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Chapter Seven: Caving In Part I

I had been excited and overwhelmed by the gift Jasper and Noir had given me at first. So much so that I didn’t even realized that a cell phone didn’t have many purposes for a mute girl. The device went largely untouched besides the rare occasion I used it to browse the web when the only desktop in our home was occupied. Despite this fact, I still made sure the black and silver gadget was plugged in every night and I had an odd habit of checking it every few hours.

My nose was buried deep in a novel when it went off for the first time. The tacky techno beat that blared from its tiny speakers was so unexpected that I jumped, sending my rocking chair swaying in the wake of my movement. By the time I had managed to calm down and tug the phone out of my back pocket the ringtone had already stopped but the missed call was still splayed on the screen.

Noir.

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Those four words caused my stomach to whirl, anxiety surging through my fingertips. I had no idea what he wanted but worry began to seep in when I realized he could be in trouble. Instinctually, I hit the green dial button that would call him back, hoping that he wouldn’t be hurt or in danger. It rang three times before he picked up.

“Hello?”

The response to his greeting was a dial tone because I hung up as quickly as I had dialed. I sat there, feeling rather stupid for calling him when I already knew we couldn’t hold a conversation through such methods. Still, hearing his voice settled the worry since I knew he was alive and well. Or, at least well enough to answer his phone and sound normal. My phone began buzzing, the air filling with the obnoxious techno beats again, as the screen lit up with Noir’s name. I sent it to my voice mail this time and quickly deposited the device back into my pocket, hoping that would be the end of it.

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I wasn’t able to read half a page before my butt was vibrating. I pursed my lips, toying with the idea of ignoring it, but eventually my curiosity got the best of me. This time instead of a missed call, there was a text waiting for me.

‘Hey! What’s up?’

I replied honestly, figuring my boring response would cause him to cease his efforts. It didn’t. If anything it encouraged them, since his next text rambled on about how he and everyone else was doing. I didn’t bother responding and he seemed to get the hint.

At least, until the next day.

‘How are you this evening?’

‘What’s your favorite color?’

‘What are you up to?’

It had to have been almost a full month of him texting me daily – me giving minimum replies if any at all – when I finally didn’t receive a message all day. I went about my regular habits, reading fantasy novels and watching movies, the whole time silently waiting for the vibration that had become routine.

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‘Panda, can you text me real quick?’

My sister raised an eyebrow at my inquiry, “I’m right beside you. Why would I text you?”

I shrugged, slightly embarrassed, but I wanted to make sure my phone was still working. Panda shifted on the couch, squirming until her phone was firmly in her hand. Even as she typed her attention never strayed from the television – we were in the middle of watching ‘Bow Idol and my sister thought the current contestant was a hunk. Without a word she snapped her cell shut, leaning in closer to the television as the judges began their assessment. It took a few seconds but sure enough my own silver phone was vibrating in my lap, Pandora’s name bold and proud on the screen.

The anticipation and anxiety that had been swelling up in my bones since the morning doubled, heightened by the worry that took hold of my heartstrings, ‘Have you spoken to Noir today?’

Pandora only spared a passing glance at my notepad, “No, why?”

The corner of my lips tugged downwards, ‘Do you think he’s alright?’

“Noir? Psssh, that guy’s too stubborn to die. If you’re worried you should – WHAT! FUDGE THAT. HE HAS THE VOICE OF ANGEL! FUDGING BERRY SIMON, YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT.” Pandora hollered, seizing her phone to vote for the man on the television, “We’ll show you.” She grumbled.

I couldn’t help but giggle at my sister’s display – which erupted into full blown hysterics when she snatched my phone to vote for him again, “As I was saying before Simon’s stupidity got in my way – you should text Noir yourself if you’re worried. Now take your phone, I have to get mom and dad to vote for my future husband.” She stated blandly, tossing my phone at my head as she stomped off – clearly on a mission.

It took me a minute to regain my composure but my aching sides were a welcomed distraction from the last few hours that had been wasted checking my phone every few minutes. I chewed on my bottom lip, mulling over my sister’s advice, before I decided she was right.

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What harm could come from texting him first?

Turns out waiting for a reply was even more dreadful than just waiting for a text. I was almost constantly checking my phone and I couldn’t help but wonder if he had read it yet or not. Was he ignoring me? Was his phone dead? Was he dead? My text had been simple, just a friendly ‘Hi. How are you today?’ and I suddenly felt completely terrible for all the times I had never texted Noir back. Is this how he felt every single time he texted me something mundane only to never receive a response?

I fell into an uneasy sleep that night, plagued by thoughts of Noir and what might have become of him.

*

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‘I’m alright but…. I have a favor to ask of you.’

I stared at the glowing letters in front of me – a mixture of delight, relief and annoyance spilling into my soul. It was early in the morning – six a.m. to be exact – and sleep was still crusted in my eyes. I had put my cell on loud before going to bed and had been woken up by the techno song that had become part of my everyday life – though I still found it irritating.

‘I’m glad you are okay. What’s the favor?’

I had just pulled myself out of bed and began brushing my teeth when his reply came in, ‘I need you to visit someone with me. A member of the Uprising. He was shot last night.’ I instantly felt dizzy, waves of fear washing over my body. I gripped the sink for balance, eyes clenched shut. A few deep breaths cleared my vision and I put away my phone without replying.

I continued on with my morning – brushing my hair and changing my clothing – until a second text from Noir came, ‘Please, Estelle. He’s just a teenager and he keeps asking for you. Please.’

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I could feel my resolve crack – guilt and sympathy gripping me tightly as images of Mithos’ bloodied body flooded my mind, ‘Okay. Just this once, though.’

‘Great. I’ll pick you up in an hour.’

It only seemed like ten minutes had passed when Noir’s knocking alerted me of his arrival – though I knew it had been longer. Pandora stopped rummaging through our dresser at the sound, pursing her lips at me as I pulled on a pair of shoes, “Hey, you don’t have to go.”

I nodded, aware of that fact but unable to get the image of our dead brother out of my head. I had left him to die all alone – I wasn’t going to leave another boy to the same fate. My conscious wouldn’t allow it. I took a few deep breaths, attempting to psych myself up, before I finally made my way outside.

