25 - Where There is Talk

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25

         In a small voice, I said, “Do you think the school noticed by now?”

         Jacoby laughed once. “Definitely. Our friends probably noticed right away. No sleeping bag. No bag.” He slid down in his seat and tilted his head back. “We’re going to have to budget our money.”

         I nodded my head, even though he couldn’t see. “I was actually kinda surprised we were allowed to stay at the motel. Aren’t you supposed to be eighteen and older?”

         Jacoby smiled wryly. “The guy didn’t really care. I paid him extra.”

         I pursed my lips, letting him know I was not a big fan of transactions like that. “Well, we should figure out a legal way to bunk for the night. Hotels won’t accept bribes.”

         He nodded and turned his head to peer past me, out the window. “We’ll get off in four more stops. That should take us to Caston.”

         “We’re heading east, right?”

         “Yup. But I don’t know if the hideout’s north- or south-east. I don’t know how east it is, either. I mean, I could say east of China and it would still be east. Or east of Greece.” He sighed and tore his gaze away from the road. It was nine in the morning, and we’d missed the crack-of-dawn traffic. “Our best bet is to find a Guider.”

         “How? How do we get our hands on a Guider?”

         “We’ll just set up a snare in the forest and wait for one to come by.”

         I eyed him. He met my gaze and cocked an eyebrow.

         “Is sarcasm an emotion?” I asked.

         He laughed and his smile lit up his face briefly. I didn’t get to see him smile like that enough. “As far as I know, it isn’t.”

         “So that’s why I can see it on your face.”

         I had meant for it to be a joke, or a slide-by comment, but his face fell, and he dropped my gaze.

         “Jacoby, I’m sorry, I didn’t…It was a joke,” I said. It wasn’t. It was a truth, and this time it was me that crossed our unspoken line into touchy territory; he knew what I was apologizing for.

         “It’s all right.” He raised his eyes again and gave me a small smile.

         “So…I’m guessing Guiders aren’t very common?” I asked, eager to steer away from the topic of Imaginers.

         Jacoby did not reply for a moment. “Not too sure about that. I don’t know how common or uncommon they are, but I’ve never been sure whether a person was a Guider or not.” He grimaced, but became calm the next moment. I searched for a new flower.

         “Cactus,” he murmured, using his toe to push the prickly plant towards me. I lifted my feet and crossed my legs, something of an accomplishment because all of our belongings were piled between us.

         He picked up where we left off. “I guess it’s the same thing: if we can’t spot a Guider, it’s the same concept as there being very few Guiders.”

         “True.”

         We fell silent again, swaying back and forth as the bus took us even further away from home.

         “So how are we going to do this?” I asked. It seemed like we’d been going over the same questions again and again, but we hadn’t answered any of them.

         “Well,” he said with a sigh. “We keep our eyes peeled. That’s pretty much all we can do. It’d be too risky to ask around.”

         I was in mid-nod before a thought struck me. “What if Guiders see you?” I blurted, a little horrified. “The bad Guiders, I mean.” I hushed when Jacoby placed a finger to his lips. He leaned in to answer me.

         “I hope you’ve been working hard in gym class, because the only solution I can think of is to book it.”

         “There isn’t a way to keep them from seeing you?” I squeaked.

         “Nope. Between the two of us, you’re the safest. Actually, between me and any kind of Other, they would be the safest.” He frowned and stared down at his legs. A field of white had settled on the dirty bus floor, a blanket of pearly snowdrops.

         I smiled woefully and rubbed his arm, trying to offer him as much consolation as I could. “I won’t ditch you,” I promised. I leaned over and, pretending like I was reaching for something in my bag, swept my hand over the exhausted flowers. They raised their heads in turn, like a wave at a ball game, but the moment my hand passed, they lowered them again, giving a collective sigh, the whisper of a thousand books and a thousand pages being turned all at once.

         “Tell me about the different Others,” I murmured, offering Jacoby a smile.

         He stared at his flowers for several seconds, then sighed. Fought valiantly to return my smile. And he did, with much twitching of his jaw muscles, though anyone could tell it wasn’t genuine.

         “Let’s have a quiz,” he said, eyes brightening a little when I groaned.

         “On what? Didn’t we run away to avoid school?” I teased.

         There was a faint suction-cup sound, and the cactus and snowdrops disappeared, to be replaced by dandelions.

         “You might’ve run because of that, but not me.”

         I stuck my tongue out at him. “Fine, let’s have it.”

         “What is an Imaginer?”

         I couldn’t pass up the chance to make fun of him. “A rude, conceited, obnoxious, two-faced boy by the name of Jacoby Harold.” I had intended it to be a joke, and only a joke, but his face fell a little.

         “Do you really think I’m all of those?” he asked in a quiet voice, eyes searching my face.

         My mouth hung open, amazed at how much my joke had backfired. No more teasing for me. “No, not at all,” I said, in a hurry to make amends. “Everyone’s rude at one point or another, and you’re not conceited, you’re too shy for that, and your obnoxiousness makes me laugh. And you’re not two-faced, you’re just a different person around different people,” I babbled, my face growing hot. “You’re a lot more thoughtful when it’s just the two of us.”

         He held my gaze, studying me thoroughly. “Really?”

         “Yes,” I said, playing with one of my laces. “A lot calmer, too.”

         He smiled crookedly, looking at me, really looking at me. “Jasslyn,” he whispered, leaning in closer.

         “What’re you doing?” I squawked.

         “For that comment,” he murmured, dragging out his words and all in all making it torture for me.

         I repeated my question, but he only ignored it again.

         “We can skip your quiz,” he said, a smile lighting up his face, then disappearing. A heard a giggle, and knew that his pansies, and perhaps his dandelions, whatever they stood for, were back.

         We passed the rest of the bus ride to Caston in no time. Jacoby told me everything he knew about Others, and explained to me—surprisingly patiently—what special abilities they had.

(**A/N: We're between a half and a third of the way through the entire manuscript. This is when you can really tell that Imaginer is a novel, not a short story online. That being said, as I've mentioned before, it's difficult finding breaks where there aren't any xD Stay tuned, and drop me a comment!)

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