirce’s voice came out playful as he watched James dig through the fridge. James didn’t respond to the meaningless question and Peirce squinted his eyes and aimed the ball that soon hit James square in the back.
James spun around, his eyebrows creased at the blond boy sprawled out in the living room, who sat innocently, starting up new conversation. “We could go out tonight.”
This banter was common and no longer excited the boy who had better things to do. James continued his busy work with a dull comeback.“You could go out tonight.”
Peirce sat up, appalled at the thought. “I can’t go to The Cliff’s without my wingman!”
James rolled his eyes and actually looked at him, his tone serious. “I am not your wingman.”
Peirce’s mouth opened with rejection, pulling his mind with contradiction. “It is an honor to be my wingman. Chicks dig this.” He pointed down to his body with hints of joking, but altogether too serious. James looked at him, a teasingly apologetic look smeared across his face. “Peirce, I hate to say this, but you’re the kind of guy that tries to talk to girls walking by on the street and they avoid eye contact and just keep walking. It’s like when you’re in a big city and your approached by a street vendor trying to sell something you really don’t want.”
Peirce pursed his lips, his eyes in thought. “I’m a good guy! I don’t know why girls don’t just snatch me up.”
James wanted to laugh at the conflicted boy, who spoke once again, all too seriously about this kind of topic. “Maybe I need to change my tactic…” James decided to play along with his thoughtfulness. “Maybe you could try playing hard to get?”
Peirce’s face contorted into a grimace. “I suck at playing hard to get.”
James chuckled and neared his room where the suit he would wear tonight hung in his closet. “I know…now get dressed, because tonight we are going to The Cliffs. And no, I still will not be your wingman.”
Hair, dress, shoes. A curl here, a dab a blood red lipstick there, and makeup just about everywhere. Getting dressed was never a fast or easy task.
Alice began making her way down the never-ending spiral staircase. Stumbling slightly, she grabbed the rail and cursed under her breath. Long story short, Alice wasn't in a good mood, not in the slightest bit. Her mascara was clouding her vision, her shoes were 3 inches too high, and her earrings, oddly, were seeming to weigh more than the little black dress she wore. Sure, Alice liked parties, and yes, making friends here would probably be wise, but she couldn’t help but feel this wasn’t the time for it. It had already been an overwhelming day for her.
Nevertheless, Alice sported the party look. Of course, when choosing her outfit for tonight, she had unfortunately forgotten the task of stairs. Alice could see it, tomorrow's headline on the campus newspaper: 'Girl fell to a grave death on her way down the steps’. She sighed with relief once she had finally reached the bottom floor. "You ready to go?" Riddley asked standing in the doorway. Alice nodded. Riddley was in a dress much like hers, except it was a sheer, lacy mesh fabric, and she looked far too comfortable in it. Riddley smiled excitedly at her, "You are going to love it! I promise!"
Riddley was right. Upon entering, a big man wearing a classic, black suit stood at the doorway. Alice, following Riddley’s lead, flashed her ring towards the man and he opened the door for her. It seemed once you were inside, there was no turning back.
Everywhere shined different colors. The room pounded with blaring music, girls and guys dancing, talking, and shouting. Alice looked around taking in the overwhelming emotion of pandemonium. She smiled, because it was exactly what she needed right now.
She looked to the empty space beside her and, realizing Riddley was no longer next to her, she made her way over to a big, wrap around bar in one of the circular corners of the complexly designed room. She gave a small smile to the bartender that seemed about a year or two older than she was. He winked at her in his barely buttoned dress shirt. "What can I get you?" She tried to come up with a quick answer, but knew that she had absolutely no idea what they had and she didn’t really feel like experimenting. She looked for a sort of menu, feeling honestly silly. "Uh, well I'm kinda-" He cut her off with a knowing look. "I haven't seen you around here before. You're new aren't you?"
She smiled, and swallowed with the newfound fact that her discomfort was obvious.. She gave and sighed through her words. "Yeah, so what do you have?"
The bartender began to list several different types of drinks, all of which included the infamous Craze, a well-known substance created by one of the students at Alcazar.
It was a clever invention, made by a boy whose adaptation was the ability to look at someone and find out his or her greatest desires and pleasures. He combined different chemicals and ingredients to create a drink that would pleasure anyone and everyone. The drink exhilarated the brain and bodies to the point where people would crave the drink. The Cliff’s took charge of the substance and decided to put it in all of their drinks, taking the place of alcohol. The school had been grateful of that, but as Alice watched the bartender pour the red substance into an assortment of sodas and liquids, she grew skeptical.
After choosing one of the less exciting drinks, Alice sipped the red liquid curiously. It tasted almost fruity, with a weird aftertaste, but maybe that was just the punch she had decided to mix it with. She hoped the drink might just wash any doubts and discomfort away, and it did. Before long she was as good as the rest of them, and she met so many faces with so many names that it was hard to keep track of who was who.
It was almost fun being the new girl. She had said countless times “Yeah I’m new, my name is Alice.” Mainly because, at The Cliffs, who you were mattered. At The Cliff’s, you couldn’t just halfway be there. Either you were all in, or all out. And the best part was that you could be anyone you wanted to be, and that, in itself, was a dangerous yet completely captivating reality.
Her eyes lazily grazed the room and caught the image of a chestnut hair male. He was wearing a white button down with crisp cuts and dark pants. His smile met those around him, boys and girls alike, and Alice could see the cool glass that hung in his hands. Ocasionally he would bring the glass to his lips and then he would bring it back down again. He would lean back slightly to laugh a genuine laugh, or the side of his lip would twitch into a smirk, or even a smile.
And then Alice realized that she had been stalkily watching this attractive, teenage boy for too long and she was only pulled from her thoughts for a millisecond before she felt a body collide into her side. She gasped and spun towards the collision where a tall, familiar young man was hosting a guilty look. “I’m so sorry!” He started and then his voice trailed off as his eyes took Alice in.
She gave a short laugh and asked surprised, “Ben?”
The dirty blond headed boy smiled his cheesy smile and then his vision dropped down to her dress, which was now stained with a red color. He grimaced. “Hey, and sorry about your dress…” He rubbed the back of his neck, because there wasn’t much that he could do about it now.
Alice shrugged her shoulders and spoke over the pounding base of the music. “It’s okay, really, but what are you doing on Campus? I thought you didn’t go to school here anymore.”
Ben nodded, because she was correct, he had graduated a few years ago. He had business to attend to, not necessarily on Campus, but The Cliffs. “I help out The Cliffs every once and awhile. I’m glad you got in, it really is the best place on earth.” He said with his satisfying smirk. He brushed off his clean suit and laughed as Alice made half hearted comments under her breath about The Cliffs being crazy more than anything else.
He walked a few steps closer to her and placed a strong hand on her bare forearm. “It’s good to see you, and I’m sure I’ll see you around soon.” His gesture and closing words were sweet and he continued to walk past her. He had work to do tonight.
He made his way through the parting students and past the shouting girls and boys sitting up against the bar, and inside the massive fabric of the dark curtains. No one saw him enter inside the drapes, and even if they had they probably would of thought he was either drunk or crazy, because no one knew of the door that was placed perfectly positioned behind the dark fabric. Ben’s face fell flat as he opened the door and the man he had been seeking out stood in the doorway.
The young man that now accompanied Ben was silent and cloaked in a black robe. The outfit hung low and cover any feature that could possibly reveal who it might be, and not even Ben knew his name. The man asked his question with little emotion. “Who is that girl?”
Ben swallowed and took deep breaths to cover any nerves. “Which girl?” The cheekiness had left his voice and cool, precise words took the replacement.
After peering through a slit in the curtain, the cloaked man spoke again. “The girl that Miss. Riddley Hampton is approaching. The dark haired girl, what is her name?”
Ben’s eyes watched and he controlled his breaths and heart rate. He cleared his throat before speaking. “That is Miss. Alice Knight.” His words spoke all that the cloaked man wished to hear and as soon as Ben received his approving nod his feet carried him out of the curtain room and back into chaos. Ben sighed as he walked past Riddley and Alice, and he momentarily overheard their conversation before continuing out of the club, out of his prison.
"Hey!" Riddley shouted towards Alice loudly, trying to talk over the raising bass of the music. "How do you like it?" Alice smiled and her eyes squinted with her grin. "It’s was great until someone spilled their drink on me.” Her voice sounded with sarcasm. Ridley’s eyes narrowed. “Who did it? I’ll break his neck.” Riddley’s taunting words sounded all too serious, and Alice shook her head feverishly. “It’s fine, really, but I’m going to head back to the apartment.” Her shouting was tired and lacked certain energy that Riddley dispersed with her flare of brunette spice.
Riddley nodded, most of her attention elsewhere, and she addressed the subject with a simple question that Alice had yet to think of. "Do you know your way back?" Alice, feeling falsely on top of the world at the moment and tired of yelling over the loud music, replied with "Yeah!" And then her heels clicked across the expensive floor and she left Riddley and venture out of the club.
As soon as she hit the pavement sidewalk Alice knew she had lied. She didn’t know her way back.
Okay, I turn left here…right? She groaned and looked both ways before shrugging and confiding with a left turn. She had been walking in circles for the past half hour and was sure she had just passed that same tree five minutes ago. Either way, Alice had definitely underestimated her sense of direction, once again.
After walking around for twenty minutes in what seemed like one big circle, she sighed and bent down to take of her black heels. Not only had she wanted to be back at her apartment half an hour ago, but now, on top of her misery, she was rubbing blisters on the back of her heels.
She walked a bit longer, not liking the feel of the wet ground against her feet. Her eyes widened as she passed a familiar, metal lantern and found the little stone passageway that led to the West End. She smiled brightly at her fortunate coincidence and tip toed over the rocks.
Arriving in the courtyard, she put her arms around herself, using them as a shield against Alcazar’s never ending cold and told herself, see, I knew I could find it. It just took a while, that’s all.
Finding herself once again on floor three, she raised her eyebrows noticing that the hallway looked a bit bigger than the one she was used to. It's probably just that craze drink, she thought, shaking her head. She wasn’t sure when the next time she would drink it, because in the moment it was great, but on the way home it was miserable.
The drink made a small part of her want to turn back. A tiny, speck of a voice told her to turn back and party until the sun came up. In whispered for her to find a random boy and dance with him, get lost in the beat of the screaming music, or, better yet, have another drink of craze.
She shook the feeling and reached for the key she had placed in her shoe for safekeeping. You’d think, with all the technology they have on this campus, they wouldn’t have the students use boring, metal keys to lock and unlock their rooms. She imagined the reason behind it was to teach responsibility, because it cost credit points to make another one, but Alice had never been good at keeping up with things, and she kept a mental note in the back of her mind to keep up with the little, metal mechanic.
She touched the key to the door, but realized that unlocking the door would be necessary, because someone had left the door slightly ajar. I have to remind Riddley to make sure the door is closed next time. She took as step in and froze. This was not her apartment, in fact, it was far from it.
Alice looked around the hallway left then right and found it bare. Slowly, she peeped her head back in to inspect the room. Whoever it belonged to had a serious problem with deciding what to wear. Three different pairs of pants and starch button downs lay strewn across the sofa and chair. On the table were a few coffee mugs, a pair of socks, and a half eaten box of cookies.
She looked around the room curiously and noticed that the layout was very different, finding herself in a living room rather than a kitchen. Not only was the layout different, but the apartment itself was almost twice the size of hers. It was dark wooded, and nearly on the breaks of luxurious. Alice huffed and narrowed her eyes. They probably didn’t have obnoxious, overly loud, teenage girls living above them either. She crossed her arms and inspected the living room a bit more. She was about to walk over to their shelf when she realized exactly what she was doing. This isn't even my apartment! Her thoughts reached out, screaming at her in disbelief. She was only really sure about one thing: If anything went wrong she was blaming it on the Craze.
Out of pure stupidity, Alice pushed a quick glance to the door and stealthily stepped her way towards the shelf of books and picture. She was captivated by a framed picture of two boys on the bottom shelve. They were sitting on the top railing of a wooden fence. Crashing waves rolled behind them as they smiled genuine smiles. She was about to get a closer look when she heard someone clear their throat behind her.
Oh god, kill me now, she thought as she froze and slowly inched her face towards the voice. "Well hey there" She heard an unfamiliar boy say. He looked her up and down with an amused look. Yes, he should probably be concerned over the fact that a girl was in his apartment, but she seemed rather harmless and, he paused as he inspected her attire, attractive.
Slowly, she turned around and smiled sheepishly at him. "Hi" She said as a sorry excuse of a greeting. A good-looking boy, with dark brown hair and honey colored eyes looked at her. His eyes were laced with amusement as he took her in. Standing with demeanor and poise, his frame overtook her largely by both height and mass. He wore dark pants and a white button down shirt, so she hadn’t talked to absolutely everyone at The Cliffs tonight. Rested on his left wrist was a black leather watch with the Cliff’s emblem on it.
He spoke with a questioned voice. "Well, it would be great if you wouldn't mind explaining why you are in our room." It then dawned on her that the other boy from the picture was now advancing past the doorway looking at her. It was then that she realized how hard it would be to talk her way out of this one. She was a girl, standing in a short, tight, black dress, holding her heels in one hand, standing in an apartment of two boys who she didn’t know.
"Well, you see, I’m new here, and I kinda got a little lost and somehow I ended up here." Her voice trailed off with the edge of embarrassment.
Both boys laughed and the brown haired one that spoke earlier walked towards her. "I’m James and this behind me is Peirce." She smiled at them, trying desperately not to be sheepish or awkward. Peirce sported blond hair and a goofy smile. His eyes were a charming, blue green color and his body almost radiated good feelings. She smiled at them. Do we handshake? High five? The awful questions ran through her as she introduced herself. "I'm Alice, it’s nice to meet you"
James returned her smile and spoke with a laugh as he leaned against a table. “Well, Alice, welcome to the West End building A, one of the boys housing.” Alice’s mouth opened before closing again, and she blushed a rosy pink color. Of course, this would happen to her. Go ahead, down in humiliation, while these boys smile at their entertainment for the night.