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“Estellise,” Noir looked frazzled, dark circles under his eyes, “thank you for coming with me.”

His gentle demeanor took me by surprise, as did the tired smile that tugged on his lips. There was a different look about him today – worn and exhausted.  The flames of excitement that always lit up his lilac eyes were extinguished. He looked dull, almost lifeless, compared to the usual exhilaration that coursed through his being.

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The drive was quiet. I found my eyes focusing on the dashboard while my ears picked up every screech of tires against the asphalt, until we pulled into a residential neighborhood and slowed to a stop in front of a regular two story house. The yard was well groomed – a flower garden innocently playing in the breeze – and the home well taken care off. A fresh coat of red paint must have been applied recently, because the outside of the building looked almost new. Still, my eyebrows rose in confusion, ‘Didn’t you say we were going to visit someone who was shot?’

A lungful of air gush out of chapped lips, “Yes, we are.”

‘Then why aren’t we at Choco Hospital?’

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Noir banged his fist against the steering wheel, the violent reaction causing me to jump in my seat, “Apparently they refuse to treat us there.” His voice was a low hiss and I cringed at the anger that lingered in his tense figure. I was relieved that I was not the target or cause of his rage and simultaneously astounded by what I had just heard.

Why was he shot? What had happened? Why would the hospital refuse to treat this poor teenage boy? I didn’t write any of these thoughts, instead opting for four words, ‘How did they know?’

Noir’s forehead thumped softly against the hard plastic, eyes turned ever so slightly towards me, “He was wearing black when he was shot. He was with a small group of the Uprising protesting outside city hall when someone…” Noir trailed off but I had a good idea of what he was going to say. Someone had opened fire on them. I had figured out that most member’s donned black hoodies and T-shirts when participating in Uprising activities – it was almost like a uniform. That fact must not have gone unnoticed by the citizens of Sugar Valley. Still, I did not understand how anyone could turn away an injured teen – especially someone whose life was supposed to be dedicated to saving ‘Bows.

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I laid a hand on Noir’s shoulder, small smile forced on, ‘Let’s go.’ Noir’s gaze lingered on me for a moment before he sighed and opened the driver-side door. I followed his lead, slightly confused when he started heading for the fence on the side of the house instead of the front door. He held the wooden gate open for me, letting it swing shut behind us, before leading us further back in the enclosed area.  Leaves were scattered across the pavement but the only other object of interest I noticed was an old grill. Noir slowly made his way towards one of the red and orange piles that were strewn in a far corner, brushing them to the side with his hands. I was about to ask him what he was doing when I noticed a wooden latch sticking out from under the dirt, becoming more noticeable with every swipe of Noir’s callous palms.

“It’s dark down here, be careful.” Noir’s advised as he yanked the planks off wood up in one swift motion. He held it up with one hand, taking a few steps down and stood with his back flush against the cool stone wall. I scurried a little closer, peering down the dark staircase as a shiver of trepidation ran down my spine. Noir’s playful smile danced on his lips as he observed this, “Don’t worry, Estelle. Nothing bad is going to happen to you, trust me.”

I met his lilac eyes for a moment before averting my attention back into the descending darkness. I stepped down, swallowing the terror that was gnawing at me, until a loud crash sounded as Noir let the cellar door slam shut, encasing us in the darkness. Instinctively my hands flew to the rough grooves in the stones, pressing my body as close as physically possible to the cool surface. I faintly heard Noir curse under his breath before shouting, “Fudge sundae, Jasper! Turn on the other light!”

I quivered against the wall, listening to the jostling that echoed up the stairwell until the faint sizzling of electricity took its place. A single bare light bulb flickered on over our heads, held up by a rusty cord, and Noir began heading down the steps again. When he passed me, since I still wasn’t sure about moving, he gently removed my hand from the wall and linked his fingers in mine, “Come on.” He coaxed.

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I obeyed, biting my bottom lip until my saliva had a slight metallic taste to it. As the cellar floor came into view I quickly realized that slightly moldy and rusty smell that lingered here wasn’t preferable to the bleach and stoic scent that real hospitals maintained. There were two gurneys, both of them rusted and worn. One seemed completely useless, since it was missing a wheel and shoved into a corner. Random medical supplies were strewn around – bloodied syringes, forceps and scalpels – along with random cooking supplies like butcher knives and spatulas. Another bare light bulb hung precariously over an operating table where a young purple ‘Bow I had never seen before laid, blood slowly oozing out of a wounded shoulder.

I stood there, half frozen in terror and half in disgust, as Jasper stopped in front of me, “Estelle…” He began, studying my every movement, “are you alright?”

I nodded numbly, tears pricking at my eyes, as he continued to speak, “I’m sorry you have to see… this… but thank you for coming.”

I shifted my weight, unable to look away from the splotch of red on the operating table as I wrote, ‘Is he alive?’

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“Yes, he’s alive,” Jasper lowered his voice, stepping closer to me as he finished, “but I don’t know if he’ll make it. I’m no- I’m not a doctor.” Jasper choked out, running his hands through his hair in distress. I felt my stomach flop at his words. I stepped around Jasper silently, feet moving on their own accord until I was at the purple ‘Bow’s bedside. Dried blood cakes his lips and forehead, face still streaked with tears that he had shed hours ago. He groaned softly as I placed one of my hands against his cheek. He was burning up despite the freezing temperature in the room.

“P-princess?” His voice was scratchy and barely a whisper, eyes fluttering open.

I nodded, forcing a small smile back onto my lips, “You’re here. You’re really here.” I would have thought he was excited if his features were not contorted in pain.

I nodded again, pulling out my pad so I could respond more appropriately to him, ‘What’s your name?’

No confusion filled his eyes at the sight of my pen and paper and he responded without hesitation despite his condition, “Affair. Affair Fudge.”

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I was in the middle of writing when Affair’s eyes rolled into the back of his head – whites staring back at me as his body began to convulse. The pen clattered against the dirty linoleum as I squeezed my eyes shut. Movement filled the spaces between us – the breeze from Jasper and Noir softly blowing my hair over my shoulder. Warm hands spun me around before enveloping me, pressing me gently against a hard chest, “Don’t look.” Noir mumbled into my ear.

