It’s Thursday, so today I go to work instead of school. I’m thankful for the respite because I don’t want to run into Donovan, and I definitely don’t want to see Christine and Kelly make passes at him now that he’s on the market.
I skip breakfast because I hate whole-wheat toast with fat free and sugar free preservatives, and go straight to the Criminal Office. By the time I get there I already have another stack of files sitting on my desk.
“There’s no way this many crimes have happened since yesterday,” I say to Mom when she walks into my office around noon with my daily sandwich – Turkey sandwich Thursday with one slice of tomato.
“We’re backed up,” Mom says. “There was a riot downtown early this morning.”
“Really?” I ask, excited. “What happened?”
“Well, a flower stand toppled over when a kid ran into it with his bike. It was obviously a direct act against the establishment and anyone in the vicinity was written up for causing a public disturbance.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Who here has the money to buy flowers?” I joke, slightly disappointed it wasn’t a real riot.
Mom rolls her eyes at me and flicks her brown hair over her shoulder. “Then wait ’til you hear this, the flower seller was given a jail sentence for an indefinite time period. Hidden under the pansies was a stack of letters. Apparently he’s an illegal mail carrier over the border. I don’t know who his letters were for, but they aren’t getting there now.”
“Conspiracy?” I ask, laughing about the pansies.
“Possibly, not enough information to tell,” she says. Suddenly, mom gets nervous, “Anyway I have some files to sort through myself.”
She makes to leave but I interrupt her, “Mom, what’s wrong. You’re being weird.”
“It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.”
“Tonight,” she says in a rush as though she wants to get it out before she can stop herself. “Your father and I promised we wouldn’t say anything, but I heard yesterday that there’s going to be a Picking tonight.”
“Oh, not you, too,” I say and drop my head to my desk. Is everyone going mental?
“Cut me some slack Rae, I’m a mother with three kids.”
“You’re overreacting. Everything is going to be fine,” I say, opening a new file. Polly X232914, actively egged on the florist as he fought against an officer. Three days in isolation.
“You don’t know that Rae, don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
I look up at my mom as she walks out the door, which she shuts a little harder than usual. I hold my breath until I calm down. If I’m not going to let Donovan freak me out about this Picking, I’m not going to let Mom freak me out either.
I still have more filing to do when I leave work to meet her for dinner in the courtyard. Normally I don’t take work home with me, but today I leave with two files hidden in my backpack. They don’t belong with the ‘riot’ this morning, but somehow were included in the stack.
One belongs to a woman named Delia S1325438 from a town called Murphy. She was caught burning history books in Darkwood and was executed, which seems a little extreme. Another is of a man named Daniel V5940382. His son was Picked ten years ago and Daniel tried to kidnap him back. He was caught trying to cross the border and sent to jail for life imprisonment. The file doesn’t say anything about what happened with the son. The only reason he’s in our Criminal Office records is because he had made it to Darkwood before the Border Patrol caught up with him.
I’m drawn to these files like a moth to flame. Neither one has a happy ending, but it seems better to have a sad ending than no ending at all, which is what will happen to me if I stay here for the rest of my life.
I swipe my hand across my forehead. Darkwood is ninety degrees or hotter in the summer. Why my mother and I have made it a habit to eat outside every Thursday I’ll never understand. For dinner is our prescribed tofu pot pie, minus the pie and add the very flavorful nutrient infused vegetables, and Mom is already chowing down on hers by the time I get there.
“Thanks for waiting,” I joke, taking the pie she hands me. I try to swallow my first bite, trying not to touch the food to my tongue. We don’t say much, probably because we can’t think of anything to say. Mom is worried about the Picking, and just talking about it is going to upset her. Besides, I’d rather not talk about it anyway because it’s a waste of a conversation.
We get home much later than usual, the tofu pie having been extra nauseating and taking longer to ingest. I walk through the door to be attacked by a short monster. I pick Vivi up with a grunt and swing her around onto my back.
“It’s not nice to tackle people the second they walk through the door,” I tell her, taking the stairs two at a time. I pretend to kick open her door and Vivi squeals in laughter. I chuck her onto her bed and wrap her so tightly in her covers there’s no chance for her to escape.
“I feel like I’m in a straight-jacket.”
“Good, then you can’t get out to bother me in the middle of the night,” I tease her. Sometimes when she has nightmares, Vivian will wander into my room and snuggle up with me. I usually don’t mind, but I don’t feel like much company tonight.
“I’m assuming you want a story,” I say. Vivian’s eyes light up as she tries to nod yes, the wad of covers under her chin keeping her from going very far.
I tell her about a girl named Allison who lives in a town with a very high wall. The wall protects the town from the monsters outside, but every night the monsters threaten to break down the wall. To keep her people safe, Allison sneaks out and beats up the monsters so they never want to return.
“But does Allison come back?” Vivi asks me when I finish the story.
“Yes, baby doll,” I say and kiss her on the forehead. “She always comes back.”
I leave Vivian, who instantly falls asleep, and head back downstairs. I feel restless and wish the night were over. Come morning we can get back to our normal routines and quit fretting about pointless things.
My parents are sitting in the kitchen drinking tea. I’m surprised since the Upright don’t give us tea. Apparently they think tea will give us a sense of entitlement.
“Imported,” my mom jokes when I ask her where she got it. She pours me a cup and hands it to me.
“Someone must have gone through a lot of trouble to get it,” I remark, sipping the tea, grateful for its warmth. It’s hot outside, but my gut feels like ice.
“You’ve no idea,” Mom says and smiles.
I sit with them while they talk. Dad tells me stories of how he met Mom and proposed. He took her to the train station and they rode it until Mom asked where they were going. Dad got her off the train at the next stop and asked her to marry him. He had said that no matter where they go, he wanted her beside him.
“That is so cheesy, Dad,” I tease him.
“Yea, it kind of was,” Dad says, “but it worked.”
Mom just smiles and goes to sip her tea, but a knock at the door makes her stop cold.
I look at the clock in the dark and can see the minute hand a step away from ten. Whoever is knocking at our door isn’t making a social call.
I stand up. Fifteen seconds have passed. Dad stands up too, but mom stays frozen.
Thirty seconds ’til ten. No one has moved. Someone knocks again.
Dad walks towards the door. Fifteen seconds. He opens it.
“We’re here for Raegan,” says the Lieutenant standing in the doorway.
The lights go out.