She began to give herself a mental pep talk. Okay, Alice, one thing on your to-do list was to make friends. Well, here’s your chance. She swallowed and laughed slightly. “Sorry about walking in here…the door was left open so I didn’t have to actually use my key or anything. I’m in building B, room 348, so I got mixed up.” She scolded herself for her word choice. She was supposed to make friends, not invite them over.
James bit his lip, holding back a grin. “This is room 398, but I can see the confusion.”
Alice blushed and smiled tightly. Damn, her luck was really running low tonight. She laughed nervously and her eyes flickered to the door where a smirking brunette was leaning against the doorframe. “Been busy, have we?”
Both boy’s heads snapped back and Peirce’s blue green eyes grew wide as he spoke. “As much as I love the whole ‘girls aimlessly showing up at our apartment’ thing, why does it have to be her? Of all people…” His voice trailed off and Riddley shot him a smug glare. Peirce and Riddley had history, a lot of history.
Alice had always like to pride herself on being observative, obviously not on room numbers, but people and their actions. Alice had noticed how James would stick only his right hand in his pocket. He would purse his lips at times and subconsciously smile when he talked. James Castell was charming, handsome, and unfortunately a stranger to Alice.
“Come on, Alice, we’re leaving.” Riddley took hold of Alice’s arm and dragged her out of the room, not giving Alice any time to actually say something normal like “bye”.
A cloudy Friday morning soon came. The oceans crashed against the cliffs that surround Campus, and Alice rushed around her room trying to get ready for her first concepts of training…or maybe it was training of concentration. She wasn’t sure and everything in her brain seemed to muddle together. That was the problem, she wasn’t really sure about anything. She ran her hand through her hair, as she always did when she was stressed, and tried to think. Through it all, Alice stopped and stood in the middle of the room when a heart sinking fact passed through her mind. She didn't even know what her ability was. Hell, she didn't even know what Riddley's adaptation was, nonetheless hers.
Don’t be a coward, Alice. She sighed and closed her eyes as she dropped all that she was thinking about, picked up a small leather bag, and walked out of her room. She didn't stop to grab something to eat in the kitchen, or skip a pace when she came to the never ending spiral staircase. She just walked, leaving all of her thoughts of her family, Riddley, the boys, and her problematic life behind her.
The streets were clear, and besides the early morning joggers and breakfast groups, Alice was one of few actually dressed and awake. The air wasn’t cold, but she could almost feel the winter chill making its way to the campus. Rumor has it, Alcazar had practically the longest winter anyone had even seen. Something about the location, Alice supposed, but all she had seen was buckets and buckets of rain. Pulling her black rain jacket around her, she stretched her foot in her tan flats, praying for no blisters after the wet walk. She leaned down under the clearing of a terrace and rolled her dark jeans up one more time to escape the puddles. Perhaps she should have worn rain boots.
She glanced at the giant, brick column at an aged, iron rimmed clock, and realized that her sudden fleet had caused her to leave much earlier than she had planned. Her eyes continued to roam past the tall, brick column in the middle of The Circle, which was doused in rain. The iron clock struck a blurred number and, after a short deciphering of the ancient time lord, Alice searched for a place to waste her time.
She was currently on the edge of The Circle. Unfortunately, she couldn’t go towards the concepts building because there wasn’t a place for her to piddle around for awhile, unless she felt like chatting with teachers or guards. She glanced around, huddled under the awning of a sweet shop named ‘Sweet Affairs’, which of course wasn’t open at this time of morning. Her lips twitched up as she read a laminated sign stapled to a dripping tree. It read ‘Come and let off some steam at The Tavern’s open mike karaoke every Friday and Saturday night!” The place had dim lighting and the whole restaurant gave off a medieval cabin feel, like, well, a tavern. Even if it was open she wasn’t sure if she would go in alone.
She could go to the grocery store, she knew they were open, but she would have to walk to the other end of The Circle…in the rain. That didn’t sound very appealing to her at all. She bounced on the balls of her feet and took a step forwards, her eyes squinting at a brick build across the lawn in front of her.
She sped quickly across the wet grass to come face to face with a massive building with iron railings, white columns, and a dark wooden door that seemed to be built for a giant. The door was cracked open and Alice could almost feel the peaceful glow of books and warmth, it was the library. The bookshelves were mountainous and towered over her. Resting upon each row were Iron letters the only possible way you could reach the books on the last rows. On the side of each shelf were thick, iron years plastered, they dated back to the 1800’s and came all the way to present day, 3034. The books were organized by the years they were published.
The upstairs was railed with dark wood and the ceiling was a tile of intricate, patterned wood. To the right were private rooms for studying and reading, while to the left you could go through another door that led to a coffee shop with marble floors and a warm fireplace on the wall. The walk to the coffee shop forced her to venture through the maze of shelves and her eyes scanned everywhere as she took them all in.
There must have been hundreds of books. Some were leather bound, while others were laminated. She fingered few of them and felt the pages under cool finger. This room had seen everything life had to offer. Wonder, imagination, death, fantasy, mystery, and it watched, as people grew older and wiser. It radiated with each soul, whoever entered at any given moment. It moved at it’s own pace. Burning slowly with ideas and thoughts of student’s alike from the past and present.
It seemed to be a place that, no matter how many people were inside or what time it was, could never be awkward. Which was good considering it was 8:00 in the morning and the only one in the coffee shop was herself and a boy behind the counter who was digging through boxes. He had chestnut hair and golden eyes. Alice shook her head slightly at the coincidence and considered retreating, because the boy behind the counter was James Castell. Unannounced, she stayed silent and really looked at him for a second. She smiled and waited for his eyes to find her.
She thought about saying something to get his attention, and was about to when, on his way to stand up, he hit his head on the countertop. Alice laughed abruptly and then covered her mouth with her hand, still smiling. James stood up, one hand behind his head where it was hit. He was smiling a crooked smile, his eyes slightly narrowed at her.
"What’s so funny?" He asked with a devious look. His eyes completely past the surprise of her, being there proving his ability to recover to be far greater and faster than hers.
Alice took her hand off her mouth. "That, right there, was smooth, but I shouldn't be talking. I'm the most accident prone person you'll ever meet"
He raised an eyebrow and let his hand fall to the countertop to join its pair. Chuckling slightly, he shook his head. "I don’t know about that, my roommate Peirce is in fact very, very clumsy." He looked her over, taking in her wet jacket, and her curled hair that fell freely against her shoulders. Her skinny jeans were speckled with rain and her eyes stood out upon her fair complexion. Her cheeks became rosy with the warming fire. He continued, unfazed. "Its Alice, right?"
She nodded her head, securing a face to the name. "James, it’s good to see you again, ironic actually."
He watched her as she took off her wet jacket and his eyes trailed over her as he continued, not really putting much emotion into his words. "No kidding." He shook his head slightly and remained in his role of barista. "What can I get you?" He asked the girl who stood, her palms face down on the cool counter. She contemplated her order and James felt like face palming for the dull question. He had asked it partly because his brain had pretty much stopped working and he couldn’t think of anything remotely interesting to say, and partly because, after all, it was his job.
Alice raised her eyebrows slightly. "So you work here?" She inwardly cursed at herself in reflection of the stupid question.
James shrugged in his white, V neck t-shirt. "Yeah, it’s not my ideal job, but it gets great credit points."
Credit points. They were the things students paid with. Getting jobs and taking classes gave you more to use. Got it. Her mental checklist ran through her head quickly.
His skeptical look trailed down on her thoughtful face. “You do know what credit points are, right?”
She nodded hastily, not wanting to look completely incompetent. "Yeah I know that much, but It’s hard to keep up with everything. I wish someone would just sit down and tell me everything I could possibly need to know...and then some."
He laughed and hopped over the counter. He brushed his hands off on his light, khaki shorts. "What are you doing?" She asked him curiously and with her feminine invention of flirtation seeping through.
He grinned and grabbed her hand and brought her over to the couches by the fireplace before answering. “I, James Castell, am going to tell you everything...and then some."
She responded with the only thought in head that wasn’t speeding away, stuttering, or completely frozen. "Aren't you supposed to be working?"
He rolled his eyes at her sarcastically. "Oh yeah, you're right, I have to go tend to the huge line over there." He said, pointing to the obviously empty store. She raised an eyebrow, causing him to look and her playfully. Alice sighed and sank deeper into the couch. "Okay, but, before we start talking, know that I have to get to a training thing at 9:00."
Nodding, he agreed with the timing. "Perfect, that gives me 45 minutes to give you the ultimate Alcazar survival guide."
"This better be good." She smiled at him playfully. She was flirting, and she knew it too. She liked flirting, way too much for her own good, but she was never very good at telling if a boy was flirting with her or just being nice.
Her notes so far: James was sometimes sarcastic. He grinned, smiled, and laughed. He knew campus. He probably had some sort of liking to spending credit points because he had a job, and his jokes were funny…sometimes. She shook off the matter and decided to pay attention to the boy beside her and not to her own distracting thoughts.
"Oh don't worry, it will be. First of all, can you get into The Cliffs?" He asked her in a simple question. He didn’t want to offend her and make her feel bad if she couldn’t, but he was pretty sure that she could. He obviously hadn’t seen the ring that perched perfectly on her finger.
Alice nodded her head and subconsciously glanced down at her ring. "Yeah I went for the first time last night, you know, before I ran into you, or more like your apartment."
He smiled and laughed slightly at the memory. "Yeah I thought so, but I didn't want to jump to any assumptions." He was safe from any hard feelings so far.
Her mind was running with different situations she wondered out loud. "What else would I be doing dressed like that?"
James laughed before shaking his head. "Trust me, here, there are a lot of places you could go dressed like that."
"Do I want to know?" She had a mocked disturbed face as he laughed at her and shook his head dismissively. "Probably not, anyways, since you got the token to get into to The Cliffs, that means you have an automatic get out of jail free card. Trust me, it comes in handy. Not only do you get the parties, but also the respect from the students and faculty is different than if you wouldn't have gotten in. So wear your token pretty much all the time." His eyes flickered to her ring and he smiled almost in approval.
Alice nodded her head soaking up the words and she sighed, it was information she really already knew. She looked interested in the useless information and then tried to get the things she didn’t know out of his mouth. "Okay, now I’m about to go to training so tell me about that."
He turned to her more to address the more serious topic. "Well, first of all, we don’t call it training. If it’s one-on-one we call it a private. It’s a Concepts of Concentration private, by the way. Also, privates will get less frequent the longer you're here."
Alice looked at him, taking in every word he said. She nodded slowly. "Okay, one more thing. I, uh, don't actually know what my adaptation is..." Her voice trailed off.
He nodded and her spirits rose hoping maybe it was more of a normal thing than she thought it was. "Don't worry about it. Oliver and Brad, the coaches, have something that they can use that will show them. They had to use it on me too. I’m not sure which one you will have today, but let’s hope for Brad. Oliver, the dark haired one, has a reputation for being really, well, intense." His thoughts flickered back to his first private with him and he shuddered slightly.
“You had Oliver?” She asked teasingly and he looked up and nodded. “Oh yeah…He is very intimidating, but pretty useful when it comes to mental adaptations. Too bad my adaptation is influential, not mental.” His words turned into mumbled aggravation as his mind raced past the memory.
She wanted to ask him what his adaptation was, but would that be too personal? Ben said that nightmares were dirty little secrets, but were adaptations? James tilted the edges of his lips slightly at her. The silence had grown awkward and Alice twiddled her thumbs aimlessly. She needed an excuse to leave, and soon too.
Alice looked at the clock and faked sadness. She looked towards James to thank him, hoping she didn’t look like she was thanking an opportunity in a job interview. "Thanks for the survival tips and everything."
She started walking towards the door when she heard him speak one last time. “I’ll see you later then?”
A small smile came across her lips and she turned around to face him with a nod. “Yeah, definitely.” And with that she walked out of the store, leaving James standing there, smiling.
Alice walked quickly to the concepts building where she would have her first private. She opened the large chestnut door to be greeted by an open room with dark floors and a desk with a single, green lamp. On top of the door was a gold plaque that was labeled "Lobby”, but that wasn't the only door in the room, in fact, there seemed to be dozens more surrounding the walls. Each one was numbered, and each one lead to a different hallway with even more, you guessed it, doors. The room glowed an eerie color and made every ancient piece of furniture cower beneath its shadow. Alice involuntarily took two slow steps and took on the circular room.
The woman sitting behind the desk was an older age, probably in her later 30s. She had red-rimmed glasses and chocolate brown hair that was pulled into a braided bun. Alice was greeted by the same routine, just like every other soul who dare walk through that door. The woman, Ms. Anders, looked up at Alice with a blank face. "Name?"
She answered quickly “Alice.” Her eyes roamed, unfocused, and she spoke again to clarify. "Alice Knight".
The lady pointed her to a door that was labeled with a gold 7. "Go through door 7. It will be the third door on the left". Her voice rang with the same distracted tone and she soon went back to scribbling down names onto the leather bound book that was placed in front of her. With a short nod, Alice ventured into the hallway. She couldn’t help the butterflies in the pit of her stomach that made her way into her every time she did something new. She didn’t know what to expect.
The hallway was just as dark as the Lobby had been. Every few steps there was the same tall, green lamp that made Alice feel like she had somehow stepped into the Wizard of Oz ‘Emerald city’. 1, 2, 3, Alice counted in her head as she made her way to the door on the left. It had a gold doorknob, and as she turned the precious handle to open the door she braced herself for whatever was to come, although what she saw was something she hadn't expected.
Throughout countless years at Alcazar, one of the things people realize is that teenage boys live very differently than girls do. It was 9:00 o'clock in the morning at the Evans and Castell residents. Peirce awoke to a loud crack of thunder that sounded more like a crashing tree than anything else.
He slowly rolled over and put his head under his pillow in hopes to fall back asleep. He could hear the light sound of rain getting harder on the roof as he pressed the pillow around his ears to drown out the sound, but of course the pillow was no match for the thunder that crashed throughout campus. He groaned and sat up in his bed and, keeping the knit blankets pulled around him, he stood up and walked over to the kitchen to acquire a greatly needed cup of coffee. Unfortunately, he took too shallow of a step and found himself tripping over the hem of the large, cable knit blanket and landing, not so gracefully, on the floor.
He cursed and decided to take this unsubtle gesture as a sign that he really just wasn't meant to make his own coffee this morning. Instead, as a simple solution, he would have his roommate make it for him. He was better at it anyways.
