I wake curled up in the bathtub. My body is stiff and protests when I stretch. I vaguely remember making it to the bathroom to throw up my banana in the toilet and crawling into the shower after, but it seems I never made it to turning the shower on.
My hands shake as I take off my clothes and turn on the shower. I don’t remember drinking any water the day before and now I’m dehydrated. The room spins as my legs threaten to give out.
“You look terrible,” Bennett says as I enter the kitchen, hair dripping water onto Dana’s perfectly cleaned floor.
A pile of food mysteriously appears in front of me, along with a glass of cold, refreshing water. I take the water and chug it. Feeling bloated and sick I can’t eat anything but a few bites of egg. I know I’d feel better if I ate something, but how can I when the thought of food makes me sick? It’s a lose-lose situation and at the moment I have no idea how to make it better.
“I feel terrible,” I finally answer Bennett, but he’s not sitting there anymore. When did he leave?
“Are you okay?” Dana asks and comes over to feel my forehead. “You’re burning up.”
“That’s the first motherly thing you’ve said to me,” I hear myself say.
I faintly see Dana struggle with that comment as my vision blurs.
“Go upstairs, you’re not going to school today,” she finally says.
I stand up and make it halfway up the stairs before I fall to my knees. I crawl the rest of the way to my door, but find I can’t reach the handle from the ground. I think it’s Bennett who finds me sitting in the hallway staring at the wall, because whoever it is has hair darker than the usual Oakland blonde. He picks me up and puts me into bed. I think he calls me an idiot for making myself sick, which sounds like something Bennett would say, but I may be making the whole thing up. Maybe I put myself to bed.
I wake up a couple hours later. I don’t remember falling asleep but I definitely feel better. My stomach burns from being empty, but the thought of any food still nauseates me.
I poke my head into the hallway but I don’t hear or see anything. I shakily make my way downstairs and hope no one is in the kitchen. It’s empty so I root through the fridge, looking for something that would be easy on my stomach. I end up settling for a piece of toast because I’m too tired to make soup.
Starving myself was a dumb idea. I’ve made myself sick between not eating and feeling guilty about everything. I can’t keep this up. Plus, Mom would be so mad that I did this to myself.
I eat my toast and my stomach lets me keep it there. I pass the rest of the day in my room flipping through my schoolbooks and attempting to do the homework I never finished the night before.
But that begins to bore me after about three minutes, so instead I settle for wandering the house, rooting through drawers and in closets, not quite sure what I’m looking for. On the bookshelf are a number of typical Upright titles like The Secrets of Raising Upright Children and Healthy Body, Healthy Mind. The Upright are pretty obsessed with being healthy, between diet and exercise I’m not sure which one they like more. My lifestyle back home, what with regulated meals and my propensity for running, has left me with a lean figure, but thanks to my self-destruction the past couple days, it’s only a matter of time before Dana takes over.
Sitting on the coffee table I find a couple books on Upright politics. I pick one at random about Upright military. We live in a military dictatorship, although the Upright call it a limited democracy because we “vote” for the general in power. I laugh at that. If you’re Obliged, you can’t vote because of your political ignorance. We don’t care much because everyone knows the voting is rigged, though even with torture you would never get the Upright to admit it. The same general has been in power for the past two decades. Not because we love him, but because every opponent is hand picked by one of the colonels and mysteriously disposed of just after the voting is announced, whether he won or not. Our General Francis Black doesn’t like to play fair.
And sadly, I didn’t even know his name until Reese told me. For most of my life, I knew we were run by the military, but information in our world is so hard to come by. To the Obliged, he was just called “The General.” I think they do that to give the semblance that it hasn’t been the same man for the past twenty years. Maybe they think that if we believe the general is a new man at every election, we won’t feel as oppressed.
I shut the book and throw it on the table. I lean my head back on the couch and close my eyes. When I open them again Bennett and Reese are home, arguing upstairs.
“—And what did you tell him?” Reese is asks angrily.
“The truth, that she’s sick,” Bennett says back to her, calmer than his sister.
“You need to keep him away from her.”
“Who are you talking about?” I ask, slowly trudging up the stairs. When did making it to the second floor start to feel like climbing a mountain?
“Oh, no one,” Reese says awkwardly. She doesn’t make eye contact with Bennett or me and goes to her room. I hear her lock the door.
“What was that all about?” I ask Bennett, trying to appear unconcerned.
“Nathan wanted to know where you were today,” Bennett says, rubbing his eyes.
“Oh,” I say. “So why was Reese all in a huff about it?”
“I don’t know, girls are weird,” Bennett answers before he goes into his room.
I go into my room, since that seems to be the popular thing to do, and finally finish my homework. My stomach feels able enough to handle a solid meal, so I decide to join the Oakland’s for dinner a few hours later – or most of them anyway, because Reese isn’t there. Tonight we feast on salmon and broccoli. Like nearly everything else, it smells rich and delicious. But it doesn’t taste as good as the salmon we would sometimes get hold of from our dealer back home. I think the fact that it was illegal made it taste better.
