I wake up in a cocoon of blankets and kick them off wildly, breathing hard. It’s not until they’re all on the ground that I remember why I forced myself to sleep like that.
I get up and put on whatever clothes I grab out of the closet first. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, which makes me go back and change into something less skanky, before I head downstairs for breakfast. This morning Dana offers me French toast, but I shake my head. I make up some story about being allergic to yeast, which is obviously a lie, and eat a banana instead. Nobody mentions my strange disappearance from dinner last night. I figure they’re probably used to me doing weird things that this didn’t phase them anyway.
We go through our usual routine and Dana drops us off at school. It’s Monday, the day school should be on. I walk to my first class before I realize I haven’t said a word to Reese or Bennett all morning. I look beside me and see Reese is standing there, looking like she wants to ask me what’s wrong. It would be cowardly to only deny myself food and space. Without saying anything to Reese, I walk into my classroom, my gut tied in knots.
I sit quietly through my first two classes and listen to my teachers. I even make it all the way to lunch before something happens, and this something is named Nathan.
“Anyone sitting here?” he asks. Today he’s wearing dark blue jeans and a plain black shirt. His black hair is stuck up in that weird but attractive way again. His shirt shrugs up by his shoulder and I see he has a tattoo of an Upright arrow. Yup, this one’s Upright through and through.
“Yes,” I say, but he sits down anyway. I take my hands off the table and put them in my lap in case he tries to hold them.
He notices this and smirks. “Listen, I think we got off to the wrong start the other day. I’m really not a bad guy.”
“Funny, but I’ve heard otherwise.”
“Everyone makes mistakes Raegan, let’s start over.” He stretches his hand forward to take mine before he seems to remember I moved them. Now his hand sits between us awkwardly.
“You don’t seem too regretful about it,” I say and lean back in my chair, all ease and indifference, while inside my stomach burned in disgust.
“Look, what do you want from me?” He says exasperated. He pulls his hand back and stretches his fingers out on the table. If he’s trying to remind me that his fingers are long enough to wrap around my throat I refuse to be intimidated.
“I don’t know what I want yet, but I’ll let you know when I do,” I say and smile. Nathan tries to smirk back but I think he’s too frustrated because it looks more like he’s constipated.
“You do that,” he says. As he stands up he puts all of his weight on his hands resting on the table. The table flips over towards him and he falls backwards. I stand up quickly and look over the table. “What did you do that for?” He yells at me.
“Do what?” I say back, completely confused.
A teacher hurries over and I see it’s Mrs. Collins. Perfect.
“What is going on over here?” Mrs. Collins asks in her shrill voice. I fight the urge to cover my ears as Nathan beats me to an answer.
“I’m wondering the same thing,” Nathan says, offended. “All I did was ask if we could be friends and she flipped the table on me. She’s crazy!”
“I am not!” I yell.
Mrs. Collins looks at me appraisingly. “I think another visit to Dr. Collins will straighten this out.”
“I’m sick of that man,” I mumble under my breath before I remember that I’m talking to his wife.
Mrs. Collins raises her eyebrows. “Are you? Doesn’t seem that way.” She starts walking away and resigned, I follow after her. I look behind me to see Nathan standing, brushing off his jeans. He smiles and winks. I lift my hand, ready to make a gesture to show him what I really think, but I catch Reese standing behind another table watching me. The slight shake of her head warns me not to and I drop my hand. I turn back around and follow the tall witch to her husband.
Dr. Collins isn’t in his office when we get there so I have the pleasure of waiting with his lovely wife for five minutes until he shows up. When he walks around the corner I’m almost grateful, until I see the glare on his face and I assume that he knows about the ruse Bennett pulled on him the other day. Getting in trouble today is probably the dumbest thing I could have done, even if it wasn’t my fault.
“Raegan, what a surprise,” he says, unsurprised. “Please, come in and make yourself at home. I ought to set up a permanent residence for you here.”
I walk inside and sit in my usual chair. I look over and see Mrs. Collins nod and say something to her husband before she leaves. Dr. Collins walks inside and traces his mouth with his thumb and forefinger. “Well Raegan, what to do with you?” I don’t answer and sit quietly in my chair, my back straight and my jaw clenched. “I think a good old-fashioned documentary should do the trick.”
