Chapter 11

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Masking the injury to his back, he walked alongside Olivia.

“I think we’ll be fine now that some time has passed since we disappeared off the main street,” she explained. Sure enough, they emerged into the main street unnoticed. Nole breathed a sigh of relief after it became clear that they weren’t being followed. “Did you get anything off of that bigger guy?” The question caught Nole off guard. Since she had claimed Marco’s baton, there wasn’t any shame in revealing his prize. He fished the switchblade out of his pocket. “Can I see?” Obligingly, he offered it to her.

The way she prodded at the weapon was strange in Nole’s eyes. Judging by how she was holding it with the tips of her fingers and distancing it from her body, she was unfamiliar with it, or afraid of it.

“Can I ask you something?” he questioned as she was extending the switchblade back toward him. Taking her silence as consent, he continued. “Where’d you learn to fight?”

She didn’t answer immediately. In fact, a few minutes passed before she spoke. By the time she answered, Nole had thought she’d ignored him altogether.

“Before I met Betty, it was just me and my older brother.” The first line had Nole hooked instantly. Brother? “I was only ten back then, around the same age as Suri, right?” The way she looked up at the midday sun looming above them, Nole could tell it wasn’t a question for him, but one asked for her own clarity. “He was a couple of years older than me. I don’t know how you are with your brother and sister, but he and I used to fight, more than I care to admit.”

She looked down at her feet and held the strap of the bag with both hands. He couldn’t tell at first, but when she lifted her head, she was smiling. “He was a big wrestling fan. I mean, he would mimic every move he saw all the pro wrestlers do on TV. So of course, when we had our spats, those moves came out.

“Long story short, I began researching moves myself. Not after long, we were duking it out on equal ground. Eventually, we started using props to up the ante.” The short chuckle that escaped her briefly echoed around the tall buildings surrounding them.

For the first time since they’d met, Nole actually recognized Olivia’s youth. Of course she had initially told Nole she was fourteen during his tour of the complex, but her intellect, fighting ability, and manner of speaking, always made him perceive her as mature. It was only by listening to her innocent laugh that he was reminded of just how young she was.

Even though he was only two years older, his misfortune and hardships made Nole feel old. Not in the sense that he was elderly, but in the sense that he’d been through so many rough times, it felt as if he were looking back on numerous decades of his life, instead of just sixteen years.

“Where is he now?” he asked without thinking. Once he saw Olivia’s smile disappear, he instantly regretted the question. Before he could attempt to retract it, she gave another one of her concise responses.

“He died.”

Is that why she volunteered to help me? She can definitely relate to the situation of losing a brother, however in my case it isn’t permanent. At least... I hope not. He felt horrible when he thought back to how he’d suspected her of having ulterior motives for helping him.

“I’m sorry,” was all he could say. He didn’t dare ask how her brother died, or even about her parents. He’d only intended to gain information about her fighting skills, not intimate details of her past. Avoiding their pasts was initially his number one rule when interacting with Olivia, Zane, and Valerie, and within a matter days, he’d broken that rule.

They walked in silence until reaching City Square. Olivia had advised that they take an alternative route due to the increased security around the fountain, but Nole stuck with the original plan. Not only was it the fastest way, but he also wanted to see the fountain himself. Once there, they loomed in the outer edges observing, the commotion before them. There were a dozen Enforcers stationed around the Square, most of whom guarded the immediate proximity of the fountain and those crowding around it.

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