Hesitantly, he dropped the blanket on the ground and shivered slightly at feeling the cool air on his bare legs, sporting only boxers and a loose, white shirt. Their apartment was just about as average as it gets, that is, if you consider average being on the brinks of luxurious. After all, he did live with a boy who held the Royal name. Still, he was only a royal descendant, and you can only get so good with a two bedroom apartment. Never the less, the rustic reds and dark wood of their room in building A on the West Edge was home. And, just like every year, they were only a few credits shy of losing the place altogether, courtesy of Peirce’s unemployment.
After a steamy shower and his signature lather, rinse, and repeat, Peirce pulled on a pair of dark shorts, a V neck t-shirt, and a navy sweater that had a half zip from his mid chest to his neck. As he made his way down the streets he tried his best to dodge the rain by walking under the cover of building and walkways. His feet were always moving, never really quite still. He jogged in place as he escaped the rain for a few seconds.
He looked up at the sky, his green blue eyes searching for a glimpse of a possible sun. He shook out his wavy mop of blond hair, shrugged his coat closer to his body, and carried on. You see, Peirce wasn't much a fan of rain. In fact, he fairly despised it. It was an unfortunate thing to hate when you lived in a place that seemed to be rainy every day of the year. He was never really one to hate anything, but rain and thunder just got to him.
He was a sunny guy, and rain, well, it just wasn’t very sunny. It also didn’t help that the rain reminded him of the night, when he was only nine years old, that campus outreach took him from his home. That night he left home it had poured and poured and poured. Yes, throughout his eight years on campus he had grown accustom to the rain, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.
He walked into the library, unknowingly following Alice's footsteps towards the coffee shop. Peirce didn’t have to think about where he was going as he walked on auto pilot to the coffee shop. He glanced at the other kids around him. Just like any other student, throughout these years on campus he had definitely made many connections, mishaps, mistakes, and memories. He nodded to the few students in the large Library. The cute blonde in her running clothes that passed the window at a slow pace. The dark haired boy slamming his fingers onto his laptop keys, glasses perched on his nose, and he bit his lip in concentration.
Peirce glanced down to his feet as his step changed sounds from the rub of the carpet to the click of marble. Peirce smiled when he found the coffee shop empty. He really shouldn’t be surprised, because honestly the coffee shop was always empty. There were others around campus where students could go to without having to walk through the maze of massive bookshelves.
He strolled towards the counter, his lips playing on a smirk. "Well, if it isn't my favorite roomy." James scoffed and rolled his eyes at his friend whom he had known, in his opinion, way too long. "Peirce, I’m your only roommate.”
He shrugged and grinned at him. “And you are truly great at it. You wanna know what else you are great at?”
James sighed and motioned for him to go on, with Peirce gladly obliging, he spoke. “Making coffee.” Peirce hopped up onto the slick marble counter and poke, yet again. "I still don't get why they give you so many credits for this, no one’s ever here."
"Beats me, but I’m not objecting." James responded, leaning against one of the espresso machines. Peirce began to explain his coming here. He usually didn’t visit James in the morning. "Anyways, some events happened this morning that made me realize that it just wasn't meant for me to make my own coffee this morning. So you, being the better coffee maker, get to have the liberty of making a dark roast coffee, black today."
James looked at him and rolled his eyes. Peirce put his hands up in mock surrender. "What?" He started, "It is your job."
The boy’s attention was disbanded when the door to the shop burst open and a disheveled, very wet, auburn-brunette haired girl walked through the door. When her eyes found the two boys against the counter, her face fell and she sighed putting a hand on her hip. Peirce looked at the girl who looked rather like a wet lion, her hands running through her now tangled main. She was breathing hard from her great escape of the rain. When Peirce spoke to James, his tone was falsely enthusiastic and a sarcastic grin dripped onto his face. "Your first real customer, mazel tov."
The girl, Riddley Hampton, put on an annoyed face and stared daggers straight through Peirce. "Really? I can't even get coffee without running into you?"
Peirce winked and smiled at her. "Hey Riddle, care for a drink?" She rolled her eyes and shivered slightly. Not at all did she shiver from the sound of his voice or something horribly sappy like that, but she was currently dripping wet and very annoyed by the sound that her wet rain boots made against the marble flooring. Deciding to momentarily ignore Peirce, she turned towards James. "Can I have a caramel macchiato with an extra shot?" He nodded at her and memorized the order before playing the role of peacemaker between the two in front of him.
"I have to get something for that in the back, so do not kill each other while I'm gone."
The fiery girl crossed her arms in front of her, lips pursed. "No promises."
She glanced at Peirce as he slowly sipped his newly made coffee and looked at her, intending to win the stare down. Of course, her stare was solid, while his was more of a lopsided grin. He jumped off the counter and decided to be the first to break the silence. He looked at her curiously for a moment before asking a question with narrowed eyes. "What are you doing awake and out so early in the morning anyways?"
"I could ask you the same thing." She fired back without missing a beat.
He looked out the framed window on the wall across from them and replied truthfully. "Well, I don't stand well with rain."
Riddley huffed, sarcastic thoughts rummaging through her brain. I don’t stand well with rain, the voice in her head mimicked his. What the hell does that even mean?
Instead of sharing a thought or two of hers, she simply nodded, cleared her throat, and carried on with a new conversation topic. "I see. My new roomy Alice is having a private right now so I thought I might grab some coffee before going to meet her afterwards."
Peirce looked surprised at her, both eyebrows raised with his coffee. "You mean you haven't run her off yet?"
She looked at him, not happy that he knew her usual strategy with helpless roommates. "You might be surprised, but I’ve actually decided to let her stay. She got into The Cliffs and everything."
He sipped his drink with an intrigued nod. "And this is the girl we crossed paths with last night? Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that James seems to have taken a liking to her. I suggest we all go to pick her up…just for the moral support. You’re first private can be potentially traumatizing." He said the line like he was in an old mystery film, obviously drawing out the severity of the situation.
"Really?" She asked in a flat tone, raising an eyebrow.
He nodded his head tightly, a smirk spelled across his lips. "Really.” He then called to the boy who had just walked in from the back of the store with Riddley’s drink. “Come on James, we're going to go pick up Alice with Riddle."
A hot bead of sweat ran down the back of Alice’s neck. It was too hot, too consuming to breath, or much less think.
"Concentrate. Don’t hold back. Fight me Alice." His voice came, taunting her as he had been for the past half hour.
Her breath was shaky, but her eyes were focused on the back of her eyelids, her eyes shut closed and squinted. It was like she was inside a dark tunnel, only she couldn’t see the light at the end. She searched for it. She needed to see something, anything, but it all just black. It was a void of nothingness. She pushed one eye open slightly before shutting it again quickly. All she needed was reassurance, to know that she wasn’t going crazy, and yes, there was still a world outside of her mind. She peaked again. The white room she was in reminded her somewhat of a sterile hospital. Alice hated hospitals.
"What did I tell you about Focusing!" His voice caught her and reprimanded her in a hard, stern voice. It compelled her to listen
Her fists clenched beside her. She hated it, this, whatever it was. “I can't focus with you screaming at me! Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?” She replied to the coach. She didn’t normally talk to people like this, let alone adults. Then again, nothing about what she was doing was normal.
It would have been normal if Alice would have been in a room with more than one iron chair, a few seats even and maybe a table or two, but instead there was only one seat, and only one person in the room. She turned her attention back to the coach when he spoke in a voice that seemed to send pulses through her head, pounding and shaking her.
“Do you think I enjoy sitting here? I made this link for this class to make you stronger, to train you. This is my gift Alice, now what’s yours? It’s your turn now. Push back. Be strong. You’re a coward, afraid of yourself and what you can do.” The man spoke with precise practice and precision. He was taunting her. This obviously wasn’t the first time Coach Oliver had to coax an adaptation out of a new student. He was practiced. He knew what would tick them off. If anyone knew anything about Coach Oliver, it was that his tactics always work, and Alice was no exception. She was shaking with anger and frustration, just the way he wanted her. Why couldn’t she have had Coach Brad? Coach Brad was nice, gentle, and everything Coach Oliver wasn’t.
“You don't know the first thing about me.” Her teeth clenched together and she tried to focus on the civil parts of the man’s voice. It was difficult because there wasn’t a whole lot she could grasp on to.
They had been at this for so long, trying to open her mind and discover her ability. It was exhausting, and Alice was to the point of throwing out any kind of self-defense she had mustered. She felt so vandalized. He was immersed in her mind. He was so good at what he did, making telepathic connections between he and his student. Anything Alice could possibly think, he could hear. Knowing this, she tried to push out any thoughts of home, but she was miserably failing. She could feel her clammy hands gripping her jeans.
“Alice, are you angry? Good, get angry. Use the anger to strengthen you, embrace it. Fight back Alice! You want me? Come get me! Fight Alice! Don’t be a little girl, Fight! Or are you scared of what might come of it? You are just like your brother, a coward.”
And then the blackness in her mind became somehow deeper, and Alice had the strange feeling of being rushed through a tight space, but she didn't really care. Too overwhelmed with the feeling of anger and hate, she embraced the fire. Alice fought back.
She was no longer in the sterile, white room. Instead, she was in a dark, carpeted room. Surrounded by computers and machines, Alice watched in thought. On one of the screens she sat perfectly still, eyes closed, and in the white room she never left. Alice couldn't speak or move, instead she watched as a woman watched a different screen with colored lines. “It’s happening." The woman spoke. "I can't reach her. What’s going on?" This time, the person to speak was the trainer that had been telepathically talking to her earlier. Come on, Alice, show me what you’re up to. Alice heard the thought, although it wasn't her thinking, it was the trainer. Alice began to grasp the concept of her ability. She could see through his eyes, hear his thought, and feel what he felt.
And then suddenly everything made sense, the woman in her nightmare that she had connected to. She had felt the flames overcome her, burning her to the death, but when she broke the connection her skin felt as if the heat had never touched her. It was as if her mind had traveled far into another person, but her body had stayed simply in one place.
Now the problem was getting out. She tried deep breaths and pictured herself being back in the white room. It didn’t work. She began to panic and felt vaguely claustrophobic. She looked around and could see the screen with the beating lines on it. It was spiking and Alice took more deep breaths, the only calming thing she could do at the moment. And then one breath was exhaled deeper than the others and it swished through her. It knocked her backwards and she stumbled until she was falling and squeezing through the tight tunnel again.
Alice found herself rushing back to her own body and mind. She was breathing heavily as she took in the white walls, but she couldn't help but smile. She smiled simply for the success of being successful.
She looked down at her hand where an intricate design was prominent on her hand. Her trainer had told her about this. When you used you adaptation, the mark becomes defined and easily visible. If you don’t use your adaptation for a while then it goes unnoticeable. It helped those who lived in cities with normal, pure, people.
Alice put a smug smile on her lips, but before she had time to stand up to leave, she heard an odd winding sound and all of the lights went off.
She stood absolutely still and listened for anything that might alarm her, and she found nothing but the slight crackle of the school intercom. "Attention students, we are experiencing some technical difficulties in our power outlet right now. Please stay where you are and it should be back shortly. I repeat, this is a school wide blackout. Do not move from where you are. This message is approved by Campus Security."
Alice sighed, great. There was no way in hell that she was going to stay here in this creepy room alone. Blinded by darkness, she stood up slowly and reached for the door.
It was dark. Dark enough to the point where Alice could hold her hands out in front of her without the slightest acknowledgment of their existence. This frightened her. She found herself feeling nervous and shaky. She was alone and suddenly feeling very paranoid and claustrophobic. She stood from her chair and quickly tip toed to the door, fumbling with the door knob. As a person, she relied on the source of her senses, and now she was in a place so dark, and venturing into a hallway which she thought to be empty. She indeed had thought wrong.
Holding her arms in front of her in hopes to avoid the nearest crash course, Alice walked slowly. In her opinion it was too quiet, and it stayed that way for a while longer until a sharp voice broke the silence. “Who’s there?”
Alice inhaled quickly and tried to face the direction which the voice had come from. “Hello?” She asked, aiming her voice in no specific direction. She made out the shape of a woman in front of her and froze. “Young lady, where do you think you are going? Did you not hear the message that campus security put out? I should write you up for this.”
Alice opened her mouth to speak, at a loss of words. It was Ms. Anders. “I know, I’m sorry. My room is actually right over there. I’ll go there now.” She said pointing to an imaginary direction. The woman sighed a grouchy sound and said in a rude tone. “Then by all means, please do carry on.” Alice nodded quickly and brushed past the woman, who muttered nonsense about children and then stood up tall, snickered slightly, and walked away. Alice breathed heavily and made silent steps past more doorways and hoped that she wouldn’t run into any more teachers or office staff.
“What the hell?” Was Riddley’s first response to the speaker’s instructions after the abrupt darkness. Riddley had been going to Alcazar for quite a while and never, not once had anything like this happened. Her head jerked back when she felt a warm arm collide, not so gracefully, with her face. Peirce spun around in search of who he had accidently hit, failing to see the scowling Riddley bent over below him.
Only when she groaned did he finally look down at her, wide eyed and holding back a laugh. “Sorry Riddle, not my fault though, it is a little hard to see right now.” She rolled her eyes at the boy and muttered a sarcastic, “Gee, I had no idea.”
Both heads snapped away from each other as they heard the harsh sound of a scraping drawer. Riddley’s heart beat out of her chest as another crack came from the darkness and she grabbed the side of Peirce’s arm quickly with an iron grip, he was a steady rock. “Hello?” Peirce’s voice came out soft, slow, and hesitant.
Another voice came in a hushed whisper from across the room. “Guys, is someone in here?” Riddley jumped at the whispered, male voice that rang out from the same side of the room that the creepy scraping noise had been coming from. She sighed after recognizing the voice and felt silly over her reaction. “James, I completely forgot you were even in here.” She let out her held breath as he chuckled. “Trust me, I got that much.”
It was then that Riddley realized she was still gripping Peirce’s arm, it was a softer grip now, but a grip nonetheless. She slowly felt the soft touch of skin on skin begin to slide under her fingertips. Skin on skin, warmth on warmth, it somehow, no matter how different they were, connected them. And then it was just coldness and she rubbed her fingers together. Trying, somehow, to recreate the warmth, but no matter how many times the rough patches of her hands spelt together, she could never manifest the feeling she had just then felt. She was merely just one, and it takes more than one person to friction chemistry.
