16: Number The Stars

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Ever cried for what seemed like hours. All of the pent up emotion—all of the anxiety, the fear, the anger, the sorrow, the guilt—all of it seemed to flow out with her tears. When she was finished she felt hollow, but she knew that no more tears would come for Bountiful now. It felt like being sick, when your stomach finally emptied itself and the heaving stopped. The boys betrayed few tears; Acel in particular had simply shut down. He hadn't spoken a word since the Prophet left, nor had he offered any comfort to Ever or the others.

Rolan and Chy were talking quietly across the way. She had heard what sounded like crying coming from one of them but, like Acel, neither had spoken. Neither have you, she reminded herself. You sit here judging them when you've done nothing but weep.

Wiping her nose on her sleeve, she swallowed the last of the salty river that flowed over her cheeks and lips and into her mouth. There would be plenty of time for crying later. For now they still had the Prophet to deal with.

"We don't know for certain that he's telling the truth," Ever said. Her voice sounded thunderous after the long silence.

"Yes, he could be lying," said Rolan. "I only wish I believed it."

There was another long silence, and then Acel finally spoke.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "No use thinking one way or the other about it, and there's certainly no use debating it. Either they're gone or...or they're not. We don't know, and we won't, until—"

"There's something he's not telling us," she continued. "Why would he destroy everything and everyone and keep us alive? It doesn't make sense."

"For his sick amusement, probably. We'll never know," said Chy. She couldn't see his face. "They're not going to let us live, Ever. Only Heavenly Father knows what he wants from us—it's not as if he's said, is it? But either way, do you really see us walking out of here? Do you really see that happening? We've all known the truth since they captured us. It's over. It's over for Bountiful—"

"Shut up," said Rolan.

"Or what, Rolan?" Chy said, turning to look at his smaller cellmate.

"Stop it," Ever said, her whisper a shout.

"Just shut up, Chy," growled Rolan. "Everyone likes it better when you just shut up. That's what you're good at. Be a good boy and let Acel do your talking for you, like he always does."

The ire in Rolan's voice shocked Ever. Was this really happening? After all they'd just heard, now they were turning on themselves?

"Big words," said Chy. "Big words, Rolan. Bigger than you. What are you even doing here? How'd you get chosen? You've got a smart mouth, that's all. Can't fight, can't shoot. Can't get a girl to look at you crosswise. I'd blacken your eye if it wouldn't be like beating a wounded lamb."

"That's it, Chy," said Rolan quietly. "You pound me. You break my face. You hit me till it doesn't hurt anymore. It's all you're good for."

Ever heard a shuffle and saw Chy rise up.

"You fuggin'­­—"

"You know what you two remind me of?" asked Acel. He didn't raise his voice. He barely looked up. He kept his seat on the cell floor, his arms wrapped around his knees, his blond hair lank and dirty, and looked out at Chy and Rolan like he'd never seen them before. The sheer placidity of his question interrupted the argument more effectively than a shout ever could. Chy was standing dumbly over Rolan, fist cocked, and Rolan was hunched beneath him, squinting suspiciously across at Acel.

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