When I had gathered enough courage to open my eyes again, Jasper was by Affair’s side – messing with the IV that ran from rusted metal to purple flesh. I watched him inject a clear liquid into the bag with one of the bloodied syringes that had been strewn on a wooden table. Affair’s spasms had stopped and his eyes were closed again. I would have asked if he had died but I noticed the shallow rise and fall of his chest. I knew, however, that Affair couldn’t survive in these conditions – not with this abysmal care. I pushed myself away from Noir’s chest and he let me go without a word, watching as I bent down to pick up my lost utensil.

‘I know someone who can help him.’

“Who?” Noir’s voice caused Jasper’s head to snap over to the pair of us – the sorrow that had buried itself into his eyes lifting slightly.

‘Her name is Ivy. She’s a doctor at Choco Hospital.’

*

I’d never seen Noir drive as reckless as he did that afternoon. His usual behavior behind the wheel was wild and thrilling but this, this was something else completely. He was driving as if his life depended on it – which, someone’s did, I guess. No one knew how much longer Affair would make it without proper medical care – he was still bleeding pretty heavily and that was just out of his shoulder wound. According to Jasper there had been another that hit the poor teen’s abdomen, which was the injury Jasper had spent the most time on trying to cauterize – both internally and externally.

Luckily, Ivy’s house wasn’t far from Jasper’s and with the help of a few ran stop signs; we were there in no time flat. I had already written out my message to Ivy so as soon as Noir pulled up into the driveway, I bolted out. My feet flew up across the pavement in a blur, hands balled up into tiny fists as I began pounding on the door. I heard movement in the small green house – jumbled voices that were probably arguing over who would have to open the door – before the door was finally cracked open. A green face peered through the crevice at me before the door flung open all the way.

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“Estellise! What are you doing here!”

She was standing there, just like I remembered her. Long dark hair pulled into a ponytail, she was wearing a bright green pair of pajamas. I was about to thrust my notepad at her when my eyes fell on her waist. She used to be slim, just like my Mama, but right now Ivy’s stomach was swollen bigger than a beach ball. It dawned on me that she was pregnant, and I almost turned away without saying anything, until Noir honked the horn of his car and woke me from my daze. Ivy’s pale green eyes were already wide with disbelieve and I only added to her surprise when I showed her the message, ‘Someone’s been shot. The hospital refuses to help them. Please, please help me.’

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Her demeanor changed the second what she read registered in her mind, eyes hardening as she stood up straighter, “Give me one second.” Her voice was calm but soothing, and I quickly realized she had transformed into her professional persona.

She disappeared inside her house and I heard her shouting at someone – who I presumed was Cameo – before she reappeared with a large bag in tow, “Take care of Tsurī!”

The name she yelled didn’t register with a face and I realized that Ivy hadn’t been around the house at all in the past few years. I had never questioned it, perhaps because I was as wrapped up in my own problems as everyone else had been, but I suddenly realized that she had kids of her own; kids that she was potentially putting in danger by helping me.

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I tore the thought from my mind and jumped into the back of Noir’s purple death machine since Ivy had slid into the passenger seat. We ran all the same stop signs on the way back to Jasper’s as we had on the way over – in which Noir explained as best he could what had happened to Affair and what his current condition was.

When Noir told her about Affair’s convulsions, I saw Ivy frowned but said she would do everything that she could.

I just hoped it would be enough.

———————-

A/N: Affair is Fruhurricane’s creation. He will be put in the guest star’s page as soon as I make one. x]

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’12 Christmas Special

Holidays in Bubbleport were nothing like the holidays in Sugar Valley.

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Here we celebrated with warm smiles and kind words. We decorated every inch of our homes in lights and color, exchanging gifts with the ones we love. In Bubbleport they took all of our traditions to an extreme, taking great pride in their participation during the season. However, Bubbleport celebrated the special days with one extra tradition.

In Bubbleport you exchanged kisses with those you were celebrating the Holiday with.

It was a strange concept to me – I didn’t really understand why anyone would want to trade saliva with potential strangers – but Jasper had warned me that the Snow Day party the Uprising was throwing would most likely consist of many members greeting each other with public displays of affection. Jasper and Pandora had both emphasized that I did not need to attend the party if I did not want too. My sister was afraid I’d be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of Berries in attendance. Jasper was worried that someone might get drunk and attempt to take the kiss beyond what I was comfortable with.

I didn’t tell him that I was uncomfortable with kissing anyone period.

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Pandora had been getting ready the whole evening and was already adorning a tight fitting dress that was colored in the spirit of the holiday. Her silvery hair was flowing around her face and down her back in soft waves as her hands expertly navigated her own face. I wasn’t sure why my sister insisted on wearing make-up, she was beautiful without it, but I kept the thought to myself as she continued to apply eyeliner.

“Have you made up your mind?”

I nodded numbly, fumbling with the bottom of my shirt.

“So you aren’t coming?”

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I shook my head and this time her pink lips pulled into a frown, “I really-“ She stopped before she had even began, seemingly remembering that I had asked her let me make my own decisions from now on, “Ocean convinced me to pick you out a matching dress. Let me go get it.”

With that she exited our restroom, hair billowing out behind her. I waited patiently, inspecting my rather plain appearance in the mirror until Pandora reappeared. Sure enough, a dress made out of the same silky material as her own rested in her arms. The only difference was that mine was colored much like a candy cane and her’s was stripped green instead. The next hour was spent in silence – Pandora zipping up my dress and applying minimal blush and mascara to the needed areas before she finally announced that it was time for us to leave. If I was being honest with myself, I was completely embarrassed of the outfit. Under normal circumstances I would have protested – even refused – to go outside in such skimpy clothing. This time, however, my concerns were overwhelmed by the fact that I was matching my sister.

“Do you want me to stay with you while we’re there?” She asked as she locked the door behind her.

I shook my head, clutching my notebook close to my chest as we drove into the night.