Riddley closed her eyes to shake the feeling and muttered quietly to Peirce. “Sorry, reflexes.”
He nodded sharply and Riddley, both reluctantly and gladly, brought her attention towards James. However, her thoughts were still trapped in her fingertips as James began to ask her a question. “Riddley, where did you say the matches were again?” He was digging around in the front desk of the Concepts Building, Mrs. Anders’, desk.”
She sighed. “For the last time, they are in the third shelf, second drawer, on the right.” James nodded and then stopped in his tracks, a confused look spreading across his face.
“How do you know where the matches are? Or, better question, when did you ever even get a chance to look in her desk? I’ve never seen her not in it!” Riddley shrugged at his question. “She does have to take a break sometime, and, when the opportunity came, I was curious to what she kept guarded in there.”
“And what did she keep in there?”
Riddley looked at him and pursed her lips. “Her job is to keep track of student records. She could look up any given person and find out, really, everything about them.”
Here, they’re lives weren’t private anymore. Campus knew everything about them. James’ hand felt a firm grip on the pack of matches and he smiled triumphantly. With slowing steps into the darkness, he strode forwards the other two in the room.
His thoughts were currently stuck on the new girl, who was most likely lost at this oversized school during a blackout. He knew that she was supposed to have a private here, but, with the power outage, who knows where she is now. He pulled his finger away from the flame sharply as the hot wax stung his skin. Blindly lighting candles wasn’t exactly an easy task.
“You know, fun fact about fire: it’s usually hot and I think it’s safe to say you are supposed to avoid skin contact with it.” The voice came from the silhouetted girl that was now standing in front of him. Her dark hair was lit by the candle, hitting her face perfectly to transform her features. James smiled at her a warm smile that beamed off of the light. Alice looked around the room. A candle here, a candle there, Ridley, and then Peirce. “You guys have quite the setup here.”
James shook his head at her half hearted comment. “Your roommate has a way with matches, too bad we only have a few candles.”
This very moment was one that most people didn’t run into. Alice rubbed her hands together and battled the awkwardness of being stuck in a dark room with friends you have barely talked to and that one boy that, well, makes your heart beat just a little bit faster. She was trying desperately to pass off the whole situation as casual, but he could tell she was nervous.
He smiled at her once more and stepped closer to her. “It’s okay, it’s just a little bit of darkness. A power outage should be an easy fix.” She laughed a tight laugh and leaned against a wall behind her, consumed in thoughts. At least he thinks it’s just the dark I’m nervous about, she thought to herself. It was kinda amazing, how fast he’d learned to read her. He was standing near her, in what was almost uncomfortable silence.
A large crack of thunder crashed throughout the skies and Alice stepped from the wall she was leaning on and looked up at the ceiling, as if she could see the rain. “Does the sun ever shine here?” She asked her simple question. James sighed and shook his head, and his round eyes were completely focused on her. “Sometimes, after a big storm like this, it will clear up for a while.”
Alice sucked in a breath. How in the world was she supposed to respond to that? Yes, definitely time for a topic changer. She wrung her hands together and reflected.
Their eyes locked on each other, the candles enhancing their features. The appeared dazzling, beautiful, and completely masked. A flaw in perception really, but an enchanting one that had them secretly searching for each other. She didn’t know what to say or ask, so she didn’t say anything at all.
She searched for conversation and noticed Riddley and Peirce out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t want to talk about her roommate, or his roommate, or really anyone. She wanted to talk about him, so Alice asked an open question. “So, how did you end up stuck here?”
He chuckled, his eyes never leaving hers. “I guess the same as everyone else. I come from a purely marked family. My family is apart of the Royal name so our bloodline is pure, meaning that anyone and everyone in my family has gone here.” His voice was slightly hesitant to her reaction, because some people didn’t like the fact that he was a Royal descendant. Something about jealousy, he supposed.
She bit her lip at his answer and tried to hold back a smile. “I wasn’t talking about Alcazar in general, I meant here, like as in the concepts building.” She laughed lightly and his cheeks flushed. His face then cleared of any trouble or embarrassment and he made sense of the actual question. “Funny story actually, Riddley came by for coffee and next thing I knew I was told we were all coming to see you after your private. Actually, I think it was more of Peirce’s idea.”
the other two teenagers burst through the hallway doors holding a new found flashlight. “Look what we found” Riddley practically sang the words as she pointed towards the flashlights.
Peirce acknowledged her with a nod and she noticed that he was standing almost too close to Riddley. He knew it was getting on her nerves, which made it all the better.
While the guys went to place the candles around the room Alice felt a small tug on her sleeve turning around to see Riddley looking at her, arms folded across her chest. “James told me you saw each other in the coffee shop earlier this morning before I came, now Alice, next time you run into an attractive boy knowing that there are going to be several hours of pure, undivided attention by an empty room you do not simply walk away. We have definitely got some work to do on you.” Riddley scolded her like a schoolteacher and Alice rolled her eyes as her corrupt roommate walked away.
With roughly five lit candles in the room everything seemed to put off a thin glow, and it was somewhat soft and comforting, almost tired. And jumbled inside of it all, tumbling around, were four teenagers, who seemed to be the only people on campus not following directions. Riddley and Peirce were off in the corner where one of the candles stood perched on a stack of books. They were talking softly. Peirce wore an amused look on his face while Riddley sat completely annoyed.
James was attempting to rummage once more through the desk that sat in the middle of the room. Every now and then he would hit his head on an open drawer, curse, and then try again.
Alice stood, leaning against a smooth, wooden column. She was half daydreaming and half observing. It would probably be easier if James sat in the desk chair, rather than the floor she mused. Her eyes turned towards Riddley and Peirce. They were far more interesting than the boy digging through drawers. She watched their expressions twisted and turned as they competed with one another. Riddley was the competitive one, Peirce hated admitting that she was right in any way, and the bickered like an old married couple.
Her thoughts were caught off guard when she heard the sound of rough footsteps behind her. She froze when she felt a strong hand touch her shoulder and she prepared to face her attacker, but, before she could make her move, a warm whisper tickled her ear. “Tag, you're it.” She relaxed to the familiar scent of coffee and cologne, but was taken aback a bit by the touch of his skin. Her breath caught, as his hand didn’t move from its place on her skin.
It was then that she thanked the darkness, for the first time in her life, for covering up her facial expressions. Her eyes wide, cheeks blushed, as she bit her bottom pink lip she held back a tight smile. Everything in her mind screamed that it was too soon. Too soon to start an almost-sorta-kinda-talking-thing with James Castell. ‘Talking’, as ‘talking’ goes, is a flirty and continuous conversation between two people and comes before the ‘dating’ step. Alice and James both found it all to be too confusing. And through whatever was racing through her mind, she couldn’t help but sink into his touch.
She started to turn and face him when her head snapped towards the voice that dared to break the silence. “Hey James, Alice, you guys come over here! Me and Riddle are bored and want to do something.” Saved by the bell, or I guess it’s more of a blond haired boy.
“Way ahead of you.” James called as he made his way to the forming circle they were making. In his hand was a plastic bag filled with small paper slips. So, that’s what he had been doing earlier in the desk. Everyone looked at him slightly confused as he started to explain. “This is a game called Psychiatrist.”
Alice fidgeted in her seat on the cold ground, the rules of the game were simple. They all sat in a circle and one person would come to the center and be the “psychiatrist”. The person in the center would, out loud, ask three questions to which everyone has to respond truthfully. After everyone has answered, the “psychiatrist” comes up with one thing that everyone has in common, an “illness”.
Riddley smirked and everyone braced themselves for her first question.
“Say one random thing running through your head.”
“Why the hell isn’t the power back on yet?” James stated bluntly and slightly annoyed. It was almost as if him saying the first line had opened up everyone else in the room because then you could barely tell who was saying what.
“Why are we the only ones here?” Peirce jotted his question out.
“What time is it?” Alice’s question came out wearily as she leaned slightly to the right and readjusted her hand, unconsciously and blindly leaning into James. He, obviously, happily obliged, but before Alice could recognize that, she drew up and re-centered herself. Looking over her shoulder, she saw a confused look spread across James’ face and her whole heart sank as she scolded herself. She could of, and she should of stayed, and now she gave into slow inhales and exhales.
Peirce looked at everyone like he had just come up with an amazing idea, and was beating himself up about not thinking of it earlier. “Can someone make some kind of light because it’s seriously really dark in here.” Yes, they were all a little off topic. Yes, they weren’t very good at playing games.
The group exchanged sorry glances and Riddley took her role as Psychiatrist once again. “Next question: What is everyone’s adaption, your ability?” Her voice daunted them like a scary story.
Then the room got a little more tense as everyone waited to see who the first one to respond would be, but Alice’s thoughts were caught up in how she was going to explain hers, considering it was unfortunately complex and not so easy to describe.
They waited in the silence and Alice heard a voice next to her speak up. “You know the phase ‘read people like a book’ ? Well that’s what I can do. I can’t read thoughts or anything. I just get an overall feeling from them, feel their emotions, involuntarily really.” And with that, Alice felt completely exposed and like a total idiot. He knew what she was feeling. Her nervousness before, everything in between, and now the intense feeling of confusion and difficulty. Deep breath and then just go for it, Alice thought and then she spoke.
“I’ve only done it once, but I can see through people’s eyes. I can connect with them and feel what they are feeling, see what they are seeing, and know what they are thinking and doing.” Alice looked at the ground as everyone looked at her and then Peirce sat up a bit to talk.
“Well, I can dream. Always have been able to and no one knows why. I was brought here when I was nine and I went in to the youth program. Since it was obvious that something was different about me and I’ve never actually had a nightmare like everyone else has. I dream in a lucid dream state, which is pretty fun if you ask me. My ability is actually recreational, which pretty much means its useless.”
This brought everyone back, it was different, but then Alice remembered that this was a place for people who were different, and she had never been so thankful for it.
They continued to watch him and he further explained. “When I sleep, sometimes, and only sometimes, I end up dreaming. When I dream it is more of a lucid dream state, because I can change things and control what happens. It’s almost fun!” And then his mind raced through unspoken thoughts, because every pro had a con. Ever since he began to use his adaptation he found that reality soon became utterly dull and boring, because he now knew what he was capable of in his subconscious mind. Sometimes, when he would first wake up from a dream, he would have to try silly things like trying to lift his bedside table with his mind, or jumping outside in a mere second. He didn’t do it because he wanted it to be real. He didn’t do it because he even thought it could be real. He did it because he wasn’t sure if, where he was, was actually reality. That wasn’t fun at all.
“You’re all crazy.” Riddley stated with a bit of aw in her voice. No one noticed the look of envy or frustration in her eyes. No one saw how she envied their simple abilities. The abilities that, even on their most complex days, were never as complicated as hers was.
What do you do when you are told to jump off a rocky cliff and into frigid water? “You’ll be fine” They say. “It’s fun” They say. I think it’s suicidal! Alice thought while peeking her head over the massive cliff’s edge. “And now I’m supposed to…jump?” She asked skeptically.
She watched her classmates around her, recklessly enjoying the rush of leaping off and into the ocean. A whip of wind reached her face as a tan boy, who she learned owned the name Darren, winked at her while sprinting across the surface next to her and letting out an exhilarated cheer as he flew off and into the icy waters. “That’s Knowlen Rhodes’ roommate, Darren Paisley.” Ridley’s voice followed the tan boy as his body crashed into the water.
After all, this was a beach bash. It called out all the hottest of people. The ones that liked flaunty. There was a bonfire on the sand, music, and short glimpses of sunlight here and there. James, who was to her left, began to answer her question. “Yes, jumping is generally the idea, but most people, their first time, have to be-“
Then she couldn’t hear him anymore. A surge of adrenaline overtook her hearing as two hands shoved at her waist. She stumbled forwards and, as a last hope of balance, she grabbed at the nearest sturdy arm. Sadly, this action only caused, not only one, but two people to fall off the edge.
Alice could feel the wind racing past her. She was falling, but in a way it was more like she was flying. She let out an exhilarated scream and splashed into the waters before resurfacing, laughing, with James right beside her. His hand had ended up on her waist. Alice mocked anger at the boy she had pulled in with her. “I can’t believe you pushed me in!”
James laughed and shook his head. “As if I would, think again Alice, and this time, look up.” She was confused for a moment before she looked to the top of the cliff to find Riddley smirking deviously at them. It was obvious she was guilty. Alice then followed James’ eyes to the beach where students were all gathering and migrating towards each other. He whispered a “C’mon” as they both swam over to join. Dripping wet, Alice searched for a towel and sighed, coming up empty handed and cold in her wet suit.
There were good amounts of people on The Cliff’s beach for the party, all of them clumped together around the giant fire. Bodies were pushed together and it was most definitely crowded. One of the oldest boys, who Alice assumed would be moving out soon, stood on a stump. His eyes were wandering slowly, distracted as he spoke. “People of The Cliff’s, today we say our goodbye’s to a faculty member, Ms. Anders. She has been confirmed dead and as of a few minutes ago they found her body. For safety reasons we have been asked to shut down this party and we request you all go back to your rooms for the remainder of the night. Activity calendars will come as usual this weekend.”
Alice looked around her at the shock on the students face. What do you do in a situation like this? Do you cry? Do you mourn? Do we just continue on laughing and smiling? She was just a desk lady in the concepts building. Blunt and boring, but nonetheless a person. No one knew, so, in result, it was just silent. James dropt his hand from the small of Alice’s back and walked towards Peirce quickly. She watched curiously as he whispered something into his roommates ear and then the two took off quickly. They left with no goodbye, no nothing. Alice pushed through the unmoving people and towards Riddley. With a silent nod, they took to their apartment.
Peirce squinted his eyes slightly. No, he didn’t like that at all. He flipped his wrist and the street vendor in front of him vanished. He continued to stroll down the street. A tree there, a house there, and massive skyscraper right around the corner. He smiled, tonight was a good night, and he could feel it.