“You should go to bed early tonight,” Dana tells me when I finish eating.
“But I slept all day,” I say.
“You have to rest. Go to bed.”
I roll my eyes and leave the kitchen. I see Bennett smirking at me from behind Dana and I make a face at him when she turns around. He grabs his chest and feigns a shot to the heart. Dana asks him what he’s doing and I take off quickly. That’s something else I don’t want – Dana to think that I’m getting along well with her children.
Upstairs I can hear music on in Reese’s room. I knock on the door and she says to come in.
“What are you listening to?” I ask. She’s laying on her bed staring at the ceiling, listening to beautiful orchestra music.
“Harmonic Woods Orchestra.” She doesn’t look at me. I take a moment to glance around her room. It’s not as girly as I thought it would be. The walls are a soft green and there’s an easel in the corner next to a shelf of paint. The rest of the room is covered in discarded clothing and hair products.
“What are you looking at?” I ask, looking up too.
“Nothing you can see,” she says and rolls over.
This is weird. Reese loves to talk, and she’s never cold, not even to me.
“Reese, what’s wrong?”
She doesn’t answer, so I walk over to the other side of the bed and drop to a crouch in front of her. She tries to roll the other way but I grab her arms before she can.
“Reese,” I say and wait for her eyes to lock on mine. Their dead look scares me, and I hate that it does. I brush a piece of her hair back from her face. “What is it?”
“Do you want to know why I fear Nathan so much?” she whispers, the death in her eyes coming out in her voice. Hollow, like a dying echo in a cave. A scared Reese I can handle. An empty one I cannot.
“Why?” I whisper back. Images of Vivian try to push their way into my head. Vivian on the ground holding a skinned knee, tears in her eyes but not letting them out because she wants too much to be like her big sister. But that’s not Reese. There are no tears in her eyes now as she looks at me. Looks through me.
I let Reese roll away from me and onto her back. “Two years ago, Nathan flirted with me like he did with you. Standing close, holding my waist, making me feel like I was the only girl he cared about. I was stupid and thought the attention was flattering, so we dated. He would come up to me in the hallway and tell me how much he liked me, and how he never wanted any other girl.”
“But he didn’t mean it,” I say after she had been quiet for a few moments.
“Of course not, I caught him cheating on me with Haylie,” Reese says, a tear finally emerges, trailing partway down her cheek before she quickly wipes it away with her hand. She looks at her hand and wipes it off on her jeans, her eyebrows scrunched with disgust.
“And you broke up with him?” I asked, seeing she didn’t want to tell me any more.
“No,” she chokes out. “I— I— just wanted him to love me like I thought I loved him.”
I sit next to Reese on the bed and stroke her face. “You don’t have to say anymore Reese, whatever you did, it’s over. It doesn’t have to hurt you anymore,” I whisper.
“You don’t understand, it’s not anything that I did,” she says and shakes her head, sniffing. “I met him after school one day to show him I still wanted him, and he apparently still wanted me, just a little more than I was willing to give.”
My hand grows still as I realize what Reese is telling me. “He raped you?” I asked, my voice deadly still. Silent tears flowed from Reese’s eyes in a silent answer. She looks me in the eyes and I can see the burden of two years of pain, never having told anyone. And the sad part is, I never would have guessed Reese to have anything but a pain-free life. With the way she carries herself, acts around people, you’d think she was raised in a world of rainbows and butterflies, but it seems there’s a few more rainclouds in her world than she cares to let on.
“Why are you telling me this?” I ask Reese.
“Because I’m scared for you. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, even someone who is trying very hard not to like me,” she says, half smiling.
I start to deny it, but I smile too, because there’s not much you can hide from Reese. She can read people like a book.
“No one is going to lay a hand on me. And if he so much as looks at you ever again, well, let’s just say not many girls will be wanting his company once I’m through with him.”
Reese’s eyes widen, but the she nervously laughs when I tell her I’m kidding. I’m not, of course, but she doesn’t have to know that.
“Look, I have to get to bed before Dana yells at me again. Not that I’m going to bed because I’m listening to her, I just don’t feel like getting yelled at,” I amend myself. We may have just had a moment, but my independence is still worth asserting.
“Sure, sure,” Reese says, waving me off like she doesn’t believe me.
“But seriously though,” I say, standing up and walking to her door, “you don’t have to carry this with you anymore. And the best way to hurt your enemies is to keep them from knowing they’re hurting you.”
“That’s funny advice coming from you.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, hand wrapped around the doorknob.
“You don’t really try very hard to hide your wounds, Rae,” Reese says. “Anyone you get in trouble with can see your weaknesses.”
I don’t know what to say, because I don’t want to admit Reese is right. But she isn’t right, not at all. I lash out because these people are ignorant, not because they know how to get to me.