*

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“Pandora! Estellise!” Sunburst shouted as soon as we entered the Sour Apple. He raced from the packed dance floor, eyes glossing over my sister’s bare shoulders and exposed legs. His regular orange and white attire was missing – replaced with a bright red santa suit and a hat to match. A smile spread across my lips at the sight of him but I quickly realized that the majority of people were dressed up for occasion. The second he reached us he leaned into Pandora, hands gracing her arms, as he pressed his lips against my sister’s. Their kissed lasted longer than I thought necessary but when they pulled apart Pandora’s cheeks had a rosy tint to them and her eyes shined brightly.

I stiffened as he left her side and turned his attention to me, big smile splayed on his lips.  Much like before, he leaned towards me. Only, right before our lips touched – in what would have been my first kiss – his head bent gently to the side and grazed my cheek instead.

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“You two are looking lovely tonight.” He commented, though his eyes had already returned to Pandora.

I smiled brightly at him, perhaps a bit too forced, as my fingers fiddled with the ends of my red and white dress. Pandora accepted his praise with all the grace I wish I could conjure up as he took her hand and began to lead her to the dance floor. Pandora paused in their departure, shooting me a concerned look, but I have her a quick thumbs up to ease any concerns she might have had.

The next hour or so I did my best to keep up a cheerful appearance. I welcomed all the members that approached me – some familiar and some strangers – and each one caused the panic to stir deep in my stomach as their lips advanced towards mine. Somehow though, every Berry ended up pecking me softly on the cheek or forehead before they bombarded me with questions and praise I didn’t deserve. The ones that I knew better, like Flax, stuck around to small talk a while but most went on their way after a few comments.

One of the newer members to our division that I had never seen before chatted excitedly with his friend as he left, “I can’t believe our Goddess is mute.”

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I sighed, shaking my head at the comment, before finally making my way to the bar where Jasper was shaking up some juicy creation. He eyed me with apprehension lining his face as I took the nearest seat, handing out a bubbly pink glass to Ocean before she melted into the crowd again.

“What can I get you, Estelle?” He asked the moment he had second to himself.

I shook my head – having never been much of a drinker, ‘I don’t know what you were worried about,’ I scribbled, ‘No one’s even kissed me on the lips, let alone taken it too far.’

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He gave me anxious smile, glancing out into the crowd, “That’s because your sister threatened just about everyone here,” He paused for a moment to gauge my reaction, “and I might have helped to spread that recommendation.”

I honestly should have expected it – a quick look around the Sour Apple showed that every other person here was greeting each other with lingering kisses – but it had never occurred to me that they would attempt to sway their customs for me. Though I shouldn’t have been annoyed, I was. So much for making my own choices.

“Hey, don’t be upset. Your sister’s just looking out for your best interest,” Jasper consoled, sliding the same pink fizzling drink down the counter. It skidded to a halt right before my arm, “try to have fun.”

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I eyed the drink for a moment, not sure if I really wanted to indulge myself, so instead I just flashed Jasper a smile and plucked the drink off the counter.

Neon lights colored my porcelain skin as I slid off of the stool, making sure my silky dress didn’t expose my thighs any more than they already were. Having fun in this situation was harder than it looked. Dancing wasn’t my forte and I wasn’t the best conversationalist. I still tried, smiling as girls complimented my dress and boys offered to dance with me, until I caught sight of Noir.

He was standing next to the pool table, laughing with a red berry I couldn’t name, a red Santa cap slanting on his head. His lilac eyes latched onto my pale yellows and instantly my fingertips began tingling from anticipation. It wasn’t the pure fear that gripped me whenever someone else approached – it was an eager nervousness that sizzled within every molecule in me.

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I must have looked pretty silly, staring at his slender form in the middle of a crowd, but Noir excused himself from the berry easily. He was within ear shot when Shilo’s willowy pink arms wrapped around his neck. His eyes dropped away from me about as fast as my lips pulled into a frown. She looked at me, brushed a few strands of coral colored hair out of her face, before turning her full attention back to Noir. I already knew what was going to happen – it was a tradition they both followed and must have engaged in dozens of times before – but that didn’t stop the sharp pain that erupted in my chest when she bounce onto her tippy toes to brush her lips to his.

I vanished before they parted, swept away in the mass of sweaty bodies. I sort of floated along, not sure where I was heading, as long as it was far away from the scene that I had just witnessed. By the time I had regained clarity my hand ached from the strength I had been clutching my drink with and suddenly drinking it didn’t seem like a bad idea. The pale pink liquid inside smelt sticky sweet but burnt as it went down.

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“Did something happen, princess?” A soft hand brushed my shoulder as Eden breezed around me, eye brows raised in surprise.

My scowl only deepened at his name for me – I loathed it with every fiber of my being, ‘No.’ I mouthed.

He laughed. It was deep and rich and reminded me vaguely of thunder rumbling in the distance, “Most people do not guzzle juice unless something…. unpleasant has taken place.”

‘Did my sister threaten you too? Is that why you haven’t kissed me?’ I scribbled suddenly, annoyance swelling up within me.

He frowned, “We are not all from Bubbleport, you know.”

I blinked, meeting his teal eyes with surprise, ‘I’m sorry…’

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He brushed off my apology, dropping down to one knee in a graceful motion. Before I could even process what he was doing, my hand was pressed lightly against his warm lips and my face lit up in embarrassment, “No, if a kiss would make the princess feel better than I should have obliged.” His lips brushed my knuckles as he spoke, causing the hairs on my arms to stand up, “Will a dance suffice?”

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I nodded numbly, not quite realizing what I had agreed to, but it was too late. He was back up on his feet before my brain had fully processed anything and soon the loft of the Sour Apple was spinning around me in a blur of colors and lights. I was tense, eyes on my own feet as I tried to mimic his movements. He was leading us gracefully around the table we usually held our meetings at, dodging chairs and Berries with ease.

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“Look at me. You’re doing fine.” He whispered in my ear, hot breath fanning my neck as the room continued to spin. I tried to focus on something – anything – but everything was moving too fast and my brain was beginning to fill with warmth from the drink so eventually I did as I was told, raising my eyes to his.

I could only meet his gaze for a moment before the intensity behind his eyes overwhelmed me. I quickly found a spot on his teal jacket that was much less intimidating and directed my attention there.

The spinning came to a sudden halt, “Can I cut in?”