He stopped when he reached a building. It would be cool if it was, well, taller. He flipped his fingers up towards the sky a good five times. The building grew a floor with each movement. He found it was easier when he used some kind of action, whether it was a head nod or a flick of his wrist.
Tonight he was in a city. People in business suits rushed around him, but never collided with him, and never saw him. He was just the dreamer, the creator, and the mastermind. He was the architect. His eyes followed the dull people that scurried around him. Late, they were always late. He could ask them questions if he wished, but part of him couldn’t get over their faces. Their faces that held no features. No eyes, nose, lips, only blurry images. Even when he could get over their appearance, which he had numbers of times before, they would always have cryptic answers. He could ask how they were and they would reply with a polite “I’m sorry, but I have to go. I late, I’m so very late.”
Late, they were always late. Peirce rubbed his eyes and drew out his hand to expand the pond in front of him. He had started out small when he was younger. Only moving little things and just for exploring, but now, Peirce found that he could create oceans. Dream a little bigger, he would tell himself. The sky wasn’t even the limit.
He shut his eyes and pictured a boat, a nice, blue and white sailboat. He concentrated, and he concentrated even harder, and his focus ran laps around the manifesting object as it appeared on the crystal lake in front of him. It was his boat from home that he used. He loved sailing.
His eyes looked up at the sky. Something was wrong. Well, really a lot of things were wrong. Dreams aren’t fully thought out. You wouldn’t notice if there weren’t clouds or a sign was spelt wrong. That’s what Peirce found himself doing most, fixing things, that and making everything much, much cooler.
He found that the dream state was always backwards in some way. Never did things make complete sens. He mostly noticed the numbers. Never i a dream state had he ever seen them in order. They are always jumbled up, 1, 2, 3, 5, 4, 7, 9, 6, 10...
His feet paced over a bridge and he pushed both hands up to raise it higher, above the buildings. He supposed the people around him were his subconscious. Fadelessly roaming the streets of his mind…late. He faced a dark, brick building that reminded him of campus. In one swift movement, he raised and lowered his hand and watched as the building collapsed onto itself. He loved doing that.
He felt a drop of rain hit the peak of his head and he looked up, brows furrowed. Weather was very difficult to change. He wouldn’t feel the effects of manifesting in the dream, but doing things big, such as changing the weather, would drain him when he woke up, especially if it was almost morning. He wouldn’t have time to sleep it off. He could ask the strangers on the street what time it was, but he didn’t feel like facing the faceless population tonight. Besides, he still didn’t know what they were late for. Or, if they were his subconscious, what he might possibly be late for.
Peirce shook out his hands and stretched them before closing his eyes and picturing a blue umbrella. He felt the handle form in his hands, mid stride, as he continued down the street. Manifesting something small, like an umbrella, wouldn’t affect him much when he woke up.
The streets changed from cold cement to a red, uneven brick. He strolled casually. He spun his finger once and made a carousel spin. He raised his hands and made the water in a whimsical fountain raise to a dauntless height. The city had a single block of childish fun and colors, but Peirce continued to stroll through towards more cement and business buildings. He was wearing dark pants and a coat, which he was ever so thankful for. Sometimes he wore pajamas in his dreams, other times swim trunks, or a suit, and he hated wasting energy on changing his outfit. His left hand hung loosely in his pocket while his right hand gripped the umbrella.
He turned towards a faceless woman that was stopped at a coffee vendor in the street. He approached her without the slightest bit of acknowledgment from the woman. “Excuse me, what time is it?” He knew this was one of the only questions they would actually answer. The woman, also carrying an umbrella, as well as the rest of the population, turned towards him. “It’s 4 PM.” He mentally groaned. He hadn’t meant to take a catnap on the couch. The woman paused and looked around quickly. Her face snapped up towards him to talk once more.
“I’m sorry, but I really must go. I’m late.”
His eyes jolted open, his head folded into his hands, and he took deep breathes. He hated when he woke up suddenly. It was like a jump scare in a horror movie, only worse. He breath was ragged and he numbly felt his fingers searching frantically for the pen he kept on the table next to the couch. It was identical to the one he kept next to his bed, and really every flat surface in the apartment. It was always there, just in case.
He fumbled with the object in his shaky hands and he wrote in small, messy writing, 1 2 3 4 5. Each number was placed on the tip of a finger on his left hand. He pulled one finger at a time up, counting in order. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
This procedure calmed him and he let his breath slow. His mind wasn’t playing tricks on him tonight. On his fingers were just ordinary numbers, in a ordinary order, and not jumbled or confusing, or in any sense incomplete. They were just numbers. He swallowed and his eyes traced the now visible pattern on the corner of his left palm. It burned and branded into his skin.
He leaned back against the couch cushions and his eyes lifted to find James standing, leaning against his doorframe. His lips were flat in a line and his eyes brows were creased in concern as he watched Peirce.
Peirce just sighed and closed his eyes. It wasn’t at all the first time he’d been caught by his roommate after waking up from his own little wonderland of misfit dreaming. He glanced at the clock on the wall and felt his chest sink a little. It was about time for him to leave, and he wasn’t exactly sure how, but he seemed to have gotten a date with some girl from The Cliffs. It was bound to be exciting.
He ran a hand through his hair, not noticing that James had advanced from his bedroom to the living room. He placed his hand on Peirce’s shoulder, in a friendly gesture, and asked casually. “You okay?”
Peirce nodded and tried to smile. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Alice stared at the device in front of her. It was mocking her. It contrasted against the cool, wooden surface of her bedside table. She should call, really, she should, and she knew in her gut that she should. But, in that same deep place, she knew she might not like the outcome. Slowly she reached for the phone and dialed the number by routine. Of course she knew the number by heart.
She waited. 1 ring…2 rings…3 rings…”Hello?” The woman answered the unknown number. Her voice was casual as she asked for the caller. Alice couldn’t speak. She tried to relax her throat through every ounce of scrounging emotion, but her whole body was choking.
The woman on the other end of the phone spoke again. “Hello? Who is this?” The woman was growing impatient. In an instant, Alice knew what this meant. The woman, her mother, was about to hang up the phone. She couldn’t let her do that. She had to speak to her. Alice mustered up all of her courage and finally spoke “Mom?” Alice could hear the sigh of relief from her mother’s line. She gripped the sofas fabric, scrounging for support.
It hurt to hear her mother’s voice. Jen Knight was the one person who she truly missed, and this phone call brought back every stinging stab of it. Alice tried to act normal, for her mom’s sake. “Hey mom…how are you?” Her voice was shaky and scratchy. She tried to remind herself to breath and not rip the sofa cushions right off.
Her mom replied quickly and with reassuring words. “Oh honey, I’m fine. Really, I’m really fine, how are you?”
Alice gave a half laugh and felt a hot tear run down her face as she smiled. “I’m fine, mom. I’m okay, really. I think, that for the first time, I’m really happy.” Her smile grew bigger as more and more tears fell down her face. In this conversation, Alice didn’t have to lie, she could tell the absolute truth. Her thoughts were drowned out by the rough voice of her father. He spoke with question. “Jen, who are you talking to?”
Alice raced for her breath as she instructed her mom. “Please, don’t say it’s me. I’m not ready yet. Mom, please don’t-“ She was cut off by her mother’s voice, who scolded her like she was a child again. “Don’t be silly. Aaron, it’s Alice on the phone. Do you want to say hi?”
Alice imagined his face falling. How he would yell about the marked community killing his family. How they took, not only their son, but their daughter too. She pictured the anger shedding through his eyes. She couldn’t take that, not today. Her hand went limp as she hit the end call button and dropped the phone. She bit her lip and ran a hand through her hair. Inhale then exhale. Inhale then exhale. The simple procedure ran through her mind as she struggled to regain emotional stability.
Her mind was stuck on a picture of her father’s face. He was all she could see, all she could hear. Imaginary scenarios played through her head as more and more salty tears wet her face. She stood from her bed quickly. The lunchtime air danced in light rain. Previously, she had woken up early, restless and had gone for a run, made breakfast, showered, and made a single phone call. Now, shutting the apartment door behind her, she walked aimlessly. She thought about her mother, her father, and her brother. She thought about her friends, campus, her adaptation, and then she took a second to think about herself. The person she wanted to be. She wanted to be brave, brave enough to face anything.
She closed her eyes momentarily and sunk. She hadn’t even been brave enough to face her own father, even if it had been her father who hated who she had become. She didn’t fully understand, but sometimes, at times like these, she would imagine that in his heart he yearned for her. Maybe, just maybe, his voice would have echoed with love and thoughts of missing her, but then again, maybe not. Too much risk, and not enough reward.
She watched the rain and could feel the coming weather. Yesterday would be the last beach bash for a while, because winter was definitely coming. She marveled at the weather patterns of campus. They were so unpredictable. It’s a beach bash one day, and then a preparation for winter. One day would be full of life, while the next would haunt them with a death, and then everything would rest on the end of a telephone line.
Alice closed her eyes and leaned against a wall in the hallway she had just entered. The wood was uncomfortable against her shoulder and she lightly glanced across the hall to the number on the door. It read, 398, of course. She straightened up in dismay and scorned her subconscious for taking her to the doorstep of one of her problems.
She didn’t move, she didn’t knock, but she didn’t run away either, and that had to count for something. All though, right then she realized something. She was tired of not moving. Overpowered by change and raw emotion, she knocked on the door and waited. She bit her lip and thought to herself, don’t be a coward. He was smiling when he opened the door. His head was cocked slightly and he held a phone to his ear. His voice drowned out when he saw her.
He drank her in. Her hair up, a windbreaker wrapped on her shoulders, her face pale, and her eyes uneasy. James muttered a “Thanks” into the phone and hung up, his arm falling beside him. His eyes roamed over her. She seemed off balance, and, as she attempted to fake a smile, he could see the tears that left her eyes glassy and rimmed with red. Speechless, he let her start the conversation. “Hey, I-um I don’t actually know why I’m here. I was just in the area and I thought, well, why the hell not…” Her voice was soft and under abundant. Her voice trailed off. It seemed she was failing at just about everything tonight.
His eyebrows creased in concern. There were a few things that he knew about Alice. She liked her boots, both warm and cold days, coffee, talking, daydreaming, but none of those included her being a ‘why the hell not’ kind of girl. That just wasn’t her. At a loss of words, he just looked straight into her stormy eyes and asked a simple, three-worded question. “Are you okay?” His voice was soft, gentle, and too curious.
Alice opened her mouth and then closed it again before nodding at the boy who stood close and in front of her. He willed her to explain, so she did. “I just called my mom, and we talked for the first time since I came here. It was nice, but then my dad came into the room and I could just picture him angry and shouting at me. Then I hung up.” She stated bluntly. He stepped back into his apartment and gestured for her to follow him. As they readjusted he asked her simply, “Why?” Not judgingly, but seriously wondering. She took a deep breath as her eyes roamed his different furniture.
“It was just too much, I guess.” It sounded like a silly excuse as she said it out loud. She got a small smile out of him as he corrected his own question. “I understand why you hung up, I want to know why you think he was going to shout at you.”
She leaned against the wall behind her and pursed her lips. There was a lot to explain now that he had opened up that can of worms. “Oh, I have a brother, an older brother, and when he was about my age he became marked. My parents pretended to be okay with the idea of it, but even at my young age I could see the tension. I guess he just got tired of it all, and really he only came home to visit me, and then one day he just stopped coming home at all. My dad blames it on being marked and how it changes people. I blame it on my dad and the way he made Riley feel. I used to be mad at Riley for it, but I know why he did it now, I understand.”
Alice almost felt like she should be laying down on one of those thinking couches that you would find in a therapists’ office. “I think your father is afraid of losing you too.” She looked up at him, seriously at first, and then to mock him, because she knew he was right. “You know,” he started again. “Alice, I have two older brothers who I can rant about for hours, a seriously screwed up family, a large pizza thats about to be delivered, and an absent roommate. Would you like to join me?”
Alice smiled at him and nodded before observing his casual shorts and t-shirt. It was an outfit that didn’t try very hard, and yet he still looked great. She half laughed to herself at the thought, of course he looked great, he would look great in anything. “Where is Peirce?” She asked, attempting casual conversation. He replied while showing her over to a small sitting room off of the kitchen. ”He left about an hour ago...he’s on a date of some sort, don’t know who the girl is though.”
In the sitting area was lamp lit with a large window and an empty window seat. They sat on the floor, pillows propped up against their backs. In front of them was a half eaten box of pizza, and for a good hour and a half they laughed and shared childhood stories and memories.
From Alice and Riley’s summers to James and his partners in crime brothers. They talked about their parents. strict fathers, concerned mothers, and the weight of upholding family images. Then, at one point in the afternoon, Alice’s hand didn’t rest alone on the textile carpet. His tan, large hand covered her small one.
Her eyes looked down at the skin that hummed with content touch, and she realized that she had never seen him without his marking on his left palm. It was always there.
“And so then we all kind of formed this club. It was a joke when we were younger. Me, Ben, Mason, Everett, and Cade would meet up in the tree house and discuss things like goldfish, race cars, and superheroes.” James explained his family with carefree. Alice giggled at the thought of a little James, a red cape hugging his shoulder, stuffing goldfish into his mouth as his brothers and cousins egged him on.
He continued his story with a bright, white smile. “Then our discussions changed from superhero’s to rants about girls and probla Mason, the oldest, went to campus. Followed by Cade, Ben, me, and then Everett. Every now and then we still call each other in a massive group call, you know, when we have to make big decisions. But really the only times we are all together at once are the holidays.”
Alice, still smiling at the image, asked a teasing question. “And do you still meet in a tree house?”
His grin grew as he scooted closer to her. “Maybe, maybe not. Although, most of the time we meet at one of our houses or on campus.”
Alice’s eyebrows rose. “Tree houses are much, much cooler. Why would you ever change your headquarters?”
He laughed lightly and shrugged. “We grew up.”
Glancing at the clock on the wall, Alice sighed. She should probably leave soon, and the weirdest feeling was that smidge of sadness in her heart, because she didn’t want to. “Time, to me, is an issue. As soon as I think it’s speeding by too fast, it chooses the worst moments to completely slow down and then all I hope for is it to go faster.”