I fight the urge to roll my eyes and I relax in my chair. Propaganda I could handle. He rummages in a filing cabinet for the disk and puts it into his television that’s hanging on the wall. “I think for the next week you can come visit me during lunch to watch this film.”
A whole week of the same documentary? He must think I’m an amateur. My growling stomach betrays me though, and Dr. Collins smiles.
He turns the television on and an image appears of some people, but it’s too far away to distinguish who they are.
“Many years ago the Obliged were in need of leaders,” says a monotone male voice. I change my mind, this might be worse than isolation. “And they were granted their desire with the help of the Upright, their friendly neighbors to the north.” I fake a cough to cover my laugh. Dr. Collins raises his eyebrows. I fight to keep a straight face as I watch the rest of the film make light of the invasion. We were deemed “too dangerous and ignorant” to go on any longer, hence the peaceful assumption of the Upright into government and the regulation of the Obliged.
It isn’t until near the end that I become genuinely interested. “—To protect the Obliged, we developed a Detention Facility for the Morally Subversive—” the announcer says.
“I’ve never heard of that jail,” I say to Dr. Collins, interrupting the movie. I’ve processed enough paperwork in the Criminal Office to know what Detention Facilities were popular for the Obliged, like the Detention Facility for the Criminally Insane, or for the Emotionally Unstable, but the Detention Facility for the Morally Subversive was not one of them.
“Shh, this is my favorite part,” he says, flapping a hand at my face.
With narrowed eyes I look back to the screen and see the camera crew touring the jail. There are a series of interviews where the inmates remark on how well kept the facilities are, and how the corrective behavior methods of their jailers have changed their perspective. I fight to laugh again, wondering what exactly the corrective behavior methods entail when the documentary cuts to the Upright flag, a simple white flag with their arrow insignia in the middle in black, with the Upright national anthem playing over the image.
Dr. Collins turns off the television, “So what do you think?” he asks me in his deep, formal voice.
“I think it was very…informative,” I say, struggling for a word that isn’t necessarily good or bad.
“I think you’ll find it more so tomorrow, during lunch,” he says. I take that as a dismissal and stand up. I’m already late to my two hour math class so I don’t hurry. By the time I get there I only have to endure thirty minutes of wanting to bang my head against the wall, but at least this time I have something to think about. The Detention Facility for the Morally Subversive, also known as your typical jail for political criminals, add in a little torture, and some good old-fashioned brainwashing. I wonder if Donovan’s father is there and whether I would be able to find him, but thinking about Donovan hurts. My stomach gives a painful growl and the nerdy guy in the next seat looks at me with pity.
I put my head down in my arms until the teacher tells me to stop napping in class. Maybe resolving not to eat isn’t the best way to make a statement, but even the thought of food makes me feel sick. I’ll force myself to eat a banana when I get home or something.
When the bell finally rings I’m extremely close to falling asleep. I walk outside to where Dana usually picks us up, but the parking spot is empty. Reese is sitting on the curb waiting for me.
“I told mom you and I would walk home today,” Reese says, standing up.
“Why would you do that?” I ask her. Today I’d actually appreciate a ride.
“Because I want to show you something.”
“Lead on then,” I say, too weak from hunger to put up much of a fight. “Where’s Bennett?”
“Left with mom,” Reese explains as I follow her down the road.
We are about a block away from the house when Reese changes direction. “Where are we going?” I ask her.
“Do you ever enjoy surprises?” She asks.
“On my birthday,” I say and stay quiet. I don’t want to be friends with Reese, but she makes it so easy.
We walk for another ten minutes until the road we’re on becomes empty of houses. Mountains rise from the ground before us in the distance, like a giant wall keeping me prisoner. And just before the road splits, there’s a large warehouse on the right.
“Is that where we’re going?” I ask her, forgetting to be silent.
Reese just nods. She’s quiet until we get there, which is out of character. Whatever she wants me to see must be pretty important.
The warehouse is huge and rusty, like it’s been abandoned for a while. I’m surprised anything like this still exists so close to an Upright town. You’d think they’d destroy the old building for marring their landscape or some other dumb reason.