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Noir’s hand was placed firmly on Eden’s chest and I knew from the look in his eyes that it was a statement disguised as a question. Eden met Noir’s gaze and animosity sparked between them for a moment before he relented, hand releasing mine and arms dropping to his side, “If the princess wishes.”

I inwardly cringed at Eden’s use of princess but neither male noticed, “Of course she does.” Noir answered for me.

“Until next time.” Eden bowed ever so slightly towards me before he began his descent down stairs I did not remember climbing.

“I hate that guy.” Noir grumbled under his breath as his attention fell back to me, “Why were you avoiding me?”

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The stinging pain from before flared up again, ‘I wasn’t.’

He sighed, hands ruffling his already messy locks as he readjusted the fuzzy white and red hat on his head, “Then why did you run away earlier.” I narrowed my eyes at him, knowing he couldn’t possibly be that dense. He seemed to catch on quick enough, “Are you jealous?” The words were smug as his lips pulled up into a smirk.

Heat flushed my cheeks and I found myself fiddling with the hem of my dress, not sure how to respond to that question. Especially since I was certain he already knew the answer. That overconfident smirk lingered as I felt his callous fingertips gently tug on my chin. There was a spark of mischief that burned behind his lilac irises. I was breathless before his lips even touched mine.

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I whimpered when his lips parted from mine, his breath tickled my neck as he spoke, “You don’t need to be jealous.”  It might have been the juice but when I realized Noir might pull away from me completely I threw my arms around his neck, anchoring him in place.

His strong chest molded against mine perfectly as he stumbled forward, surprised laughter bubbling out of his throat as our lips collided. Noir regained his balance, arms encircling my waist, before returning my passionate display with the same intensity that was coursing through my veins.

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And I suddenly realized why people might enjoy these traditions in Bubbleport.
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A/N: Noir won the vote but since the last chapter was basically all family time, I decided to give Eden a little something in this special as well. ^_^

Merry Christmas!

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Chapter Six: Amends

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“Estellise Spring! Where have you been?”

I flinched at the sound of my mother’s voice, turning around to face her slowly. I suddenly remembered that I had never asked her permission to leave – opting to sneak out instead. Mema may have been aware of whom I had been going out with but she had never been informed of any other details. I didn’t have an explicitly stated curfew, mostly because I never went anywhere, but I was positive that I should have been home before three in the morning.

The worry in her face slowly faded as the silence lingered – her eyes hardening as her gaze fell on my hair and eyes and finally to my empty hands. The anger that tensed up her small, fragile frame had never been aimed at me before and I found myself cringing before her screams had reached my ears.

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“You went out like that? Haven’t you learned anything! It’s not safe to go outside without your hair and eyes hidden, Estelle! That was the agreement we all had!”

I knew she was just upset – worried sick about me and scared of what could have happened – but that didn’t stop the burning in my chest. I had never agreed to my parent’s conditions, Pandora had. They had never stopped to ask me my opinion, instead assuming that if Panda was okay with it than I would be as well. Just like they had never told me about the sculpture or even thought to mention that a whole cult worshipped me like some all-powerful deity.

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‘Why is it that everyone in this house can keep secrets but me?’ I had no paper to jot down my anger on so my own skin became the messenger.

I watched as the anger in her snow white eyes dissipated – fading into confusion, “Estelle… We’ve never hidden anything from you.”

‘I guess it was just convenient that I never knew that I was a national symbol, then? Must have just slipped yours and Daddy’s mind for about sixteen-years.’ If I had spoken those words, they would have been dripping with venom.

“Honey… I- we never-“

I held my palm up, shaking my head. I didn’t want explanations and excuses right now, the anger that was welling up inside me wanted to entertain no such words. I just wanted to get into bed – safe and warm – and be done with this day. I turned my back on my mother, trying to signal that I was done with this conversation, but she began speaking when I was halfway down the hall.

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“Do you know how worried I was? Your Mema told me you ran off with some boy. What if something happened to you? What would you have done,” She nearly choked as she continued, “What would I have done?”

I stood there, unable to answer her. Time ticked by slowly as her sniffling reached my ears, quenching the sparks of rebellion that had been ignited deep within me. I swirled on my heels, watching my Mama’s fragile frame rattle with sobs. Tears pricked at my own eyes, blurring my vision, as I closed the gap between us and threw myself into her arms.

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Our cries mingled together as she wrapped her arms around me. I wasn’t even sure why I was sobbing into her chest like a child, but it felt safe there – like I belonged. We must have caused a ruckus because we roused Pandora out of our shared room with a frown etched deeply into her face. I rubbed my eyes, wiping a few of the stray tears away as Panda trudged towards us.

I was wary for a moment – excepting her sharp tongue to lash out at me – but Mom’s arms left my waist and Pandora hurried to fill the gap that had been opened for her. Pandora didn’t cry, she never did, but she held on tight as silent tears dribbled down my cheeks and Mama’s sobs continued to echo off the walls.

Time had no definition as we stood there, comforting each other, until another pair of arms enveloped us. Strong arms that glowed pale yellow in the weak moonlight.

“Maize…” My mom’s voice cracked as she whispered Daddy’s name and I saw it. The light that sparked in her eyes whenever he came home from a long trip away. He whispered sweet nothings to three of us, lips gracing my mother’s forehead as he spoke.

“It’s okay. Everything is going to be okay.” My father repeated. Even though he was promising something we all knew wasn’t certain we allowed his words to wash over us – ease away our fears.

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Sobs faded to sniffles and eventually Mama dismissed me and Panda to our bedrooms. I hesitated, not wanting to leave this rare moment of family time, but an elbow to the side from Panda got my feet moving. I paused in my doorway to look back at my parents. Daddy still had Mama wrapped up in his arms, lips barely gracing her forehead as he whispered something I could not hear. Mama looked relax, almost serene, in his arms. It was the most physical contact I had seen them share in years.

By the time I had torn my eyes away from the scene before me, Pandora had already climbed into the top bunk. I bit my bottom lip, eyes glued to one of the black swirls on our purple walls, waiting for her to speak. I knew that she must have a lot to say to me – I had not only disappeared without a word but also arrived home after her – yet the only sound that floated down was a curt, “Goodnight, Estellise.”

