Three: Talks, Trixie, and Pink-Haired Boys.
I lay in bed that night, staring at the ceiling. I won’t see this house again. Maybe not forever, but a long time. Who knows how long it’ll be?
My door creaks, and a sliver of light creeps into the room. I see that it’s Lynda, looking apologetic. She closes the door quietly and comes over, waiting by the side of my bed. With a sigh, I scoot over, allowing her room to climb in.
“So,” she says after getting settled, pulling the covers up under her chin. “What are you thinking? How do you feel?”
I close my eyes, savoring the moment. Even though I’m furious at her, this might be the last time I have a long, thoughtful conversation with my sister.
“I feel terrible.”
She sighs, turning to me. I study her round face and full lips, the beautiful eyes that match mine but have darker, prettier eyelashes. No wonder Gregory loves her.
“Was that the first time you kissed?”
Lynda ducks her head. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yes, you do.”
She looks back up at me, grinning gorgeously. “No.”
I gasp, trying to appear excited. “When?”
“The day after you…well, you know.”
“Tell. Me. Everything.”
She frowns. “Ugh! I hate feeling happy when everything at home is so…bad. But I think that’s part of the reason it’s such a relief to be happy.” She grins. “I was sitting on his couch and we were talking. I just…I kind of leaned forward and then he was awfully close so I kissed him.”
I’m silent for several moments. “Wait…you kissed him?”
Somehow, that gives me a small feeling of satisfaction. I don’t know why. I should be happy that Gregory and Lynda are a couple now, but I’m not. I tell myself it’s just because tomorrow my life is going to change. Permanently.
“Do you think it’s going to be bad?”
“What?” She asks. “Being with him?”
I roll my eyes. “No. The Home. Where I’m going.”
She slings an arm around me, and it takes me a moment to realize she’s crying. “Oh, Kate. What am I going to do without you?”
I try to smile. “Who’s going to brush your hair every night?”
She raises her head slightly to look at me. “Who’s going to talk about Gregory with me? Who’s going to paint fingernails with me? Who’s going to play ‘Would-You-Rather’ every Sunday night with me?”
I sigh. “Dad, Mom, and Dad.”
“Huh?” She looks at me strangely.
“Dad can talk about Gregory with you-“
She smacks me playfully before I can finish. “Not. Happening.”
I giggle, despite myself. “Mom can paint nails with you. And Dad can play ‘Would-You-Rather’ on Sundays.”
She shriek-laughs. “But Kitty. Some of the questions we ask are bad!”
I snort. “Would you rather kiss Gregory after eating a super garlic-y meal, or kiss Gregory after a long, sweaty workout?”
She wrinkles her nose. “Ew.”
I laugh. “Which one do you think dad would pick?”
She laughs, too. “He’d probably kiss Gregory after a super-sweaty workout.”
“Probably,” I agree with a giggle.
Then we’re laughing for no reason, as sisters sometimes do. I grab her hand and squeeze it once, twice.
“I hope wherever I’m going has boys.”
She nods earnestly. “Cute ones.”
“And tousled hair.”
Lynda snorts. “You sound like you’re describing Greg.”
In that moment, I am terribly glad it’s dark so she can’t see me blush.
“Uh-huh, sure. And I’m the one that said ‘with dimples’ aren’t I?”
When she doesn’t answer, I guess that she is blushing, too.
“I heard you talking to Gregory today.”
“Ah…” I say, exhaling in one big gush. “So you heard.”
I can feel her nodding beside me, though I refuse to look at her.
“Kitty…Kate…are you really that unhappy?”
I sigh. “Look, Lyn, I don’t want to talk about it. I basically poured my heart out to those stupid people today, only to be banished. I won’t get to live with you anymore. I won’t get to talk to you everyday. I won’t get to see Greg, or Reida, or Margo.” I pause, struggling to calm myself.
“You didn’t act as if you cared before,” Lynda whispers.
Even though she says it quietly, the words are still sharp. I sit up, abruptly shoving her away, and after a moment she stands.
I turn and face the wall, refusing to answer her.