Her eyes left the time teller on the wall and she inhaled quickly at the mere inches that separated them. He watched her intently. Her eyes, her nose, her lips, and then his mind wasn’t really controlling his actions. He tilted his head slightly and leaned into this girl, who, for some reason, he just couldn’t get enough of. Their lips met and he numbly felt his hands reach the small of her back. Her light palms placed against his chest and he smiled into the movement. She was kissing James Castell, and her heart raced as a thrilling feeling reached over her body.
They were completely immersed in the beauty of their bodies together until they heard the opening of a door. Alice gently pushed away from him as they both approached a bearably casual position. James reached for the closest book next to him and spoke with ease as his roommate poked his head in “And that is why Brutus stabbed Caesar.” Alice nodded enthusiastically, holding back a laugh. “Ohh” She said it like she had been anticipating the outcome of a murder mystery and not praying her lips weren’t chapping or something obvious like that.
She glanced at Peirce’s confused face and smiled tightly at him before turning to James and standing. She pursed her lips together and shrugged. “Well, I should be going.” James stood beside her as she made her way to her feet. “I’ll walk you out.”
She looked to Peirce once more “Good to see you.” And then her chivalry up and left as she scoffed at him when he winked at her. “Always a pleasure, oh, and tell Riddle next time she decides to date crash to call before. I prefer planning ahead instead of acting on impulse.” Alice’s eyebrows shot up and then her lips fell to a slight smile. Of course Riddley had crashed Peirce’s date.
Alice walked to the boy’s apartment door and prepared to leave by herself, but then James followed her out and closed the door behind him. Alice tried to smile, but her entire body was grimacing, because she knew this would be awkward. Yes, she respected the fact that he was a proper gentleman, but the silence in throughout their walk to her place wasn’t a nice one.
Alice shivered as they reached the outside of the building and then her face froze, because she remembered that James knew what she was feeling. She blushed and stammered through their pointless conversations, and had never been more thankful when they reached her apartment.
She turned the knob on the door and looked back at James Castell and his perfect face. She mentally scolded the degree of his attractiveness and leaned against the door frame. He smiled, leaned towards her, and kissed her lightly on the cheek. Holding onto one of her hands, he whispered into her ear. “This Friday is Swing Night at The Cliff. Can I pick you up here at 8?”
Friday came in a heated rush and Alice found herself pacing back and forth in her living room. “It’s too soon.” She said, running a hand through her hair. Riddley watched her, almost amused. “Alice, it is not too soon! He likes you, you like him, and you’ve been spending a whole lot of time together this week.” Throughout the past days, James had seemed to be everywhere she turned. They would walk to privates together and meet for coffee and lunch.
Alice paused and nodded, her eyebrows creased and she ran a hand through her hair. “You’re right, but I didn’t want a boyfriend! They are too complicated and- and hard to handle.”
Riddle rolled her eyes. “I’m all for the no boyfriend thing, but if I had this opportunity, that you do, I would take it. You would be stupid not to! He is gorgeous, of the royal name, and he adores you!”
Alice leaned back against the counter, her eyes trailing the floor and she bit her lip. “Yeah, but is this what I really want?” The uncertainty came out in her voice when she spoke.
Riddley sighed and stepped towards her naive roommate. “Do you like him?”
Alice nodded without a pause. “Yes.”
“Do you have fun when you’re with him?” Riddley continued with her checklist. Once again Alice nodded. “Yes.”
“Would you regret not going?” Alice’s eyes looked up at Riddley’s last question. Her face fell and she groaned. “Yes.” Of course, check, check, and check again.
Riddley threw her hands up in making a point. “Stop questioning yourself! You’re going on one date, not marrying the guy.” Alice knew she was right. When it came to boys, Riddley was almost always right.
She stood by the door waiting, walked to the kitchen, drank a uselessly small sip of water, and then paced back towards the door. She tapped her foot against the wooden floor impatiently, and then a sharp knock came from the other side of the wooden barrier. Alice couldn’t control the butterflies that flew around her stomach. She couldn’t move and she stood, frozen, until Riddley yelled from the couch, “Are you going to open the door for him, or should I?” Her flat tone compelled Alice to jump forwards and grab the doorknob. In the rush of energy she flung the door open, and then she saw him and everything stopped.
She wasn’t nervous anymore, she no longer felt the need to pace in circles, and instead she could simply concentrate on the way James’ tan skin contrasted with his white suit Jacket. The curve of his lips, his soft features, his formal but inviting personality, it all entranced her. He smiled when he saw her and she couldn’t help but smile back.
They left into the night air that swept them up in the foggy, but enchantingly beautiful light of the moon. The dark dress Alice wore was navy and fit tightly around her body, simple, but effective. It showed her off like a dark princess in the blue lights of the club. They were standing up against the bar now, and James ordered them both a cranberry craze to sip.
Alice was too preoccupied with the decorations to really think about drinks. It was completely different than how it had looked only a week ago. Tonight, all the lights shone blue against the many round tables set up on the floor. The only space left open was the stage, where a large jazz band was strategically placed around the raised platform, and then there was the dance floor, where couples raced with the energy of classy dancing.
James handed her a drink, but she just smiled a bright smile, took one big sip, and set the glass down on the table in front of her. James saw a glint of deviousness reach her cool eyes as she grabbed his hands and pulled him towards the dance floor, and then they were as good as the rest of the hyped teens in the joint.
It was swing night, with the hot jazz era bouncing throughout the souls of everyone in the room, and there is only one thing to do with an overabundant amount of joy, energy, and good music. They all danced.
They spun through the crowd and repeated the common swing dancing motion of pull out and then return again. They continued to dance, with smiles wide on their face, laughter pounding through their mouths, and all until the band decided to slow it down a little.
Alice was breathing heavy as she leaned against James, whose hands were placed against the small of her back and held her left hand. He breathed her in and they sunk into each other and the blues of the melodic tune.
Alice looked up at him, her eyes vibrant and searching for his. “So, who else knows you can dance?” Her question met his ears and he laughed and shook his head lightly. “My mom? Maybe one of my brothers?” His uncertain answer joked with her and he continued with random small talk.
Alice watched him and he consumed her thoughts. He was all she could think about, all she could worry about, all she really cared about at the moment. But she could only care so much about someone she didn’t know very well, so she asked a question about one of the things he did most often. “What emotions do you usually feel from people?”
James looked into her eyes, a playful look running through his features. “Well, for instance, see that girls over there in the red dress?”
Alice nodded, her eyes finding their victim. James spoke his one worded answer casually, “Boredom.”
Alice couldn’t help the twitch of her lips as she chose their next case. “What about the girl at the bar?”
James sighed and spoke his answer a little softer, “Heartbreak.” Alice’s face fell, but she continued their game. “The couple sitting at the table?” Her voice hoped for a happier emotion. James let out a half laugh before answering comically, “Lust.”
Alice grinned and then she looked back at her date, and he was already looking at her, watching her. She asked one more question, and this time their victim was herself. “And what emotion do I most commonly have?”
James answered almost immediately, “Confliction.” And then his mouth opened in shock, because he hadn’t meant to actually say that word out loud. He swallowed and Alice stopped moving with the music. Her hand retreated from him and her eyes met the ground. She bit her lip, while James stood completely still, silently scolding himself. He let out a deep breath and touched her forearm softly in hopes of reaching her. She wanted to pull away, she felt she should pull away, but she couldn’t make herself leave his warm touch.
“C’mon.” He said gently, while his fingers slipped into hers. He lead her off the dance floor and straight for the back exit. She didn’t speak as they dodged and weaved through groups of teenagers.This silence wasn’t awkward like it had been before, because this silence was conflicted and too concerned to even cross the path of being uncomfortable or awkward. They walked past the bright and colored lights, the sounds, the people. They kept walking, and walking, until they stepped into the night air and their feet reached the beach. It was deserted at night, it was quite, and it was perfect.
The wind was blowing the last of its warm air, and the water crashed in calm waves against the rocks and the sand. The stars seemed to reflect off of the moon and water’s tide, and James and Alice sat in the midst of it all. Shoes off, soaking up the nightlife. His arm crossed over hers as she leaned against his side slightly. He looked down at her and spoke in a soft, gentle voice. It was time to talk about it. “Alice, I feel a lot of emotions every day. I’ve learned to recognize them, memorize them.”
Then he inched closer to her, and his face became serious as he continued. Alice listened and tried to understand, but there was a reason that James didn’t normally tell people their emotions. They were too personal, to restricting.
James continued to explain to Alice. “Most all of the time people feel two or more emotions at one time, that is, unless they are completely immersed in one single emotion. Alice, when I said confliction I just meant that you always feel two emotions at once. The two emotions contradict each other, and rarely have I seen you when you’re feeling any happiness, and never have I been with you when you have felt happiness and happiness alone.” His voice grew quiet and he couldn’t actually believe that he was telling her this.
She looked up at him and into his eyes. Her shoulders shrugged slightly and her face fell into honesty. “I guess that’s because I don’t think I am happy, not completely, not yet.”
He wanted to help her. He wanted her to be happy and he could help with this. Emotions were something that he understood. He began to further question and understand her. “Are you not happy here?”
She didn’t want to talk about this right now. She sat up, frustrated, and really not wanting a counseling session at the moment. “I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter anyways.” She waved it off dismissively. He looked at her, silent for a second, and then he spoke, shaking his head slightly. “Alice of course it matters. It matters because I care if you’re happy or not. Emotions are the one thing that I really understand, so please, let me help you with this.”
She looked at him for a moment. She took a deep breath and drank in his inviting features. She would talk to him about it, not because she wanted to, but because she couldn’t, and never would be able to resist him. She began again, her eyes looking and tracing the dents in the water. “I don’t know. I feel like finally in my life I’ve found the right place for me, but I’m not as happy as I thought I’d be. I don’t know what’s going on, who people are, what I’m supposed to do here, or who I’m supposed to be. I just don’t know.” Her voice gave in and the reality crashed around here.
James listened. He soaked every word in and really listened to her. He absorbed her concerns and contemplations. He sat up to where she was, only a few inches away from her now. He looked right into her eyes, the window to her soul, as he spoke. “You’re in a new place, a new world with new people, new rules, and new everything else. You’re adjusting, Alice. I know it may not seem like it, but I promise, you are adapting, it’s what you were born to do. Give it time.”
He had never really felt like this when he came to campus. When he left home it was a celebration. He had finally come of age, and his parents had been beamingly proud of him. He had family on campus. Brothers, cousins, and friends, but over time he had observed others, like Alice, who came to campus with a different background than he had. It took them time, but eventually their emotions evened out again. He brought his attention back to the girl beside him as she spoke.
“I think I know exactly why my brother, Riley, left us. I’ve changed since I’ve started coming here. I’ve changed a lot, and it’s kind of scary.” She spoke in a whisper. James didn’t need to say anything more, and neither did she. They just, kind of, got it. It was okay to be afraid, and its okay to change, because change is a good thing. Alice was adapting, just like so many others had done so before her. She would adapt, and then, she would be happy. He smiled at her, a genuine smile, and she smiled back.
She narrowed her eyes. “You should become a physiatrist or something.” He laughed and shook his head. “I deal with way too many problems without having people come in and pay to dump more baggage on me.”
They were walking now, talking just about everything, up and down the star lit beach. The wind blew her hair as they walked, the sand sinking in between her toes as she leaned on him, his strong arm around her shoulder, guarding her small frame from the cool air.
“Okay bucket list.” Alice said, her eyes full of curiosity.
James looked at her amused. “What about it?” Her eyes had become full of life and excitement. For the moment, she put all the complications in her mind away and just smiled at him. He loved it when she was like this, carefree.
“What’s something you want in life?”
He laughed at her audacity and happily obliged to the question. “I want to figure out what you do that lets you switch moods so quickly. Is it in the drink, maybe?” He asked jokingly.
Alice looked at him playfully and shrugged. “It’s just a thing I do, so no, I don’t think it’s in the drink.”
James took his turn and tried not to sound too cheesy as he answered. “I want to travel.”
Alice smiled at his last wish and met his number. She loved finding out new things about him, and she wanted to know what it was like to be James Castell. “I want to have the experiences that marked families have, the holidays and everything.”
He shook his head at her. “It’s not that great, I promise.”
She smiled up at him, their eyes meeting. She skipped his turn, too focused on her next line as she spoke again. “I want to find out where my brother is.”
He stopped in front of her, bending his head down slightly to meet with hers. “I want you” He said it slowly, in a low, soft voice. Their faces were inches apart and Alice could feel the heat radiating off of him and into the night. The waves continued to crash behind them, the wind blew, their weight shifted, but his golden eyes never left hers. Her head tilted up and she could feel his lips on hers.
A dance the two shared, it was mesmerizing and enchanting. It pulled Alice in as he pulled her closer with the intentions of never letting her go. She felt the glass roll out of her hand as she wrapped both of her arms around him, tasting the mix of the cranberry and the salty beach. Together, they created chemistry, friction, and heat, although no scientific combination could ever compare to them.
They pulled away, breathless smiles and laughs played on their tongues, and Alice took one look at James before grabbing his hand with a smirk and running towards the rocky path that lead to the meaning behind The Cliffs. It was a rocky edge, the highest land point on campus. A rocky drop separated the landing from the ocean. Inside the rocky edges of the cliff’s walls were caves and water hit like daggers against them. The story told is that The Cliff’s founders used to meet inside those very caves to plan the construction of the most elite party club ever known to man. It was their dream, and it was full of teenage desire. The story was inspiring if anything, how the friends would meet and watch as their complex idea of a hand picked society grew.
James followed her to the top of the tortuous path, a giant distance below them the dark sea hit against the jagged stone of the cliff, but the two didn’t care about the mighty ocean as James stopped abruptly and pulled Alice back to him.
This time their lips were full of passion and energy as she ran her hands through his hair and he set his hands on her body. No longer were their kisses drenched in problem solving or sympathy. They were lost in each other, their lips wanting more, and as the wind whipped they held on to one another like their life depended on it. Alice slowly pulled away, a forming smile playing on her lips. She laughed a laugh full of adrenalin and shook her hair out in the wind.
The walk back to The West End took much longer than usual, considering that every few minutes campus security would drive by and the two of them would hide behind pillars or trees. They were past curfew, and even the kids of The Cliff had a curfew. They didn’t mind, it was almost fun, reckless, and rebellious even…they craved every second of it.