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I didn’t bother changing before I crossed the room and crawled into bed. The moment my head hit the pillow thoughts attacked my consciousness – the Uprising, the expectations, the danger and Noir. Noir plagued my thoughts more often then I’d have liked to admit.

My restless sleep was interrupted by the wafting scent of freshly baked bread and a sticky sweet smell. My eyes fluttered opened, confusion pouring into my every pore – no one in the household had cooked but me in half a decade. Nothing smelt like it was burning which meant that my father and sister were instantly out of the equation.

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I rubbed sleep out of my eyes as I wandered down familiar lilac hallways and into our kitchen only to freeze almost instantly, not quite sure if what I was seeing was real. I was in such shock, as a matter of fact, that I almost spoke. Almost.

Luckily Pandora had followed close behind me and voiced my thoughts quite accurately, “What the fudge are you doing, Mom?’”

Well, I wouldn’t have sworn.

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Mama glanced at us for only a moment before she went back to flipping the pancakes on the stove, “I’m making breakfast. And watch your language, young lady.”

We stood there flabbergasted by the women in front of us. This undeniably wasn’t our mother. She had Mama’s short silvery locks, pure white eyes and porcelain skin but I couldn’t even remember the last time I had seen Mama’a pink lips turned up into a smile.

“You girls take a seat, I’ll serve you.” Despite the odd display of behavior, when she told us to sit down we immediately obeyed. It didn’t take long for a steaming plate of apples and pancakes to be placed in front of me, their fragrance ten times better than anything I had ever managed to whip up. My mouth instinctively swelled with saliva as I fiddled with my fork, waiting for Mama to join us at the table before I dug in.

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I studied her every movement as she placed a plate in front of the chair where Daddy usually sat right as he walked strolled in to join us. He was already wearing his suit, ready for work, as he sat down at the table. Once everyone was situated the normal silence I was accustomed to settled in around us – only Mama was still smiling and Daddy looked pretty happy himself. I was had just taken my first bite of pancakes when my sister whispered in my ear.

“Someone got lucky last night.” I instantly started choking, eyes wide as I regarded my sister.

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“Ew.” I mouthed back, shaking my head at her. She just shrugged and continued to eat.

About halfway through the meal Daddy cleared his throat, shifting around in his seat, “So me and your mother spoke last night.” They glanced at each other, silently asking the other for permission, before he continued, “She told me what happened.”

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I felt a lump form in the back of my throat, breath hitching in my lungs. I was in trouble. Deep trouble.

“We decided we haven’t been entirely fair to the two of you.” He finished, frowning.

“We haven’t been honest with either of you, but especially you, Estelle. You have to understand though, we were only trying to protect you both.” I blinked, listening to my mother speak,”This doesn’t mean we support you two putting yourselves in danger but we want you to be able to come to us when you need help…”

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“Which brings us to our last point,” My father glanced at Mama again, this time guilt written plainly on his face, “I’m sorry I haven’t been here for you. All of you. I can’t change the fact that I ran from my problems, or that I missed out on a lot of things, but I promise to try to be here more.”

“And I’m sorry that I was so wrapped up in my own pain that I never noticed how much everyone else was hurting too. Can you forgive me?”

For the second time in twenty-four hours, everything seemed like it was going to be okay.

*

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A few days passed and each helped solidify my resolve not to go back to the Sour Apple or join the Uprising. They were quiet days, filled with my usual activities of reading and writing. Pandora came and went, always filling me in on her escapades when she returned. Some of them had to do with members of the Uprising – usually her blue friend Ocean or that orange male, Sunburst – but nothing too exciting had happened.

Since the Uprising’s announcement there had been more police patrolling the city at night but the Mayor hadn’t announced a plan of action on the news yet. The media was having a field day with the story, running papers and segments on what this meant for the town of Sugar Valley and how this would affect the ‘war on color’ taking place in Bubbleport. It was mostly speculation and I usually ignored the television and avoided the Sugar Times.

After all, if I was going to try to live my normal life than it would be best to try to forget the fact that my existence had caused all this commotion. I was doing a fine job of it, too, until Noir showed up one afternoon.

Pandora spotted him first -she had been on her way out to see Sunburst – when she came back inside looking disgruntled.

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“Noir is outside. I was just gonna leave him there like the dog he is but I thought you should make that decision on your own.” She muttered begrudgingly. We had never really spoken about all of her lies or the night I had been to the Sour Apple but ever since that night Pandora had been more inclusive of me.

‘Why is it my decision?’ I wrote sourly, lips puckered.

“Because he’s here to see you.”

‘Why does he want to see me?’

She shrugged, not having a definite answer for me, “I’ll tell him you don’t wanna talk if that’s what you want. Doubt he’ll listen to me, though.”

I nodded, knowing she was right. Not that I could necessarily blame Noir for that – Pandora had already lied to him a few times in regards to me.

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It wasn’t even ten minutes later that Mama walked in, a small frown pulling at her lips, “Honey, there’s a purple man outside that says he’s your friend. Should I let him in?”

I blinked a few times, realizing that mother had never seen Noir in the time that he had been stalking the house. She had been too engrossed in her mourning to even get up most days that it was still a little bizarre to see her up and about – cleaning, gardening, and cooking.

I shook my head and turned my eyes back down to the book I had been reading.

I could see Mama linger for a moment out of the corner of my eye. It looked like she wanted to say something but she sighed and left instead. I thought that was going to be it, that I would be left to my read my novel in peace, but the hand on the clock had barely moved before Mama appeared again.

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“If you don’t want to talk to him, tell him yourself or I’ll let him inside. It’s cold out and he’s gonna freeze to death on our front porch.” She chided, leaving the room as quickly as she had appeared.

I groaned, knowing that Mama was telling the truth. The last thing I wanted right now was Noir inside my home. Slamming the book shut, I hurried to the front door. The faster I got rid of him the faster I could get back to reading.

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When I opened the front door, however, Noir was nowhere in sight. I stepped outside, the chilly evening air pricking at my bare arm, looking for the man in question. I just managed to catch a glimpse of his beat up vehicle speeding off into the distance when my stomach dropped from disappointment. It took me a second but I realized that I was actually upset that he hadn’t waited around for me, which didn’t make much sense, since just a few moments ago I was certain I wouldn’t have bothered to come say hello to the man.