The next morning mom comes to help me pack my things. We fold shirts and jeans, sweaters and jackets, socks and underwear in stony silence. I wonder if she’ll miss me, or if she’ll be glad to see me gone. At least she knows I’ll be safe. That I won’t be planning every single second about how to get away. That part is over. This…this is my only choice now. My only future.
We get into our car to drive to the Home, which really isn’t that far and is within a fifteen minute distance. Dad turns on the radio, while Lynda sings along. I stare out the window, feeling neglected and alone. Why are they pretending this is normal? Do they really not care?
“Of course we care,” mom says softly, turning around. I frown when I realize I’ve spoken the words out loud. Oh, well.
“Then why the quiet? Why won’t anyone look at me, or talk to me?”
“Because,” dad says, and then cuts off.
“I’m leaving,” I say, anger rising up inside me. My throat feels hot, my words feel powerful. I glare at mom, then at window, catching dad’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “I’ll only get to see you once a week. I’m on my own, now. You guys are good as gone.”
Mom throws a hand over her mouth, stifling a sob. At once I feel terrible, but when I reach forward to comfort her, she leans away. That leaves my face feeling numb and stinging, like somebody slapped me. They might as well have.
The roar of the engine suddenly cuts off and I realize we are parked. Dad hurries out of the car, going to the trunk to pull my two bags out. Lynda jogs over to mom’s side of the car, talking quietly with her. All the while I sit in the backseat, hardly believing this is happening.
“It’s time to go, Kate,” Dad murmurs, coming to peek in at me through the open car door. He gestures for me to move, and this sets me in motion. I unbuckle my seatbelt, crouching down in order to edge my way out of the small car.
Lynda is waiting. She throws her arms around me, pulling me close. Her hair smells like lilacs, her favorite shampoo. Her eyes, shining with tears, are more beautiful than ever. Like two pools of glistening water. I touch her face briefly, then turn away. From the corner of my eye, I see mom in the passenger seat, blowing her nose. She keeps her head down, averting her gaze. I will not get a goodbye from her. Not today.
“You ready?” Dad asks, looking down at me.
I nod, forcing a smile. “Let’s go.”
We walk forward, and I study the brown brick building in front of me. It is several stories tall, too many to count, yet elegant despite it’s hulking size. The pathways have little green shrubs planted alongside of it. It’s all very beautiful, yet haunting. I feel disturbed and at peace. It’s a strange mix.
We go up to the double doors, knock, wait. There is the padding of feat, more than one pair, and the knob is turned. When it doesn’t give, there is the sound of hurried whispers and a click as a lock is turned.
Maybe I was expecting to see several adults, maybe animals, I don’t know. But when the door opens, I sure didn’t expect to see several teenagers, of all shapes and sizes. Impulsively, I step back, taking in the enormous group.
“Excuse me, excuse me,” a high-pitched, screechy voice is saying, though I have yet to see who it belongs to. Kids shuffle to the side, and suddenly I’m face-to-face with a long-haired, pale, porcelain girl. Her unsettling black eyes are boring into mine, unblinking.
“I’m Abigail,” she says in a lilting purr. “But you can call be Trixie. You’re the new girl.” She closes her eyes, and I jump a little as she reaches out to touch my cheek. “Your name is Kathryn, sometimes Kate, and occasionally Kitty. You are fifteen, you can levitate, and you are a very controlling person.”
“How did you know that?” I demand in a whisper, stepping even further away. The teenagers continue to stare at me with curious eyes. Some of them look nice, with regular, normal hair colors. Others though, like Trixie, are strange. I study a boy with bright pink hair, a nose ring, and a sneer. He catches me looking and his face widens into a terrible grimace. His teeth shift, and suddenly he has enormous canines extending down his face, past his jaw. From beside me, dad winces.
“Don’t be afraid of Connor,” Trixie says with excitement. “He just likes to pretend to be mean, when really he’s not.”
Suddenly pink-hair nose-ring Connor is gone and a brown-haired boy with an easygoing smile and lanky body is in his place. I stare at him, openmouthed.
“That’s his talent,” Trixie explains. “He can change shape, to whatever he wants.”
As if to prove her point, the nice boy from before is gone and pink-hair is back, only now he has two nose rings instead of one.
