The halls are quiet. I follow Cord to the office where he apologizes to Ms. Flores that he forgot to sign me out. I'm waiting for a barrage of questions about my soaking wet clothes when instead she smiles. "Got caught in the rain I see," she notices as she signs a slip for us both to go back to class. For me that's my language requirement and for him it's back to the lab so we mumble our byes and head in opposite directions. Opening my locker, I realize something has changed since the bridge. I'm not scared to walk into a roomful of people talking about me.
At the door, heads turn but I focus on handing Mr. Duncan my pass and then getting to my seat. Shoes move aside to let me down the narrow isle to my corner and I gain power from the widening path. That's right, wet smelly bitch comin' through! I sling my bag over the seat and rummage for my tablet.
We're conjugating bubble verbs in Trout and I already know so many, living by the water. But I work each one methodically to keep focused on this new normal. The back of my mind is picturing that moment by the bridge. Having a stranger tell the truth to my face feels oddly liberating.
After school I catch a glimpse of Del from afar. He's talking with someone dressed in yellow from head to toe and it looks like he's trying to get closer to the sun. She must smell sparkling clean. Lemon's posse lurks behind her as if she couldn't make one decision without them. Does she have any idea how long I waited for nothing? Paintbrush tribe girls can be clueless, cruel or both but they never look anything but pretty.
A golden bike messenger has now appeared to present a tiny box to Lemon, and Del beams with the credit. Even though the giver is right there with them, the messenger follows protocol and takes a photo of Lemon holding the gift―some gaudy bling―as a receipt. I feel like I'm gonna puke and rush to get outside as fast as possible.
I don't want to have to explain anything to people at swim practice but gliding through the water is my therapy so I head to the natatorium. In the locker room I apply extra deodorant. At least I'm not the only Brook Primrose tribe member on the team. Magenta's just as fast and we carpool home from practice so I guess that makes us friends.
In the water I pretend I'm a trout free to go where I want whenever I want. Each stroke builds until it's as if the water isn't even there. I am the water and it is me and we move in a healing rhythm.
Magenta gives me an encouraging pat on the back as we wait for her mom. "Hey, don't listen to Del and Lemon. They're so shallow you could get paralyzed if you jumped in their gene pool." I don't realize how much I need girl support until she says it.
Dinner is the usual low-maintenance affair. Mom and Dad compete for who had the worst day, he hassling people with immigration reform or she representing someone who got screwed by a builder when they took all their sun. I can tell they want to ask me about Del but know they can't unless I bring it up―my rules. A kiss is not a done deal until it actually happens, so I'm off the hook for now.
Lily never Face Times to beg me to go get dessert like she does almost every night. I let the hour pass and actually do homework. They say you know who your friends are if they'll stand up for you, but our relationship is mostly about hanging out and crushes. It's never really been tested, before now.
It's not until the sun throws its alpenglow against the mountain that I'm aware of the chill. Nights are cold all year round here and I brace myself for the shivering darkness to come, but sunburn coats my nose and shoulders from the twenty minutes I spent with Cord. Why did he help me today? I look up at the foggy band of the Milky Way stretching over us. That's when I hear the muffled scream echoing off the canyon walls. We all know what that means. There's been another beheading.
Cord's family moved here just in time for the gruesome cleanup.
A/N: What real creature are messengers based on?
Comment with your guess!
I've dedicated this chapter to amberkbryant. An award-winning Wattpad author, Amber needs little introduction. She has something for everyone: her gorgeous paranormal trilogy about a concept called the Fold, UNSEEN, reads like silk, and her daily account of a rescue mission during a revolution, EVERY DAY IN MAY, sends us scrolling for more letters between Merryn and Theo. DESERT WAKE features an authentic voice in a strange land, and if you're into vampires don't miss BLOOD KING currently in progress. Amber is one major reason I stay longer on Wattpad every day. Thank you, Amber!
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