“It’s Dad’s,” Reese says, answering my unspoken question. “He used it for his business when he first started out, but then he moved everything to a better building in the city. Since then, I’ve decided it belongs to me.” She smiles as she says this and grips the old, rusted handle with both hands. She shoves it down and the door swings open on squeaking hinges.
It’s dark inside until my eyes adjust to the light, and when they do, my mouth drops open. Covering every wall are murals, made with spray paint, regular paint, chalk – you name it.
“You did this?” I ask, walking to a wall that catches my eye. It’s a painting of a girl facing away from the painter, standing on top of a hill covered in yellow flowers. Her blonde hair blows behind her and she’s holding one of the flowers in her hand.
“Yea,” she said, standing in the middle of the room, watching me appraise her work. “Even us Upright break the rules every now and then.”
“But not you,” I say unbelieving, touching the wall to see if it’s real. I can feel the grainy texture of the paint beneath my fingers.
“Especially me,” she says and joins me, “I just pick my battles. When I was young, Mom and Dad used to take us there,” she nods toward the picture. “We’d have picnics and swim in the lake just on the other side of that hill.”
“That sounds nice.” It sounds like the sort of thing I would do with my family back home.
“We haven’t done that in a while,” Reese says so quietly I barely hear her. “Anyway, I thought you’d like to see this.”
“I do, thank you,” I say. “And Reese, I’m sorry for—”
“You may think I don’t understand Rae,” she says, “but I do, or a little bit anyway. You don’t want to be with me, you want Vivian. It’s okay. I get it.”
At the mention of Vivi’s name I tear up. I didn’t realize Reese knew so much about me, and it makes me wonder what else the Oakland’s know. Do they know about Donovan? About my solitary confinement?
I just nod because I don’t want to talk and cry. Reese opens her bag and pulls out some cans of spray paint. She throws them to me and I catch them nimbly. “Go crazy,” she says with a smile. I smile back and search for a bare piece of wall. In the end I climb a ladder and stand on a tall, unstable riser to find somewhere to tag. I shake the can of paint and poise myself to write the word Uptight, but I find I don’t want to. Instead I spray large flowers onto the wall in different colors, and hidden between each one is a letter to Vivian’s name. One day I’ll show it to her.
“It’s perfect,” Reese says from below me. “I don’t mean to cut your work short, Picasso, but we can’t be late for dinner.”
“Yes, that would be a tragedy wouldn’t it,” I joke as I climb down the ladder.
“Quite.” Reese takes my spray paint and stomps on the wooden floor. The other end of the floorboard pops up and Reese catches it. She deposits our empty cans into her private nook and explains: “Spray paint is illegal here too, if you’re caught with it in your trash you can be taken in for questioning.”
“I didn’t know that,” I say. Maybe the Upright are just as oppressed as the Obliged, just in different ways. But then I laugh at the thought, the taste of ash noodles on my tongue.
“There’s a lot you don’t know,” Reese says simply. I know she’s right but it’s still frustrating to hear.
“So where did you learn to paint like that?” I ask Reese after we’ve walked silently for a while. We’re not far from the house now.
“My mom used to paint, but then she quit. We would paint together when I got home from school.”
“Why’d she quit,” I ask.
Reese shrugs. “I guess she got interested in other things.”
When we get to the house we can smell dinner cooking. It smells like nothing I’ve ever eaten and Reese excitedly says it’s chicken pot pie, whatever that is. It smells delicious and my stomach gives a pathetic gurgle. My vision blurs a bit before I make myself snap out of it. It may smell delicious, but I’m not going to eat it.
I walk into the kitchen and grab a banana. I tell Dana that something I ate that day made me feel queasy and that I’m going to sit dinner out. She waves me away and I can tell I still haven’t been forgiven. I peel my banana as I walk upstairs.
“Watch out,” Ace says, knocking me into the wall as he rushes down the stairs. I had been so focused on peeling my banana I didn’t even see him.
“Maybe if you weren’t such a lumbering brute…” I mutter to myself.
In my room I force myself to eat the banana, and since it’s the second banana and nearly the only thing I’ve eaten all day, I eat it quickly. However, my stomach disagrees with me and I find myself in much the same predicament as the night before.