"Okay," the blond with a chiseled jaw and cool blue eyes - Nick, I remember - begins to say. He wipes his sweaty, shaking palms on his cargo shorts to hide his nerves. "The rules are: sprint to the first end you encounter and run straight back as fast as you can. No dilly-dallying, no sabotage, and especially, don't go farther into the Maze. Got that?"
The fifteen of us nod, some staring at their shoes like I am, others finding interest in the wall behind Nick. We're all nervous due to it being the first time we've all been in the Maze together, or went this far into it, for that matter.
"Yeah, one question," a stocky, tall boy with short hair interrupts, an air of rudeness in his tone. Most of those around me roll their eyes at the sound of his scratchy voice. I pull my lips into a line and shy away, trying not to draw attention to myself. I don't see the need in showing disrespect to someone we've known for two weeks. "How are we all gonna run at the same time? This is a narrow hallway."
"I was just about to get to that," Nick responds patiently. He, like me, hadn't rolled his eyes at the boy. That's part of the reason he's been elected as our unofficial leader- he listens to everyone. "We'll go three at a time, five trials, all fairly tested with this stopwatch." He holds up his arm to showcase the digital watch on his pale wrist, pointing to the stopwatch setting with his free hand. "So, who wants to go first?"
There are no volunteers. Nick scratches the back of his neck awkwardly.
A sigh from a tall, Asian boy named Minho seems loud compared to the quietness of the Maze. "I'll go."
"Great." Nick clasps his hands together, but he's still teetering on the edge of embarrassment judging by the way a flush is creeping up his neck. "We need two more."
Nick's facial features drop into a look of desperation. "C'mon, guys. The sooner we get volunteers, the sooner we get done with this. Minho, pick two more people."
Minho's eyes sweep over the group. His lip quirks up when he finds a volunteer - more like a victim - and the person heaves a defeated groan, stepping forward before his name is even called. It's a shorter boy with a shock of ginger hair named Clark. The many freckles scattered across his skin look brown in the dim lighting the Maze provides.
Mumbling an, "I hate you," as he steps next to Minho, Clark crosses his arms over his chest in annoyance. He almost seems to be pouting.
"And..." Minho scans us again, stopping on someone briefly before his eyes spark with mischief. Before I know it, he's pointing at where I slouch in the shadows of the others. "You, buttercup over there."
My heart freezes in my chest and spreads ice into my veins. I blanch in surprise, causing others to laugh and my face to flush. All of the air seems to be caught in my lungs. Despite the fact I know he means me - who else would be buttercup? - I stupidly point to myself and stutter, "M-Me?"
Minho chuckles, but not out of unkindness so much as amusement. "Yeah, you. Get on up here."
I can feel everyone's eyes on me as I join Clark and Minho alongside Nick. I should have known they'd pick me. Why wouldn't they? I'm the only girl. I'm shorter than most of the older ones- most of us are fifteen, or at least we look it, considering we can't remember our ages or anything else for that matter. Hiding in the shadows, for once, didn't save me.
"Okay, first end and back," Nick reminds us as we get ready. My sneakers dig into the stone as best as they can, trying to get a grip on the material. A box of these ridiculously white shoes had shown up two days ago. They did fairly well against the stone, I noticed, which would help in my favor compared to the chunky combat boots I arrived in. "On your mark" - I bend down and plant one foot behind me for leverage - "get set" - a deep breath, in and out - "go!"