“What does he really look like?” I find myself saying.
Trixie shrugs. “No one really knows. Not even him. He changes all the time, so be careful. The easiest way to tell when it's him is his voice. That never changes, no matter what. It’s super deep.” She turns to him. “Right, Connor?”
But a man with a beard and a top hat is standing there, not Connor. The man grins, shuffles, and bows.
Trixie giggles, covering her mouth with her hand. She’s odd, for sure, but strangely endearing. I find myself trusting her when she grabs my arm and leads me forward.
“That’s Edgar, Tanner, Joseph, Allie, Deirdre, Quinton, Jody, Kiev-“ She stops here, indicting for the boy named Kiev to step forward. “Show her what you can do.”
He closes his eyes, and suddenly I’m closing mine too. He moves his arm, I move my arm. He does a hilarious, monkey-ish dance, and I’m doing the steps right along with him. I stare, openmouthed, until he closes his mouth and then I do, too.
“I can make anybody I want copy exactly what I’m doing,” he explains. All the while, he maintains eye contact with me. “But I can only…influence…them if I’m looking right at them.”
Trixie laughs, breaking the spell. “Okay, Kiev, you can let her go.”
He flicks his eyes to the left and suddenly I’m back in the position I was before.
“That’s cool,” I say, offering him a smile.
Trixie tugs on my arm with impatience. “That’s Wadell,”--a boy with a weird, orange color of eyes--“Endriss,”--a girl with warm brown hair and pale skin--“Noah and Nadine, the twins, Boyce, Leif, Uruk, Alva, and Josh.”
I stare at the kid named Josh, speculating. He, much like Abigail, has black eyes. His hair is a strange shade of black, almost purplish, one I have never seen before, and the tips are light green. He smirks at me with the confidence of someone extremely self-assured, and instantly I don’t like him. He’s like Connor, only less intimidating.
“Let’s see what you can do,” He snaps, shrugging away from the wall. I turn around to see dad has disappeared, but I’m not afraid. I have powers. I want to show this joker what exactly I’m capable of.
“Okay,” I say, but my voice wavers. He smiles wider and I grin back. With a flick of my wrist, he is suddenly off the ground, and pressed up against the ceiling.
Kids are howling, and Josh’s arms and legs are flailing helplessly. I giggle, and twirl my finger around. He begins to spin, in midair, before I drop my hand and he comes crashing to the ground, only to be stopped by me an inch before he hits the floor.
I set him down carefully, concentrating on making his landing gentle. When his feet touch the floor, he sighs with relief, then abruptly it turns to a glare.
“What a loser,” he laments before turning and hurrying from the room.
The teenagers around me begin applauding, all--I do some quick math in my head--all sixteen of them, not counting Abigail, who is positively rolling on the floor. That makes Josh number seventeen, and me, eighteen. Wow. Eighteen.
“Do me!” Connor shouts, stepping forward. I grin and raise my hand. Connor is suddenly floating in the air, laughing hysterically, shifting between pink-guy, brown-haired-guy, and someone new…me?
“Wait,” I say, dropping my arm. He comes crashing to the ground and hits the floor. Several people gasp and rush forward, but Connor is still laughing, holding his stomach.
“Are you okay?” I say, dropping to my knees beside him.
He chuckles, turning into brown-haired boy. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“I’m so sorry,” I apologize, grabbing his shoulder and guiding him into a sitting position. “When you turned into me…I’m sorry, I just got surprised.”
He grinned. “It's easy to turn into you because, mainly--I actually have to see the person in order to be them.”
“You mean that pink-haired guy was real?”
“Yeah,” he says with a laugh. “And his name is Steve. My parole officer.”
“Parole…officer…” I say dazedly, letting him go. I stand up and step back, cringing when I bump into someone. I turn around to say sorry, but the apology catches in my throat.
“Hi…Greg,” I say after a long silence.
Everyone around me senses this is important and they turn, shuffling meekly from the room. After a few moments, only Trixie is there, eyeing us critically.
“Is this your boyfriend?” She asks after a long silence.
My face goes bright red. “No, of course not!” I look at Gregory out of the corner of my eye, gauging his reaction. “My sister’s actually.”