As I turned to head back inside my foot collided with a box I hadn’t noticed before, sending it skidding across the wooden planks. I blinked in surprised, not having seen it on my way out, before I bent down to pick it up.

An envelope was attached to the simple white box -my name scribbled on it in horrible chicken scratch -with Noir’s name scribbled just below mine. I frowned, tearing open the envelope open as I headed back inside my house. The card inside was actually just a folded up piece of paper – the same scratchy handwriting from the envelope adorning the inside of the paper.

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The moment I ran out of words to read, I began to rip open the small white box. Inside, true to the letter, was a simple cellphone. It wasn’t anything spectacular and I never saw it in commercials but it was mine and it was the first gift that had ever been given to me outside of my parents. Tears began to blur my vision as the screen lit up with my contacts. There were four names listed there – Jasper, Noir, Pandora and the Sour Apple.

It took some fumbling around and exploring but eventually I managed to get to my text messages.

‘Thank you both so much.’

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Just wondering what kind of Christmas Special you would all want to see ^_^

 

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Chapter Five: Arrival

Hide in a place you know that no one ever goes
Keep in a sack in which it always stays closed

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I wasn’t exactly sure where I was when my feet left the ground. My eyes flew open as my world tumbled around me, ceiling becoming floor before I even knew exactly what was happening. My naval collided painfully with a shoulder, eyes forced to take in the soft purple sweater Noir was wearing. My hands were empty – no paper or pen to communicate with – so I began to pound as hard as I could on the shoulder I was draped carelessly over. Every time my fist connected with his strong back I felt a small twinge of guilt in the pit of my stomach. It wasn’t enough, however, to stop my fist’s assault.

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“Ow! Alright, alright. I’ll put you down. Jeez.” Noir huffed as his long strides brought us to the abandoned bar stools. I socked him one last time before he plopped me down, a look of irritation marring his brows, “Got some fight in you for a girl who was just running away.”

My arms crossed over my chest, I tried my hardest to look dignified despite the event that had just unfolded. My breathing was labored from the short amount of exertion I had just put my body through and I could still feel the heat pooling in my cheeks. Noir settled beside me, leaning against the polished wood.

“What were you running from?”

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I visibly froze, unsure how to respond; especially since I did not have anything to write with. Noir’s annoyance melted off his face, slowly but surely replace with amusement, “You look cute when you’re flustered,” He paused only to gracefully lean over the bar – long limbs stretching across the wood in order to snatch up a stack of napkins and a pen, “Here you go.”

I silently accepted his offering, drawing small circles into the white paper until the pen slowly came to life – trying to stall for as long as possible. He waited patiently, ‘Why did you grab me?’

“Why did you run away?” He shot back.

I frowned, once again unsure what to write. Eventually I settled on the partial truth, ‘I didn’t feel comfortable.’

“Did someone do something? I swear, I told them to be on their best behavior.” The last part was mumbled – more to himself than to me. I still heard it despite his intention.

I need a knack for keeping out of trouble
You know how it can go

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“You brought her here without my permission and then left her alone!” My attention was promptly snatched away from the purple man beside me and directed onto a familiar head of silvery hair. Pandora was frowning deeply, arms crossed over her chest just a feet away from me. Her eyes were the dull gray of our contacts but conveyed every emotion unmistakably.

My sister’s shriek had surprisingly little effect on Noir – not that he let show, at least. Instead he raised his violet gaze to meet hers, indignation seeping into every fiber of his being.

‘No one did anything,’ I assured, leg bouncing from the tension that had sparked between the two of them. I wasn’t the only one who sensed the change in atmosphere – there was a blue women standing next to my sister who looked every bit as bewildered by Pandora’s outburst as I was. I was pretty certain her name was Ocean; the first friend Pandora had made out in the real world.

Pandora only stopped glaring at Noir long enough to read my note, “It doesn’t matter that no one hurt you, Estelle. He brought you into this! He can’t just abandon you like that! It’s irresponsible!”

“If you had been honest with her then I wouldn’t have had to bring her in the first place.” Noir’s tone was eerily calm. I found myself looking back and forth between my sister and him, sure that at any moment one of them was going to rip the others head off.

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I allowed a deep sigh of relief escape my lips as uneasy laughter shattered the tension. Jasper strolled up between Panda and Noir, tossing his arms around their necks with a forced smile playing at his lips, “Ah, no harm done, right? Let’s just go back upstairs.”

“Pandora,” Ocean called, “he’s right. You can’t change what’s happened. Drop it.”

My sister scoffed, obviously not ready to let the subject matter go, “We’re going home, Estelle.”

Indecision swept over me at her command. I wanted to leave – escape from all the pressure and expectations that awaited me – but Noir’s earlier statement flooded my mind and resistance swelled in my soul. I had to start making decisions for myself. My frustration only made it that much easier to cross my arms and shake my head.

“Estelle…” Panda’s voice was soft – almost a question. I quickly realized that I had never challenged her decisions before, not even on the night she convinced us all to sneak out to the beach.

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“Pandora,” Oceans blue hand rested on my sister’s shoulder, “let them be.”

My sister looked torn for a moment but eventually she caved. Jerking out of Jasper’s arm, Panda followed after Ocean. She paused at the bottom of the spiral steps, narrowing her eyes at Noir, “Promise you’ll keep her safe.”

Noir rolled his eyes at her until Pandora demanded, “I said promise!”

“I Promise.”

Jasper was the next to make his departure – claiming that he had to make sure that Pandora wasn’t killing any of the boys upstairs for scaring me. Noir sighed, pushing his weight off of the bar. Before he had even gotten two steps away I latched onto his bicep for the second time that night. He paused, looking down at me through his lashes.

“What?”

I detached myself from his warm skin to write, ‘I want to go home. Bring me home.’

He sighed, running a hand through his shaggy, disheveled locks, “Why didn’t you take Pandora up on her offer then?”

