September 15, 2357
Rooftop of Genesis NW Building 5
The back of her neck was scarlet, she had rubbed it so many times. Touching it now was like smacking a sunburn, so Ari forced her hand to continue gripping the ledge that she sat on. She'd really never noticed before, but it was actually quite peaceful on the roof. Occasionally someone would park their car or even leave. Twice, actually, the bus stopped and swapped out passengers. But all of that was far enough removed from Ari that she felt comfortable with her legs hanging off the thirty-five story building.
And everything was far enough removed for her to drift back to last Monday. The day she'd become the most desperate person alive.
Confusion filled her as she stepped off the Senior. There was a pronounced buzz in the air on Floor 19 and Ari had only been able to catch snippets of conversation. Two words were floating through the air as if they were divine prayers. Cai. Balere. A name Ari would forever be unable to rid from her mind. It made her need to find Eila grow to unparalleled lengths.
Surprisingly, she found her best friend right beside Ari's locker, looking decidedly impatient. Before she even had time to ask, Eila shoved her tablet at her. Ari knew better than to ask, taking the proffered computer and looking at the screen.
Her heart picked up the pace even while the void pretended to be covered. It was always the same reaction when she saw his picture. Like her very soul recognized him. Unreasonable as it was, it was also a feeling she was incapable of shaking.
"Read!" Eila demanded impatiently, seeming to have no time at all for Ari's body to adjust.
Shifting her eyes from the photo was akin to a form of torture, but Ari did as her friend demanded. Never in her life had she been so dumbstruck as when she was reading that article. Even the day she was finally adopted could not compare to the pure, unadulterated shock she experienced in that moment. And nothing in the world could compare to the importance placed upon that single announcement.
"I have to go," Ari whispered to herself. Raising her eyes to meet Eila's, she insisted yet again, "Eila, I have to go!"
She was already nodding. "I know. I'll talk to my parents as soon as I get home. If I can—and I make no promises!—I'll try to get us a place in the top twelve. Believe me, Ari, I know how important this is to you."
True to her word, Eila had pulled on every string in her parent-manipulation manual. First she had played on their affections for their loving daughter. That only got her the five thousand credit admission. When she had succeeded in securing at least her own position, she had brought up the fact that it was Ari's birthday as well as Cai's. What could be better than allowing her friend to celebrate her birthday at the biggest, most charitable birthday party of the year? Somehow, that speech had inspired them to pay for Ari as well.
However, the part that proved the most difficult, by far, had been Eila's long, drawn-out debate over being in the top-twelve donators. Looking at the site provided specifically for the Housing of Foster Youth Organization/Cai Balere Alliance, hundreds of people were already doing their best to stake their claim at a top spot. Much like an auction, the numbers rose by the hour.
It was a demeaning waste of time and credits, according to Mrs. Maible. As far as she was concerned, paying for Eila and Ari to go in the first place was generosity enough. To embarrass the Maible name by asking for more than what was already socially acceptable was anathema.
YOU ARE READING
Separate, they are nothing. Together, they are a secret worth killing for. Ari Keir has always felt hollow. An empty longing has lived inside her chest for as long as she can remember. And for nearly eighteen years, she never knew what caused it...