There's only one way to leave gracefully. I punch my thumb and call out for help. Within a minute a Messenger appears. I think it's the same one that ran into me earlier because the bike handles are covered in silver duct tape. "Yes, ma Lady?"

"Get me out of here, now," I whisper.

"Yes, ma Lady." He folds down a back seat and I awkwardly hop on knowing all those eyes are watching. Before I can grab his shoulders we're off and I wobble just to stay on the bike. The wind flows through my hair as we clear the quad and zoom under the catwalk. Glancing back, I see Officer Aquilegia belting orders into her radio. She will have the gate locked by the time we reach it. "To the creek!" I yell at my Messenger.

"Yes, ma Lady." He makes a graceful turn to the left and we go off-road. The mountain bike tires absorb some of the shock but I have to grip his broad shoulders more tightly to stay on. Tall grasses hover over our heads, hiding us from the school as we gain momentum down the slope. A distant rumble of thunder booms.

At the quaint bridge which is really just a few planks of wood across the bubbling water, his tires stop with a rattle and jolt. I hop off and promise the payment he expects. We're still on school grounds so neither of us can get in that much trouble. It's a win-win; I can skip my last classes and he'll be able to keep his job.

"Good day, ma Lady." No sooner does he say this than the messenger command button above the brakes glows and I'm no longer his problem. "Messenger called by Cord of Arnica tribe, needed in the quad," it speaks. The messenger makes a slow start back up the hill and then he's out of sight. He's under no obligation to be my cover but I hope he won't give me away.

Standing at the edge of the wooden planks, I think about crossing. It's only five feet down to the water but for me that's a long way. When we were little we came here for a ceremony that symbolized getting older. We simply crossed the bridge to earn rank. Right now I don't want to cross, I just want to roll down the mossy bank and sink into the water.

From here I could swim upriver all the way home to our high mountain stream. But I'm not that brave. Even though they pretend to stay out of my business, my family has been watching every move I make with Del. His many calls over the summer and that one glorious hour at the bookstore I like to call a date gave me hope that he wanted to promise me his kiss, which is a big deal in the Grove. The ultimate experience for those around my age―fifteen winters―is the same: this kiss that holds our past, present and future. Why would Del tease me when he knows how crucial a promise is?

Right now I hate him.

The thunder reminds me that the usual afternoon rainstorm is approaching. There is no cover here so I'll feel the full force of it. That's fine with me.

When the drops start they are soft and cleansing. I open my arms and take the first deep breath I've had all day. The water soaks into my pores and squishes under my toes rooted to the moss. But soon it's pelting and stinging until I realize the rain has turned to hail. I cover my head and bow to the ground as silvery stones hit me from every angle. Since no one can see tears in the rain, I give in and cry. What did Del actually say about me? I want to know and not know at the same time.

The storm is over in minutes and soon the sun shows up, turning the world to steam. I like the feeling of being in a sauna and get energy in resuming the sunbath that was interrupted at lunch.

I reach for my phone inside its waterproof case in my soggy bag. I have to know. I text Lily twice and there's no answer. But as I'm thinking of who else would tell me, a number I don't know pops up.

"PU! Del says u smell."

Of course I smell. It's the trait that keeps our tribe safe from predators. Is that what he said about me? I suddenly find this hilarious. If that's all it was―if he didn't ruin my reputation with all that midnight swim business―I'll be okay. He'll be murdered in his sleep when he least suspects, but my future of a promise isn't ruined.

A rustling startles me. That transfer kid Cord is on top of the grassy hill and he's waving and heading my way. What even? The last thing I want is to talk to anyone. Unless he has an update on the yahoos who are looking for me. What if they sent him; he summoned my Messenger, but why?

"Hey there," he says all friendly and casual. His white uniform shirt is rolled up at the sleeves. His blond hair spills over the collar, something the campus coaches are usually after guys about fixing, but they probably leave him alone like the rest of us do.

"Hi," I squeak. I must look as hideous as I sound.

"Perfect day for a bath, Fuchsia is it? I can tell why they named you that." He looks at my soggy curls.

"Yes, fabulous. Did they send you to find me?"

"It's super to meet you too. I'm Cord by the way. Just here doing some water quality research so don't mind me." He takes a couple small vials from his backpack and heads past me down the bank.

"So you didn't know I was here?" I call.

"And a nice surprise it was. I'm usually out here alone during lab." I can see him bending down at the water's surface. He fills the vials one at a time.

"Well, don't mind me either, unless I smell or something."I lie back down to absorb the full force of the sun.

He lifts his head into the wind and nods. "Actually you do."

"Excuse me?!" I jerk up from my relaxing pose.

He climbs the bank and puts the vials in his backpack as I watch in disbelief. His task now over, he looks at me. "You're supposed to. You're from Brook Primrose tribe. If you didn't love the water and smell a little who would you be?"

"Easy for a noble doctor from Arnica tribe to say."

"We prefer the term healer, and I'm not one yet and certainly not noble. Anyway, I like the way you smell. It's like the water itself, briny and full of minerals, and healing minerals at that."

"Nice save." This is the silliest conversation I've ever had. "Okay, why did you call my messenger after I ran away?"

"I didn't know he was your messenger. I'm just trying to fit in. If I get my own vials for class every day they say I'm aloof and I would like to make at least one friend here."

Something tells me he just did, but I don't say it. Instead I stay and watch him walk back to school. "Wait! I call. "You won't tell them where I am, will you?"

"It'll be our little secret, unless you want to walk back in with the pitiful transfer. Then I can tell them you were just helping me."

He knows what people say about him and doesn't care? "Won't that get you in trouble?"

"They pretty much leave my family alone. Never know when they might need our help." He crosses his arms and waits for my decision like he's got all the time in the world.

I plunge into the steamy grass and follow him back up the bank.

A/N: What do the colorful students most resemble?

a. fish

b. birds

c. wildflowers

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