Chapter 7: Hazel Tree

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I didn't make it. I'd jumped onto Horses before, many times before, in fact, and never missed, though admittedly, I wasn't usually under so much pressure.

My fingers brushed the cold metal and tried to close around it, only managing to slip. My world had been ending, one disaster at a time, ever since Mother got sick. Now it was officially over.

At least, that's what I had thought before a hand closed around mine.

I looked up. "Jack!"

He smiled grimly, barely hanging on himself.

"Get them!"

The Horse was still accelerating, constantly growing faster. I felt my hand slip, but Jack tightened his grip.

I thought of all we'd gone through to stay free. There was no way I was getting caught again. I swung my other arm up and caught hold of the railing. I started to tell Jack to let go of my hand, but he was already on it.

When we'd boosted ourselves onto the little platform, wind whipping against us now, I slumped back against the metallic surface that was the back of the Horse.

Jack was giddy, grinning and laughing like a madman. Part of me was with him- probably the part still feeling the adrenaline- but the rest of me only swallowed and watched the station slowly recede behind us. There was something final about it. Like in getting on this Horse I'd left my entire world behind.

"Um, so. . ." Jack said when his excitement finally seemed to have worn off. "Now what?"

.         .           .         .         .         .         .             .           .         .          . 

I sat back in my seat and closed my eyes, letting the gentle whir of technology steady me. At least for now, I was still in Juxtaposition. My surroundings still made sense.

The temporary solace evaporated, and unease trickled back into my system. I shifted in my seat, unable to steady my thoughts for long. What the steel had I gotten myself into?

I no longer had a home, my only friend had adeptly proven that I couldn't rely on anyone, and here I was, speeding on a Horse with a boy I'd only just met today, off to some far-off mountains rumored to be magical.

I breathed out slowly, working to control myself.

I was back in my haven. The world was still. The smell of mingled smoke and exhaust wafted to me on a gentle breeze that stirred the leaves of my hazel trees. I leaned back against our gate, legs stretched straight out before me.

No. Not happy enough. The beauty of those moments was accompanied by equally poignant pain and sadness.

My father pushed the billows down. "C'mon, Skai. You know your mother doesn't want you out here with all this hot metal."

My five year old form grinned innocently, hands behind my back. "Whatcha makin'?"

He laughed helplessly and folded his arms. "As if you don't know."

His response delighted me, and with childlike enthusiasm I asked, "And it'll have a hazel tree, won't it? Just for Mother."

My small smile faded, and I felt a pain so sharp, I might as well have been stabbed. It had been over a year since she died, but the pain had never gone away.

"Hey. You okay?"

I opened my eyes. Jack sat across from me, concern clearly etched into his features.

I stood. "Yeah. I just- I'm gonna go see if I can find some food."

"Oh. Okay." Jack watched me closely as I passed him, and I felt a flash of anger. I'd made it just fine on my own. I didn't need him, or his pity. I knew it was silly to be mad at Jack, especially when he'd just saved me (if not my actual life, then my freedom), but I didn't care. I'd braved the streets of Juxtaposition for coming on seven months now. I could handle myself.

"Skyscrapers!" I cried, eyes widening, as I jerked to a stop in front of the strange man who'd called to us at the station. You know, the obvious foreigner I wasn't entirely sure was sane.

"Really? Where?" He looked around eagerly, as if he might see one.

I opened my mouth but no words came. Well that was a first.

"Ah. Cat got your tongue?"

What the gold was that even supposed to mean? I snapped out of my trance and smiled. "Pardon me, sir, I was just on my way to the kitchens. . ."

"No need to apologize little miss!" he boomed. I looked around, wary of what kind of attention we must be attracting, but no one was looking our way.

"I wonder if I could interest you in-"

"Sorry," I cut him off. "But I really need to go. Bye!" I raced around him and looked back to make sure he wasn't pursuing me.

Only, he wasn't there anymore.

I shook my head. This was too weird.

A/N: Thanks for reading! Comment below: what did you like? Dislike? Have you ever had to leave your home before? I'd love to hear from you!

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