It was a moment in time where everything seemed to stop. Everything bad vanished, and in its place came good, safe feelings. “What are you thinking about?” James asked, feeling the cool marble edge against his thigh.
Alice shrugged, swishing her feet in the water. The two were currently sitting on the side of the fountain outside the West End, talking about anything and everything, at the odd hours of the morning. James sat down and fiddled with the first few undone buttons of his white shirt. He scooted a bit closer to her before quickly finding the icy water at his feet and splashing and hitting her with the free fluid. Alice shrieked and sent her counter defence towards him. The laugh that congressed between the two of them, shaking their bodies, together.
Inch by inch they came closer, their smiles vibrant, their eyes wild. It was free and beautiful as he carefully put his hands on her face closing his eyes for their lips to meet. It was soft and nice, innocent almost.
And it would be young, unrealistic love, a love that would grow to be so much more, but right now a drunken kiss for the hundredth time that night left the two looking into the eyes of the unexplainable with playful grins aligning their lips and the rush of pure emotion leaving both of them breathless. “We need to go before someone finds us here…in a fountain.” Alice spoke the truth airily and he nodded slowly. His mind agreed to retire, but his body didn’t move. They had dove right into the passion of a relationship without a glimpse towards the surface of reality. It was absolutely stupid, careless, and altogether magnificent.
When Alice reached her apartment, she closed the door tightly behind her. Her hand came to trace her lips in disbelief and her mouth grew into a contagious smile. Her eyes looked up as Riddley padded into the room with her hair high and messy, comfy clothes, and late night eyes. Riddley took in Alice’s appearance, her stature, and put a hand on her hip. Her face became expectant. “Well? Is he a good kisser?” Alice broke into a laugh and nodded feverishly. “A great kisser.”
“What is this?” Alice asked, her hands spinning over the red rose that had previously sat, perfectly arranged, in a crystal vase. The rose had her name on it, and, if that wasn’t creepy enough, the vase had been sitting on her kitchen counter when she woke up that morning.
Alice looked towards the door and then back at the rose again, because she was fairly sure that breaking and entering wasn’t legal, even in the Marked Society. Riddley walked in, her hair in disarray, glancing only once at the rose next to Alice, meant for Riddley, and then carrying on.
Alice’s eyebrows rose and she restated the obvious. “Do you know what these are?”
Riddley looked back at the two flowers and nodded wordlessly. She strolled lazily to the vase, flipped open the card that had her name written in cursive letters, and smirked before explaining to Alice. “It’s from The Cliffs, they do this a lot. It’s just a letter about Ronan, which is the holiday that everyone celebrates in December, so it’s coming up soon.”
Alice nodded through the never ending information. “How did they get the vase on the table? Did you let them in?” She was still stuck on the whole ‘strangers in the apartment’ thing.
Riddley rolled her eyes and laughed lightly. She muttered sarcastic nonsense about letting The Cliffs messenger in, yawning a tired yawn, retiring to the couch, and leaving Alice unanswered.
“I wasn’t drunk or anything, I just- I don’t know, it just felt right.” James put his head in his hands and rubbed his hair and face, trying to recollect what had happened the night before. He looked up at his friend sheepishly as Peirce raised his eyebrows. James wasn’t usually one to ask Peirce for advice.
James continued, his words rambling. “Don’t get me wrong, it was awesome, for me at least.”
Peirce rolled his eyes at his useless roommate. “Yeah well you’re the guy. If she so much as smiles at you its great. Listen, girls are thinkers! They actually have motives and reasons behind things. Guys just kinda go for it.”
James groaned at the truth behind Peirce’s words. “I hate this. Not her, and not what happened, I just hate not knowing what she is thinking about it. I hate how complicated it is.”
It was a little past nine when he had finally pulled himself out of the warm comfort of his plush bed, his feet traveled the short venture to the kitchen for morning relief, coffee. On the kitchen counter stood a crystal vase with two, single red roses, each with an antiqued tage naming it’s recipient. James felt his fingers meet the sleek card and his eyes traced the edgings. “What do they want this time?” He muttered under his breath.
The card didn’t demand for anything more than a farewell. James practically rolled his eyes at the card as he read the words out loud to his roommate. “The Cliff’s would like to wish to all a happy Ronan. Infinít!” He placed the elaborate card down again as Peirce chatted, still hung up on their conversation.
“You know what you two need? A D.T.R.” Peirce responded, his facial features finding his new plan fantastic.
James looked up at him, un-amused, and his eyebrows creased skeptically. “A what?”
Peirce sighed and began to explain to his novice of a roommate. “A D.T.R., define the relationship.”
James gave a half laugh and shook his head. “You sound like a girl.”
Peirce’s response was edging toward childish aggravation and he spoke with a forceful tone. “Yeah, and you know who else sounds like a girl? Alice, because she is a girl.”
James huffed and murmured dismissive words as he walked slowly to his shower. Pausing, he called over his shoulder, “You’re still coming to my house for the holidays, right?”
“Yeah of course.” Peirce responded as he poured his morning orange juice. The tradition began when the boys were only 14.The young, reckless roommates would meet at James’ house for the holidays to celebrate, eat, and play games in the Castell mansion until James’ mother couldn’t handle them one second longer and she would ship them both off and back to campus.
“Ronan is a holiday that celebrates the birth of the first royal king, who brought the marked community together, his name was Ronan Castell and he was the ancestor of all the Royal Family and anyone who bares the royal name, including our family.” James’ mother, Rose Castell, would explain to the boys. Peirce would sit in the midst of people who all shared the royal name, and somehow he wouldn’t feel out of place, even though his name held nothing of importance.
“There is the royal family, the queen and king and their immediate relatives, and then there are several descending families who bare the royal name. There are quite a lot of families who share the royal last name, all of them related to us somehow, be it by birth or marriage. Those families have high income, can find jobs in the royal court, and have a strictly pure bloodline. Others don’t frown upon them, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. “ She spoke with pride and excitement to the boys who would rather be playing video games rather than listening to a history lesson.
The life of a royal name consisted of social parties, family gatherings, and knowing that you must end up marrying a marked person, which honestly didn’t upset James at all.
Hot water poured over James head as he now stood in the steamy shower. James rubbed the shampoo messily through his hair with minal care of the lather rinse and repeat process.
He was confused. Sure, he had never exactly had a serious relationship before, and no, he didn’t have a sister, so he didn’t find himself learning about girls often. It was frustrating him, trying to figure out the female species. Why couldn’t there be a manual for these kinds of things? Surely he wasn’t the only guy to come across girl problems.
He was used to being able to fix things easily. There was always a simple solution, that was, until now. He didn’t know how to deal with it, no, not it, her. Alice, the new girl. Alice, the one with the dark hair. Alice, the curiously conflicted girl with so many inescapable emotions. Alice, the girl he was uncontrollably finding feelings for. Unfortunately, she was also Alice, the girl who would avoid him for the next three days.
The three days came and went, partly because Alice managed to avoid morning coffee runs and had stayed in the past few nights ordering Chinese delivery and watching old romance films. She looked at the leather bound book in her hands, turning it over and flipping through the pages quickly. The library was always a warm refuge when rain struck campus.
There was a warm fire lit in the store while the cold rain hit against the Ronan decorations outside. Alice looked up to see a flash of chestnut hair though the book shelf, her eyes widened and she ducked down before he could see her. She folded her knees into her chest, sitting on the floor, feeling completely silly and hoping her toboggan wouldn’t give her away.
Unfortunately, while she was in a panic to get out of view, she had forgotten about the cart of books in front of her and had, not so gracefully, tripped over the leg of the cart causing the whole thing to fall over and the books to come spilling out onto the floor.
Alice, now staring wide eyed at the mess on the floor, slowly got up to find James looking at her trying to hold back his laughter. She rolled her eyes at him and smiled a forced smile, determined to make this not awkward. “So here’s the plan…either we clean up or we make a break for it.” She laughed and he looked at her with a nod and a grin. “Run” He said, and with that the two were off. They jumped over the spilled books and past the librarian with nothing more than the rushed voice of James shouting, “Infinít!”
They stopped for a second, hidden behind the shelter of a brick wall. “Infinít?” Alice asked, questioning his words of solute. “It’s a word we use, like how you would say happy birthday, for Ronan you say infinít! It means infinity in an ancient language, Catalan, to celebrate Ronan Hunter’s victory. In all honesty, the marked community likes to trace back to their roots, and even if the time of those who spoke Catalan was forever ago, it was the ancestry that Ronan Castell came from. They use the language during certain events and ceremonies.” Alice took in his practiced words and she could tell he was most likely drilled on this information as a kid.
She shook the thoughts of and they ran. Through the cold rain, dodging people and wet umbrellas, until they came to a walkway with stucco covering. He took her hand and pulled her though the people around them. They stopped under a portico, breathing heavy, he squeezed her hand. Alice didn’t do anything in response, instead she just looked up at him with confusion on her face. She began to speak in a conflicted voice.
“James, I don’t know what we are doing. Last night was too much too fast and...” The words that slipped from her mouth trailed off and she automatically regretted them when she saw the flash of pain in his honey eyes. Without letting go of her hand, he looked at her and said, with certainty in his voice.
“I know it was fast, but I think it really meant something to me.”
Alice sighed and shook her head, because she already knew the answer. “James, I don’t regret it, never have, and I never will. That night was great, but I just want to slow down a bit I guess. I really want this to work.” Her voice was soft. She was scared she was going to ruin their relationship, because James was perfect, and she just wasn’t. James couldn’t help but curse inwardly and mentally aim the dirty word at Peirce, because, right here, right now, they needed a D.T.R.
His thoughts tossed ideas back and forth. Should he ask her to be his girlfriend? No, too far. Kiss her? Smile and walk away? Dance or act crazy until she left so that he could deal with his pathetic misery on his own? He needed more time with her he needed- he cut himself off with a smile and a brilliant idea. He needed a holiday.
“Where are you going for Ronan?” James spoke up suddenly with a cheery topic changer.
She readjusted her soft hat that layered on top of her dark curls, keeping them warm from the winter winds. “Riddley and I decided to stay here, we don’t really have anywhere better to go that actually celebrates Ronan.”
James looked at her, mocking shock. “Stay here? That would be awful. Pack and tell Riddley that you two will be coming with Peirce and I to my house for the holidays.” His parents wouldn’t mind. They loved guests, they loved entertaining, and he knew his brothers, more than anything, would love to meet Alice.
Alice tried to object but he cut her off with the simplicity of a quick kiss on the cheek and a smile. “Infinít.”
Alice smiled and walked out of the store with James on her heels. She was saved from any goodbyes when Riddley drove by in a white golf cart and yelled to them. “Get in losers, we’re going to The Tavern to meet Peirce for lunch.”
The holiday season came sooner than expected. The time came when everyone packed up their bags and the open spirit was thriving with shimmering gold and royal purple. James’ house was easily a mansion. It was made up of large stones covered in moss. Inside it was warm and full of stranded presence. His parents were lovely people who had given life to three boys, two of which were out in the world, and then James, who was the youngest and still on campus.
Alice fidgeted in her black, sophisticated dress. The sleeves were caped, the fabric was silk, and the collar came close to her neck in a classy cut. Apparently dinner was not taken lightly at the Castell residence. Alice felt almost as if she had stepped back in time, which was a seriously cool feeling all by itself. Waiters in black lined the walls and the dining table was set with fine china. Alice felt like a princess, although the interrogation from James’ mother in her darling pearls wasn’t quite as nice, especially with the boys and their expensive suits watching her. She would have easily enjoyed the ambiance more if she wouldn’t of felt like she was in an interview.
December 3rd. Ronan. The holiday that split the seams of the marked society. The holiday that brought everyone together in one building, a catastrophic and consequential room with secrets and countless mental murders. Alice relaxed into James’ hand that slid upon her knee apologetically, a subtle gesture that, not only she, but the rest of the family seemed to notice as well. They also didn’t miss the way Alice shivered when his thumb brushed against her skin. Yes, they were extremely observant people, and all the while Peirce and Riddley just got to sit there fully amused and entertained.
“And what is it that your parents do?” James’ father asked, fascinated by her former life of normality. Alice smiled politely and answered easily. “My father is a lawyer. My mother used to work in fashion, but she retired to raise me and my brother.”
James’ father, Matthew, nodded thoughtfully. “Fascinating.”
Alice’s eyes roamed the room momentarily as she caught the dark chocolate eye of James’ eldest brother, Mason. He had short, dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. His suit seemed worn daily and he sat up straight in his seat. Alice summed him up as put together, but somehow friendly and trustworthy. He smirked at her and suppressed a laugh at his father’s gestures towards him. “Mason here is a lawyer as well! For the Royal Court, of course, but nonetheless.” His words rambled on.
Alice could definitely see it, because everything about the young man, Mason, screamed lawyer. He was probably the perfect lawyer, with his leather briefcase and his dependable dimple when he smiled. She mentally noted that if she ever needed a lawyer to call him, not that she thought she might need a lawyer anytime soon.
It was then that her attention was brought past the questioning, the food, the butlers, and straight to the door where a dirty blond haired, young man stood with a wide, white smile and a bow tie that hung, untied, around his collar. Alice watched as James’ mother, Rose, smile grew. “Benjamin! Good to see you! Come in.”
Alice heard a sly comment come from his father. Something along the lines of, “Late, as always.” Although at the moment Alice couldn’t really pay attention to anything, because the person that stood, hugging James with one of those manly shake then hug packages, was the boy who had brought her, months ago, from her house to campus. It was Ben.
James spun around to introduce him to the others in the room. “Ben, you know Peirce, that’s Riddley Hampton, and this is my girlfriend, Alice Knight.” James placed a hand on her arm and she smiled at Ben’s raising eyebrows, ignoring the fact that James had just introduced her with a title they had never used before. It caught her off guard, both situations, and incoherent words spun through her head. Ben laughed and shook his head slightly. “Looks like it’s definitely a small world. Good to know that marked life has done good to you.”
Alice blushed slightly and laughed, partly with Ben, and partly at James’ confusion. “It’s good to see you too, Ben.”