“Look,” Reese continues, “all I’m saying is, maybe you should pick your battles more carefully.”
I don’t blink, because I don’t want Reese to know I’m taking her seriously. “Maybe,” I say and open the door, “either way, you should get some sleep.”
“Night,” I hear Reese whisper when I shut the door.
I lean against the closed door for a minute and shut my eyes. Reese doesn’t know what she’s talking about. There’s so much about me she doesn’t know, so much I haven’t told her, heck I haven’t even told her anything. Whatever she knows is from Dana or whoever gave them information about me. She has no right to say that everyone can see right through me.
I push myself away from the door and head into my room until the house is quiet. The Upright don’t use alarms because everyone’s too honorable to steal or whatever, so sneaking out is child’s play. I leave the front door open just because I can, and hope a raccoon finds its way inside while I’m gone.
I don’t have anywhere in particular go and after wandering down a few streets I find myself at the artificial pond I had run into after my first day of school. I sit down and run my hands over the perfectly trimmed grass. It’s too dark to see much, the lampposts by the road don’t give off much light because it’s past curfew and illegal to be out this late at night. The Upright had a curfew of midnight, two hours later than us, but a curfew nonetheless.
I sigh and lay back in the grass, which isn’t itchy like my grass back home. I hated that grass then, but I miss it now. I even miss Donovan, though he was driving me crazy before I was Picked. Looking back I think he really did love me. I don’t feel bad though about how it ended. Maybe a little for him, but not for me. I cared about him, but I didn’t love him. Or at least I don’t think I did or do. And what’s the point in loving someone you won’t ever see again, or you have no chance with. It’s just painful and a waste of emotion. Besides, I’m sure Donovan has moved on by now.
I miss my train. According to Reese, they only have the bullet train here, and there’s no way to jump that and live to tell about it. The train connects the major towns and is mostly for commuters or students on field trips. Not many people get up and leave town just for the fun of it, they’re too content where they are. If that is what my life becomes, I think I’ll go crazy. Heck I probably have already gone crazy. I’ve been lying by this pond for an hour talking to myself and staring at the stars.
That’s the only thing that’s the same. The stars. The stars and the night sky. The moon I see now is the same moon I saw at home. Vivian and Matty might be looking at the moon right now at the same time as me.
“I miss you,” I whisper to them.
And now I really have gone crazy. I stand up, brush myself off, and sneak back to the Oakland’s. The door is still wide open, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like any nighttime critters have found their way inside.
I sneak back upstairs and am surprised to see a dark shadow leaning against my door. The shadow pushes itself away and I step backwards and ball my hand into a fist, flashes of my conversation of Reese sending my heart into a frenzy.
“Relax, it’s just me,” Bennett says from the shadows. He steps into a thin stream of moonlight and I see it’s really him. I relax my hand and walk toward my bedroom door and open it.
“What do you want?” I ask, kind of cranky. I’m not in the mood for surprises.
“Well aren’t you sassy,” he avoids my question and follows me into my room.
“I’m tired, get to the point or get gone.”
“You’re tired? I sat against this wall for an hour waiting for you to return from your midnight jaunt.”
“And again I ask, what do you want?”
“How was your day?” He asks, dawdling by my doorframe. I grab some pajamas from my closet and head into the bathroom to change.
“Got that out of your system?” I ask when I return in matching flannel pants and shirt.
“Whatever do you mean?” He asks back, twirling a pencil from my desk in his hand.
“Get out, Bennett,” I say, walking toward him to usher him away.
“What did Reese tell you?” He asks in a rush when I almost get him out the door.
“What?” I stop. Does Bennett know something?
“You heard what I said,” he says quietly. It isn’t in his usual mocking tone, just quiet, and he almost sounds scared to know the answer.
“She just told me the truth about Nathan.”
“Which is what?”
“Ask her,” I say and attempt to shut the door.
“Ow!” Bennett says. He had stuck his fingers in the door to keep it from closing.
“Seriously Bennett, I’m not telling you anything. Go away.”
“I think I already know.”
“What?” I ask, cracking my door open. I look up at Bennett’s face and see immense sorrow in his eyes. “What do you know?” I open the door wider and Bennett leans his head against the doorframe.
“Nathan has hinted at things to me, that he’s done stuff to my sister. I never took him seriously because he acts like that about every girl, but I don’t know, maybe this is different.”
“And if it is?”
“If it is, then Nathan and I have some serious problems.” Bennett stops staring into space and looks me dead in the eyes. “I failed one sister, I won’t fail another.”
“Bennett—” I say, but he’s already gone. Bennett and Reese need to quit acting like I’m part of the family, because the second I have a chance to leave, I’m gone. Besides, I don’t want to like them, and I don’t want to get tied up in their lives.
I shut my door and crawl into bed, planning to sleep completely through the next two days.