“Oh,” she says apologetically. “My bad. I’ll leave you two to talk.” She turns and scurries from the room, keeping her head down. Huh. We’ve embarrassed her.
Then we’re both looking at each other.
“I’m sorry,” we say at the same time, then laugh.
“You first,” I say with a giggle.
He forces a smile. “I’m sorry, Kitty. Like, really, really sorry. I wasn’t trying to be insensitive that day, but I guess I was.”
“You were,” I say flatly, smiling at him. “And I forgive you.”
“Whew, good,” he says, sighing with relief.
My eyes are suddenly very watery, and Greg pulls me close.
“Oh, Kitty, I’m so sorry this is happening.”
“It’s fine,” I say with a sniff. “So far, everyone seems nice. I like Trixie, and Connor. Kiev seems nice, too.”
“I don’t know who those people are,” he says, “but I trust you. You’ll be fine.”
I take a deep breath, stepping away from his embrace. “Okay. Um…bye.”
“Bye,” he whispers, bending over to brush his lips against my cheek. I hold still, my heart pounding. If I just turned my head slightly…
But then Gregory’s gone, and I’m too late.
I sigh, turning away from the front door. Dad suddenly appears from around the corner, takes me in his arms, and kisses my hair. It’s all very fast. I’m sure it’s because he doesn’t want me to see him cry.
“Your stuff is in your new room, Kate. Miss Selena, who runs this place, is waiting to talk to you up there. I love you. We’ll see you…” He pauses, struggling to control himself. “Next week.”
“Next week,” I agree, squeezing him lightly around the waist. I don’t feel sad anymore. Maybe a little ticked off, but this doesn’t hurt like I thought it would.
“Bye,” dad whispers, before turning and striding from the room, out the door. I’m tempted to go and wave out the front window, but I don’t.
“Trixie?” I call, taking in my surroundings. This must be the front hall. It’s tall, with vaulted ceilings, a chandelier, and a winding staircase that goes up to the second floor. There are two archways on either side of me. Everyone went through the left one.
I follow their path, smiling as I enter an enormous living room. It has two sectionals, a huge flatscreen television, and hardwood flooring. The ceilings in here are several feet tall, with windows that stretch all the way up, letting in tons of warm light.
“Did you call?” Trixie suddenly asks from behind me.
I whirl around. “Where is everybody?”
“In their rooms, I guess. There are two staircases.”
“Oh…” I reply. A silence settles between us.
“Well, I can show you to your room. Caroline is already in there.”
“Caroline?” I asked, confused. I don’t remember her introducing a Caroline.
“Yeah,” Trixie says with a nod. “She’s…quiet. She wasn’t downstairs earlier.”
“So there’re nineteen.”
We’ve started walking up the second staircase, which is just off the living room, when Trixie stops and stares at me. “Nineteen?”
“Nineteen of us,” I explain.
She sighs. “Yes, there are. And it seems that number grows everyday.”
We begin walking again, and I turn to her, trying at the same time not to trip on the surprisingly steep stairs.
“Why are you here?”
When I nod, she looks away.
“Trying to escape.”
My eyes widen. “Are most of you here for that, too?”
She looks at me with sadness. “We all are.”
I stand, stunned, as she begins to jog up the steps. It takes a second for me to gather my bearings enough to hurry after her.
“Why do most of you have different eyes?” I ask in earnest.
When Trixie speaks, there is a bitter edge to her voice. “We’re what you’d call unsortable. We all have talents that, unlike you, cannot be categorized by eye color. Most of us are very restless, as you can see, and we are uncomfortable with our lives. We don’t like being different. That’s why…we’re here…and it’s much better. Almost as good as it might’ve been if we had escaped from the compound. But we never do. No one ever does.”
I chew my lower lip nervously, following her down a narrow hall. Voices come from behind closed doors. Whispering about me, I’m sure. It takes a while before I can speak again.
“Then why…do you think…I’m here?”
She looks at me for a long time, tilts her head to the side.
“I guess I’m not sure.”
“This is your room,” she says, indicting to the door in front of her.
And then she swings it open.