Alice walked James back to the table and explained the coincidence to him as Ben took the seat next to Mason, who rolled his eyes at Ben and spoke teasingly. “For god’s sake, tie your tie, Ben.” Ben laughed at him and shook his head, childlike, and replied rebelliously. “Never.”
Dinner passed, dresses were removed, and the four teenagers sat around a fire, sweatshirts and comfort cloths wrapped around their tired frames. The flames licked their mature faces and Riddley sighed and relaxed into her pillow. It was late and tomorrow would be the day of Ronan when James’ family would be hosting their annual party at their house for all of their relatives, and Alice couldn’t necessarily say she was excited. Yes, she was adjusting remarkably fast and gracefully to these extravagant lives, but even so nerves laced the pit of her stomach.
One thing that kept her standing in her 5 inch heels was her lifeline, James, who seemed to have full confidence in her. That boy who had just introduced her as his girlfriend, which she supposed she was, but he hadn’t actually asked her. Don’t people still do that? Actually ask for titles?
She didn’t feel connected to him enough, not emotionally, not like she wanted. With her emotions open for him to read, she felt like he knew so much more about her than she did about him. She felt odd sitting here with his family. The whole scene felt overdone.
It wasn’t that she minded meeting his family, and it wasn’t that she minded being called his girlfriend, because every fiber in Alice’s body craved his touch. She wanted him in a way that, more than anything, scared her.
“It’s getting late so I think I’m going to hit the hay.” Peirce yawned and stood up slowly. He glanced at the rustic carpet where Riddley sat, nodded, and she following him out. Alice felt the warm pressure of James hand press on her knee, a simple gesture that clearly said to stay put.
The dark room, which was now empty for Alice and James, glowed a dull gold color. Alice didn’t dare move when James sighed and looked at her. He studied her features, the curve of her jaw, the way her eyes lit up when they met the heat of the fire. He was utterly amazed by everything about her and the more he thought about her the more he wanted her to be his.
She could be his to hold and comfort, to kiss and laugh with. The longer he sat there, taking in her dark hair that fell in soft ringlets down her back, the more he watched in awe of her beauty, and the more he realized how badly he wanted things to work out between the two of them.
He took his hand and placed it on her soft check. “You were great with my family today.” He spoke under his breath. Only then did their eyes meet, drawing them into each other, inch by inch. Alice swallowed. He was going to kiss her. She leaned back away from him deciding that words were needed first.
“James, today you introduced me as your girlfriend without even asking me about it or about my feelings on our relationship.”
He tucked a piece of hair behind her ear that had fallen in front of her face, trying to find the words to say how he felt. She was right, he was wrong, and everything could play out now. Before he could speak, Alice brought her focus off of the dancing flame and into his eyes. They were rimmed with tired specks of caramel.
James shook his head as his heart sank. Great, you did it again. You are about to lose the thing you care about. Then there was that voice, it whispered in the back of his mind, telling him that if he really wanted this then he could fight for it, and that’s exactly what he did. So he had screwed up the whole DTR thing, but he could fix this.
“Alice, ever since I first saw you I’ve wanted you. I’ve never wanted anything more in my life. I want you so much that I am scared to death of losing you. That’s why I titled you. I guess it just made things more solid, less breakable. All my life I have screwed up over and over again, especially when it comes to things, people that I care about, and Alice, you’re right. I didn’t ask you. I want to know what you want.”
Alice looked at him and sighed. Why did he have to be so-so perfect? “I want us, and if that means parties and fights and fancy dinners then so be it. There is probably a 60% chance that this relationship will fail miserably, and it will probably be because I embarrass you at some event. And maybe your family hates me, but that’s sort of okay because I really, really want us…and yes, by the way, I will be your girlfriend.”
He then put on his half grin and pulled her close to him. “Three things. One, my family doesn’t hate you. Two, you could never embarrass me. Three, we don’t have to fail anytime soon.”
The carpet was soft underneath them as she leaned against him, with want in their hearts, passion that could break any boundary, and without the knowledge of what this relationship would bring them. James had his arms around the small of her back, a steady support, her rock. She smiled curiously at him and asked an honest question. “What’s it like? To know how people are feeling about things?”
James grasped for the right words “It is, well, amazing and troubling all at the same time. Being able to know someone at that level is a gift, but looking around and noticing how much people lie and hate…it has taught me things that I would have never learned myself.”
Alice exhaled deeply and knew that James could feel her exhaustion. Feeling safe in his arms, Alice drifted off of the world of harsh reality and into sleep.
The next evening, Alice smiled to herself in the large full-length mirror. She wore an elegant, lace dress, the color of rusted gold. It was floor length and fitted. The silk underline of the dress formed a sweetheart. strapless neckline. The mesh, gold lace continued up to layer over her shoulders and chest. It was beautiful. Her dark hair was in loose curls, and the class of it all was remarkable.
She spun around to see James standing in the doorway sporting a dark tux. He walked towards her smiling like an idiot. His eyes traced her and he spoke the only words that could come to mind. “You look beautiful.” His smile proved to be contagious as she felt her lips tilt upwards. “You too, a little like James Bond, but very attractive.”
All day the house had been full of waiters in black ties, the sound of rushed heals throughout the hallways, and the eerie notes of James’ mother screeching commands to the florist. With a small knock, Peirce and Riddley filed into the room. Riddley’s gold gown plunged into a deep neckline and had thin spaghetti straps to hold up the draped fabric. Her hair melted into large curls and her red lips cut into the soul of every man that laid eyes on her. Yes, there was a theme to these dresses. Gold.
Shiny, dull, rustic, anything you’d like, but they must be gold. Riddley sighed and pointed a finger at James. “Your mother is on her way here. She is looking for you.”
James swallowed and gave cringed look at Peirce who laughed and straightened his gold bow tie. “Positions everyone.”
Alice looked around as Peirce threw on his most dashing smile, Riddley straightened her dress, and James put his hand at the small of Alice’s back. He whispered words in her ear to ease the tension. “Just smile.” Alice bit back a laugh and straightened right before his mom walked up and a butler opened the door.
Alice could hear the many voices from the floor below as the ballrooms filled with people, but not just any people. The people that Alice was about to meet were, at every standard, royalty. They were rich, and elegant, and at all costs judgmental. Alice’s thoughts were interrupted when the sound of Rose Castell’s shoes sounding on the dark, hard wood flooring. She glanced between the teenagers, nodding her head in approval. She walked up to Peirce and tugged at his gold accessory around his neck before shaking her head slightly and making her way to Alice.
Alice attempted to smile, but found herself otherwise interested in James’ mothers dress. It was a long sleeve dress made of thick gold material, more gold than fabric. It was constricting and somewhat conservative, and Alice wondered how much it had cost her. Probably fortunes.
“Alright, everyone out except for Alice and James, I want a word with the two of you.” Rose’s voice came with words that made Alice finger through her hair with her inner perfectionist.
Riddley and Peirce didn’t have to be told twice as they scooted out of the room. James took Alice’s hand and walked them a little closer to his mother, who took a deep breath and a long look towards her youngest son before starting.
“I hope you both know what this party means for the two of you, everyone is here tonight.”
James nodded and turned towards Alice holding both of her hands in his. She heard the faint click of the door as his mother left them. She put on her confused face hoping for answers. “What did she mean by that?”
He sighed and tried to explain gently to her what he’d known his whole life. “With the people in my family, dating someone means a bit more than it does to some people. We have to choose very carefully whom we bring into this world of the whole Royal Name thing, so when people see us go public like this, especially at this occasion, people judge. To them it’s all about an image, because they know that people always have eyes on us. Some of them are really lovely people, but others aren’t. It’s all about reputation and some people just get nervous when we bring in outsiders.” Alice looked up at him. So, in other words, she had to be perfect.
He watched as she ran a hand through her hair and, as if he actually needed a tell sign, he saw her nervousness. He squeezed her hand and smiled his most convincing smile.
“Don’t worry, they are going to love you.”
Alice sucked in a breath as they entered the ballroom. She was glad it wasn’t like the movies where the moment she stepped in everyone in the entire room was looking at her. No, they didn’t really notice her until she walked by, and then they definitely starred.
“Oh my god, James is that you?” Alice spun around to find a beautiful, blond haired girl in a sequined gold dress staring at them, eyes wide, and pink lips opened in a plastered smile. She looked like a celebrity about to walk down the red carpet of the Emmys, although, out of stubbornness, Alice would never admit that. James smiled and seemed to grimace slightly. “Cameron! It’s been awhile since we last saw each other.”
Cameron nodded enthusiastically and stepped towards them in her metallic platform heels. “It has, and who is this?”
Alice suddenly realized that she was looking right at her and she smiled, her natural response to just about anything. Be brave, be elegant, and be royal…no pressure. She was grateful when James spoke for her, his voice wavering politely in the warm air of the ballroom. “Cameron, this is Alice, my girlfriend.”
Cameron opened her mouth and then closed it again. While the blond was trying to again find composure, Alice realized who she was. She was a lady in waiting. She was one of the many girls in line for Mr. James Castell. The family probably bet on which one he would end up with. That thought somehow gave Alice a newfound confidence, a drive to want to show off to the high-end people all around her in tuxes and diamonds. Because James hadn’t come tonight with one of them, he had come with her.
Alice wore a dazzling smile as she took a step closer to Cameron. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Cameron looked her up and down for a second before sporting an ugly grimace and a death glare. She spoke through her teeth. “Likewise”. James’ face twisted into amusement and he put an arm around Alice’s small waist before giving Cameron a courteous nod and steering he and his girlfriend towards another side of the ballroom. He was tired of all the questions. They hadn’t even been able to try any of the traditional Ronan foods or heaven forbid actually dance. He looked down to his side at the strong girl who spoke. “Alright, spill, is she an ex or something? Or is that just a tell tale sign that everyone here is going to hate me.”
James gave a half laugh and shook his head. “She is an ugly one date stand that you shouldn’t care to think of. She is a close friend of the family actually and it was absolutely disastrous. Her adaptation is that she can seduce anything or anyone. Between that and the timing, I had next to no control of anything.” His eyes narrowed at the memory and he shuttered. He would never do that again.
Alice found this unfortunately amusing, but she was cut short of a teasing response as an older woman approached them. A sweet smile spread across the woman’s face as she saw them. Maybe there was hope for Alice after all.
“Jamie, you have grown up so much my dear!” Alice’s smile grew at the pet name. Jamie, she was going to have to use that one some time.
“Aunt Iris! How have you been?” James eyes lit up as he spoke to her. It made Alice smile, partly because he was, and partly because she was still caught up on the idea of nicknames. There was only so much you could do with the name Alice, but James was endless.
Her eyes glanced around her. His relatives could be vicious, but if anyone was aloud to call him Jamie the woman standing next to them was, because his Aunt Iris was one of the sweetest in the room.
James brought Alice close to him. He hadn’t let her out of his sight all night and wasn’t planning to any time soon. Alice could definitely see why, everywhere the two went conversations were dropped and all eyes were focused on her. It was like they all took one look at her, silently agreed that tonight would forever be the make it or break it moment for the new girl, and they would see just how much she could handle.
How many names she could remember, how gracefully she could handle the glares from the ladies in waiting for a prince charming who was now taken. Alice almost didn’t mind, key word being almost. Part of the time, she was too caught up on the sparkle of the chandeliers above them, the enchantment of the dim glowing dance floor, the way that her heels felt against the crimson carpet floors where small talk flowed with ease. Although, these little things were nothing compared to the secret glances shared between James and her.
The meeting of their eyes when they could tell exactly what each other was thinking. James and his glance that read apologies for his family baggage when he could feel her distress. Or when he couldn’t help but smile at just how perfectly Alice handled everything, it was like she had grown up with this, or perhaps it was simply where she was meant to be.
She decided to indulge on James conversation with his Aunt Iris, even though she felt slightly awkward, not really knowing what they were talking about. “Where’s Uncle Wes?” James questioned as the friendly woman laughed and fake scolded, who Alice supposed was her husband. “Oh you know him, always working. He wanted to be here tonight, really, but there was an emergency at his new job. He said he’d drop in for the last dance for me.” She finished off her words with a wink and Alice mentally applauded her for her middle-aged juvenility.
Alice, grateful that Iris Castell wasn’t asking her any questions at the moment, because she could enjoy the bit of silence to observe. Her eyes winded through the mass of people and, with her luck, she found Benjamin Castell entertaining himself with his latest lady victim.
Even at her far distance, she could see his charming smile that only grew when the girl he was discussing with blushed. She was pulled out of her people watching when she heard the friendly woman mention her name mid question. “Alice, dear, have you been enjoying yourself so far? I know it’s quite an adventure. The woman smiled a knowing smile.
There was something about her. A sense of peace, fun, or maybe knowledge. Alice spoke with a friendly smile. She didn’t feel intimidated by this woman, which was really nice at the moment. “It’s definitely something, but it’s amazing.”
The woman read the girl’s look and she winked at her. “Don’t worry, it get’s better. Just let them huff and puff a little bit, they’ll go buy something expensive, and then they’ll all get over it.”
Iris was then summoned over by another woman her age and she gave another wink to James before brushing past them to join another conversation. James explained little details in Alice’s ear. “I’m related to my Aunt Iris by marriage. She married my Uncle Wes, who is my father’s cousin. She was an outsider, like you, when he brought her to this party. You should see her and my Uncle Wes together, it’s hilarious. They flirt like teenagers. She wanted to meet you, because she gets it.”
It explained the knowingly apologetic smiles and winks. This woman had definitely met the top five of Alice’s favorite of the royal family members. She asked another question. “And this Ronan party, is it always held here? At your house?”
They continued walking through the less crowded parts of the intricate ballroom as their conversation continued. “As long as I’ve been alive, yes. It was held at my father’s house that he grew up in before that. It’s a lineage thing that’s passed down…” He trailed off and then answered her unspoken question. “Me and my brothers will play rock paper scissors for it when I leave Alcazar. Most people’s money is on Mason, mainly because I never lose and Ben thrives off pure luck.”
She looked at him skeptically, ignoring the fact that she found it comical that him and his brothers would do something so simple about something so big. “You never lose, huh?”
His smile met her playful look and his voice sound out confidently and almost too serious. “Trust me, when you live in a house with my two brothers, you learn to dominate rock, paper, scissors.”
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