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I don’t know what I’m like but everybody says
You’re not the kind that gets out of your head

I chewed on my bottom lip as I mulled over his question – once again hesitating with my response. Noir made no motion for me to hurry or any indication that he was annoyed with my reluctance – instead he joined me at the bar again, leaning in close. The proximity of his face to mine caused my cheeks to catch fire, heat flushing my skin I hurried scribbled, ‘I know why you wanted me to come here but I can’t be what you want me to be.’

I all but threw the napkin at him when I was finished, embarrassment mixing in with the overwhelming expectations that were once again settling on my shoulders. He chuckled at my display, gingerly picking up the napkin from his lap and reading it.

“They told you about the statue,” It was a question and I feverishly nodded my head at him, “You don’t have to do anything, you know. You can just be here – raise team morale, so to speak.”

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I entertained the thought for a few seconds before I shook my head, mind already made up. I would never be able to compare to the image these people – rebels – had in their heads. I was weak and pathetic and certainly did not belong on a pedestal.

“They’re not gonna be happy about this.” Noir stated, sounding much like a kicked puppy. I frowned, crossing my arms over my chest and attempting to seem as confident as possible.

I was certain he was going to attempt persuasion again as the silence stretched between us but eventually Noir relented, “Do you want me to get your sister for you?”

‘No’ I mouthed, waving my hands around to prevent him from getting up again.

He laughed, “Alright. I’ll take you then.”

Noir held his hand out for me and I motioned for him to hold on. My notebook was still upstairs so I stuffed a few napkins into my pockets before we left, pen clenched tightly in my left hand as my right entwined once more with his.

*

I keep talking all these crazy clumsy words
And i know that I’ve been heard

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‘Are you lost?’

Noir spared a glance at the napkin I was dangling in front of face, “Nope.”

We had been driving in his car for almost an hour and a half now – about the time it should have taken to get to my house. Only, I was fairly certain we still weren’t anywhere near the long empty road that lead to my home. Of course, it was silly to think he might have gotten lost. He had been stalking my house for the past several weeks and I had almost never gone into town. I, in all honesty, was probably the one who had lost their bearings. Though the brick red building we passed looked oddly familiar.

‘Can I ask you something?’

“You just did.”

I frowned, rolling my eyes and writing my question out, ‘When you said I looked familiar. Was it because of the statue?’

“Estellise, I’m tryin’ to drive here.” Noir chided as I dangled the white paper in front of his face. I flushed –embarrassed- before I realized that he was not driving half as reckless as he had been earlier today. I was about to comment on it when his voice interrupted my scribbling.

“If you are talkin’ about the day at the café… then yes.”

‘How did you know? My hair was hidden. It’s been over fifteen years since that piece.’

“Your eyes…”

I frowned, allowing the guilt to wash over me. I had been careless – allowed a stranger to see my eyes. Luckily, Noir did not seem like a bad person – was even fighting for a cause that should have been close to my heart. I knew, however, that I could never take that risk again. The next time I might not be so lucky.

“Ya know, it wasn’t even the color of your eyes that gave you away. It was the look you gave me. You were like a deer in the headlights – lost, scared, and innocent. Exactly how you look in that statue. I wanted to help you,” He paused briefly, smiling sheepishly at me, “I still do want to help you.”

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I looked out the window, face burning, and noticed the same brick building from before. My eyebrows scrunched up and my head snapped back around. I stared, eyes wide, at the mauve man before me, ‘Didn’t we pass that store ten minutes ago?’

Noir snorted, laughter spilling into the vehicle, “I was wondering when you’d notice I was driving in circles.”

My mouth dropped open, completely dumbfounded at the situation I was in. I probably should have been scared – Noir was practically a stranger – but I wasn’t. Instead I was annoyed, ‘Why are we driving in circles?’

“Because I want to show you something but I didn’t think you’d agree willingly.”

‘So you kidnapped me?’

More laughter, “I offered to get your sister for you.”

He had me there. I didn’t have many options anymore, either. I didn’t have a cell phone. I could jump out of the moving vehicle – only I had no clue how to get home and I was pretty sure I’d end up hurting myself. So, I did the only reasonable thing that crossed my mind. I pouted.

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We drove around with no destination as far as I was aware of. No matter how many times I questioned him, Noir would just smile and tell me I would see. I was beginning to get annoyed, perhaps even slightly worried, when the car slowed down to a crawl. We finally stopped at an intersection -the windshield facing onto a main road – and shortly after Noir killed the headlights. I held my tongue, looking around the downtown area for something that Noir might have found interesting enough to hold a hostage over.

I could find no such subject.

Everybody’s talking about the situation
You know they all have a lot to learn

Stores lined either side of us, windows almost as dark and empty as the night sky. I could vaguely make out an expanse of grass in the distance and a quick glance at Noir showed that this was where his eyes were trained. Biting my bottom lip, I averted my gaze back to the park. Time ticked by and nothing changed except the rising anxiety coursing through my veins. Just when I was beginning to think that I would rather take my chances on the streets, Noir’s voice interrupted my thoughts.

“Ah, there they are.”

I blinked a few times, squinting to see what he saw in the distance. There were figures – bodies eclipsed in black ensembles – quickly approaching our vehicle. The noise followed close behind their appearance, loud whoops and hollers filling the night air as the group rushed down the street. I wasn’t sure how many of them there were, it could have been a dozen or two, but they scattered across the street at individual paces. Some paused for longer than others, fumbling around with backpacks and bags, before they retrieved something inside and plastered it on the walls.

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I sat in silence as they began to filter past the car, most of them oblivious to our presence. There were a few exceptions, a blue berry waved and a red one stuck his tongue out as he passed. The most provocative was a pink girl who sauntered up to Noir’s window, winking and blowing him a kiss. His face lit up into a grin and mine pulled into a scowl as particularly nasty thoughts about her floated into my mind. Soon, however, curiosity prevailed over annoyance.

‘What is all this?’

Noir tore his eyes from the scene before us, the store fronts slowly becoming plastered in all sorts of pro-intercolor breeding propaganda, “It’s the Uprising.”

I had figured out that much on my own,  ‘What are they doing?’

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Noir’s lips pulled into the largest smile I had ever seen adorn his lips, eyes sparkling with a hint of mischief.

“They’re announcing our arrival in Sugar Valley.”

Always digging up some information
You get what you deserve