Aliya leans back on my couch, hypnotized by the show on television. I take a seat beside her, having just changed out of my school uniform. After the show has finished we turn the television off and stare at the black screen in comfortable silence.
“Ella?” Aliya turns her whole body toward me, readying herself for a conversation.
She looks to an old framed photo of my grandmother and I, both wearing our disguises and seeming intensely happy as we hug each other and look at the camera with shining eyes. I haven’t had the heart to pack it away since she died.
“I was just wondering,” Aliya begins, hesitating as she finds the words to phrase her question. “Where is…you know, the rest of your family?”
“Oh…” I knew this query would come one day. “My mother died at my birth, and my father…well, he’s been a taboo subject. I don’t know who he is. All I was told was that he wasn’t an Aberration, or an Abnormality.”
A frown twisting her features, she looks at me with worried eyes. “He may be still alive, then. Why isn’t he with you?”
“I’ve been asking myself that same question my whole life.” I try to push the sorrow out of my voice, but I can’t. Who was he? He mustn’t have loved me, if he could bear to leave me with nobody to look after me but my grandmother.
“Well, we’d better get some answers then.” The glint of mischievousness that flashes in her eyes gives me an intense feeling of Déjà vu.
“No! Nothing illegal again!”
The glint dims in her eyes as she regards me with mock innocence. “Why would you think I want to do something illegal?”
I raise my eyebrows, giving her a stern look.
“Fine, fine. Maybe I was thinking something along the lines of breaking into the prison and seeing if your dad was in their records, but no – Auriella’s too rational to have some fun once in a while.”
“I’m beginning to seriously doubt your idea of fun at the moment, Ali.”
*Fine.” She turns her back on me childishly, her arms crossed and a pout on her lips. “You can be a wimp and not do anything about your father. See if I care.”
Her idea is tempting, yes, but too dangerous for me even to consider. With the police on high-alert, we stand no chance.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea.”
A weary sigh escapes my lips at Xavier’s voice. He closes the door behind him and stands with his arms crossed in the doorway. I’ve noticed that he does that a lot; not a day passes by without him crossing his arms and staring gloomily in thought.
“That’s because you two have demented minds,” I tell him.
“Great minds think alike.” Xavier winks at Aliya, making her flush and look away, embarrassed. Then he turns to me. “You’re such a coward, Holeyra.”
“Thanks,” I say sarcastically. “Welcome to the throw-insults-at-Aurie club which, frankly, you weren’t invited to.”
“Aurie?” A look of confusion crosses his face and I inhale sharply. Oh no. I shouldn’t have said that. He smiles after a moment, but I don’t let myself relax until he continues. “You have the weirdest nicknames. How did you extract Aurie from Holeyra?”
“Extract?” I tease, grinning now that the dangerous moment is over. “Are we using long words now?”
He shrugs, a smirk playing on his lips. “That’s hardly a long word. I understand, however, that with your lack of vocabulary it may seem so.”
Rolling my eyes, I scoot over so he can join us on the couch.
“No come-backs, Hollie?” he mocks.
“I told you not to call me that!” I growl through my teeth. “You can’t call me by any nicknames.”
“Because I don’t like you.”
He laughs loudly. “The feeling’s mutual, my dear.”
I scoop a hand-full of damp earth from beneath me and add it to the pile I’m making.
“Aurie! Auriella, where are you?”
“Here, Nanny!” I look up at her, blonde hair with intervals of brown mud falling across my face as I do so.
“Oh, children these days,” Nana mutters. “I can never keep up with you.” She has a smile despite her words, though, and her eyes shine with love as she picks me up and cuddles me close. Her dress gets stained but she doesn’t seem to mind as she kisses my mud-stained cheek. “Aurie, it’s your birthday today and you’re out here all by yourself, playing with mud.”